Crime and sport are often strange bedfellows, and while Formula 1 could certainly be considered a clean sport in many respects, there have been occasions when teams or individuals have made some poor judgement calls and paid the price…
Our latest Top-10 Feature looks at some of the more fascinating altercations with the law that have been experienced by current and former members of the Grand Prix fraternity…
10. Lewis ‘Hoon’ Hamilton, 2010
There have been more cases of Formula 1 drivers being pulled over for speeding than we could possibly recall, and it’s a well-worn line from the highway patrolman to ask the offending driver, “Who do you think you are, Nigel Mansell?”.
Apparently this once happened to Ayrton Senna to Ayrton Senna during the British Grand Prix weekend, and the Brazilian was most put out at Officer Plod’s ignorance!
But it’s one thing to be hit with a speeding fine, it’s quite another to be accused of being a ‘hoon’ driver.
And that’s exactly what happened to Lewis Hamilton during the 2010 Australian Grand Prix weekend, when the McLaren driver attempted an poorly-timed burnout in front of some fans as he left the Albert Park circuit in his AMG Mercedes corporate car, right in front of Melbourne’s finest and a few TV crews.
The embarrassed driver was promptly pulled over and had his car confiscated, and he was later issued with a small fine and a rap over the knuckles for his troubles…
9. The Jaguar test driver and the call girl, 2001
The potentially promising F1 career of Tomas Scheckter, son of 1979 Formula 1 World Champion Jody and Jaguar’s test driver, fell apart when he was summarily sacked by the team for bringing the team into disrepute.
The 20-year-old’s crime? Well, it turned out that he’d made a brief court appearance in Northampton after being arrested for what is politely called ‘curb-crawling’, or better known as the solicitation of a prostitute.
His avenue to Formula 1 now well and truly a dead-end, Scheckter crossed the pond and started out carving himself a career in IndyCar racing, where he developed a reputation as a quick driver, but also a serial crasher…
8. Forged invoice and dodgy investments, too many to name
With money flowing like champagne in the Formula 1 paddock, it’s hardly surprising to learn of a few senior figures and team owners who have felt the long arm of the law for pocketing the proceeds of being ‘entrepreneurial’…
The favourite era for this was in the 1980s and early 1990s, and it seemed to be on almost a weekly basis that a team owner was being investigated or prosecuted for some sort of embezzlement.
British businessman Ted Ball – a financier for the Brabham and Lotus teams in the early 1990s – was jailed for three years after he managed to pour other people’s money into the two different teams. He and his business partner went about doctoring the books of their company – Landhust Leasings – which hit the wall in 1992 with debts of over $75 million.
Renault Sport boss Gerard Toth was jailed in the mid-1980s after he helped himself to a share of the cash being paid by the Tyrrell (team to use Renault’s engines) into his own Swiss bank account.
Former Moneytron team owner Jean-Pierre van Rossem was jailed for five years and ordered to pay back $30 million to his creditors after he was convicted of fraud.
And our favourite crazy team boss, Andrea Moda owner Andrea Sasetti, was arrested and jailed for forging invoices to his team’s suppliers
7. Larrousse co-founder shoots his wife, 1989
As this article will attest, former team owner Gerard Larrousse was certainly famous for his habit of pairing up with investors of rather shady natures, and his team’s co-founder, Didier Calmels, was one of them.
The Frenchman had been involved with Larrousse in creating the Larrousse-Calmels team in 1987, which quickly started to achieve some recognition at the hands of Philippe Alliot in the Lola-designed chassis.
But in 1989, Calmels was thrown in the slammer for murdering his wife, apparently on the suspicion that she was cheating on him.
6. Chapman’s De Lorean swindling, 1982
Some might call it entrepreneurial, others might consider it criminal, but there’s little doubt among those with a basic understanding of the law that if Team Lotus designer and founder Colin Chapman hadn’t suddenly popped his clogs with a heart attack in 1982, he’d almost certainly have been spending at least ten years in the slammer for his part in the De Lorean Car company scandal.
Chapman had been approached by car maker John De Lorean to help develop his eponymous gullwing-doored car in his factory in Northern Ireland, with the promise of $15 million (much of it from the coffers of the British government, who awarded a hefty grant to De Lorean) to Team Lotus for his troubles.
The payment never turned up in the Team Lotus accounts, but large sums of money did suddenly turn up in the personal accounts of De Lorean, Chapman and partner Fred Bushell.
When the heat was turned on them, De Lorean escaped overseas, Chapman dropped dead and Bushell didn’t escape in time and was arrested and jailed for three years, having pocketed over $600,000 of the money.
5. F1 and the MI6, 2001
One of the rather more extraordinary convictions to hit a Formula 1 figure was the one dished out to Stewart Grand Prix employee Richard Tomlinson, who was arrested and convicted for offences under the Official Secrets Act (UK).
Unhappy with his sacking and with no legal avenue to pursue recourse, Tomlinson set about publishing a series of international press articles detailing his treatment, and his arrest came shortly after he’d sent a four-page synopsis of his MI6 memoirs to an Australian publisher.
He pleaded guilty to the charges before the High Court, but at the time of his arrest, he’d found employment with the fledgling Stewart F1 team, which was still trying to achieve respectability in the F1 paddock as Ford’s works team.
Having a former spy in their midst was hardly the publicity that Sir Jackie and his merry band needed…
4. The ‘Spygate’ scandal, 2007
Obtaining insider secrets through a bit of spying and industrial espionage is hardly a recent feature of modern-day Formula 1. Since the dawn of the modern-era championship, teams have constantly been copying one another’s designs in a bid to remain ahead of (or keep up with) the competition.
But the biggest and most public case of obtaining information on a rival team’s design was the infamous ‘Spygate’ scandal of 2007, where the McLaren team was disqualified from the Constructors’ Championship and fined $100 million for being in possession of Ferrari’s entire design dossier for its F2007 challenger.
The trouble all began when Ferrari senior figure Nigel Stepney – furious at being overlooked for a promotion he felt was rightfully his – sent the design secrets to McLaren chief designer Mike Coughlan.
Word of the espionage eventually got back to Ferrari (who by then had sacked Stepney after catching him trying to pour sugar into the cars’ fuel tanks), who then successfully lobbied the FIA to prosecute McLaren for their troubles. Coughlan was fired, and McLaren was hit with the biggest fine in the history of any sport.
3. Gachot’s London assault, 1990
Were it not for Bertrand Gachot being sentenced to two years in the slammer in the autumn of 1991, then the extraordinary story that is Michael Schumacher’s record-breaking career could well have turned out rather differently. The Belgian being forced to vacate his seat in the Jordan 191 Ford V8 meant that Herr Schumacher was able to step in and make his now-famous debut for the fledgling team. The rest, as they say, is history…
For Gachot, his troubles started in the previous December, when he was arrested for discharging a CS gas canister in the face of a London taxi driver in one of the most famous cases of ‘road rage’ in motorsport history.
His F1 career never fully recovered, and he had unsuccessful stints with Venturi-Larrousse and Pacific before he called time on his F1 foray.
2. The Larrousse co-owner and his exploding chickens, 1992
When the Venturi car company became involved in the Larrousse F1 team in 1992, a key figure in the deal was a man called Rainer Walldorf – a man who actually went by the name of Klaus Walz, and who wanted by police due to his alleged connections to four particularly grisly murders.
News of his misdeeds only became apparent when the French media reported that Walz’s house had been raided by a large group of the gendarme.
The story goes that before he agreed to his arrest, Walz asked if he might be able to collect something from his study desk. The police agreed, and it turned out that the something he was referring to was a live hand grenade. He proceeded to give the cops the choice of either being blown to smithereens with him, or that they could be handcuffed to the furniture while he made his escape with the chief of police as his hostage.
They voted to be manacled to the woodwork while Walz and his hostage took off into the country, where he was intercepted by an accomplice, leaving the poor police chief shackled to the getaway car’s steering wheel while Walz threw the grenade into a nearby chicken pen…
Just a month later, he was cornered by German police in a hotel. After a nine-hour standoff, he would be killed in the ensuing gun battle.
1. Lehto’s canal collision, 2010
Last year, the bloodied and seriously injured Finn was found by onlookers and police on the shores of a local canal, having swum ashore after being involved in a boat accident with his friend, who was killed when their craft (pictured left) slammed into a bridge support post at considerable speed.
Lehto failed a police blood alcohol test and claimed to have no memory of the accident. But charges were later laid, alleging that he had been behind the wheel, driving the craft well above the prescribed speed limit for that stretch of water. He was recently found guilty and is now behind bars, although he has confirmed he will appeal his conviction.
[Image via CrapWagon, GP Fanzone, Lotus Buzz, Spox]