Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification from Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix has certainly created plenty of controversy in its immediate aftermath, although our analysis suggests it will be upheld despite Red Bull Racing’s best protestations.
But how would it rank among other notable race disqualifications in Formula 1 history? Here are ten of the most controversial – and not all were successfully overturned under appeal either…
10. Nigel Mansell, 1989 Portuguese Grand Prix
Pre-1994, there was no pit lane speed limit and it wasn’t uncommon to see drivers hurtling down pit bay at well over 250km/h. How more mechanics were not seriously injured is a miracle, although there have still been plenty of mechanics who have been mowed down even in today’s era of the pit lane speed limit…
A classic example of why pit lane speed limits are a sensible idea came at the 1990 Portuguese Grand Prix, when Nigel Mansell arrived at his Ferrari pit bay with far too much speed and overshot his waiting mechanics.
Instead of waiting to be pulled back into his pit bay (as the rules allow), the moustachioed Brit engaged reverse gear and attempted a neat reverse park, nearly collecting a few of his crew along the way!
But the officials deemed he had broken the rules and duly issued him with a black flag. And in true Mansell fashion, he managed to repeatedly ignore it, and not before he took Ayrton Senna out of the race. The disqualification turned into a one-race ban, prompting unsubstantiated complaints from Mansell about bias as he – not for the first time in his career – threatened to quit the sport entirely…
But this wouldn’t be the last of Mansell’s pit lane escapades at Portugal…
9. James Hunt, 1976 British Grand Prix
The British Grand Prix was a chapter in the extraordinary 1976 season that was – somehow inexplicably – completely omitted from the storyline of the RUSH Formula 1 film that detailed this very season.
The start of the race at Brands Hatch was marred by a sizable Turn 1 pile-up after the Ferraris of Niki Lauda and Clay Regazzoni made contact, which triggered chaos behind them.
A victim in the carambolage was Lauda’s main championship rival, James Hunt, who was lucky to avoid flipping his McLaren after riding over the top of Regazzoni’s wheel.
The red flag was thrown and Hunt managed to limp his damaged car back to the pits for repairs, although he cheekily gained access to the pits through a side entrance instead of the more conventional (and ultimately legal) route of completing an entire lap of the Kent circuit.
As officials continued to dither and debate over whether the cars eliminated in the accident should be allowed to take the restart, the parochial crowd threatened to riot unless Hunt was allowed to take the restart.
As it was, the McLaren mechanics had managed to fully repair his car, but the question mark remained over Hunt’s method of getting back to the pits. Hunt and Regazzoni took the restart in spare cars, opting to risk the chance of being excluded at the end of the race.
Hunt went on to win after Regazzoni retired and Lauda struck gear shift problems later in the race, and so Ferrari protested to the stewards, who rejected Ferrari’s claims.
Ferrari protested to the British motorsport governing body, the RAC – again its claims were rejected – before appealing to the FIA, which convened a tribunal hearing on September 25, over two months after the race itself. The team brought Lauda – still recovering from his accident at the Nürburgring – to the hearing, where it is alleged that his somewhat bloodied bandages helped influence the tribunal to uphold Ferrari’s appeal and disqualify Hunt.
8. Michael Schumacher, 1994 British Grand Prix
Having staged a thrilling battle in Saturday’s qualifying session, championship rivals Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher lined up on the front row for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Not once, but twice, Schumacher was spotted overtaking pole-sitter Hill during the formation lap – a clear violation of the rules.
It was almost at a quarter-distance into the race before the race officials finally handed down a five-second stop/go penalty, to be served within any of the following seven laps. Schumacher’s Benetton team refused to notify their driver of the penalty, arguing they had been incorrectly notified of the penalty by the race officials.
When Schumacher failed to serve the penalty within the stated period, officials took the next step of disqualifying him. Schumacher claimed not to see the black flag being waved at him, while the FIA and Benetton continued to argue over the merits and application of the penalty.
Benetton finally relented after intervention from the FIA Race Director, Roland Bruynseraede, and on Lap 27 – fourteen laps after the penalty was issued – Schumacher finally came in and served the penalty.
He went on to finish the race in second place behind Hill, with the Benetton team fined $25,000 and both driver and team issued with a severe reprimand for ignoring the stop/go penalty and subsequent black flag.
The FIA World Motor Sport Council later held an extraordinary hearing into the affair, and sensationally disqualified Schumacher from the race, banned him for a further two Grands Prix and fined the Benetton team half a million dollars for their intransigence.
7. Mike Hawthorn, 1958 Portuguese Grand Prix
The first ever Portuguese Grand Prix took place on the streets of the coastal town of Oporto, with the track’s unusual layout seeing the drivers having to navigate across tramlines and past small houses, while some sections of the circuit were cobblestoned.
Having entered the event six points adrift of championship leader Mike Hawthorn, Stirling Moss reduced the deficit by one point in Portugual, beating home his compatriot and claiming victory with Hawthorn’s Ferrari coming in second after a spin.
But it was that spin which landed Hawthorn in trouble, after he’d rejoined the circuit into oncoming traffic. Race officials elected to disqualify Hawthorn, giving Moss a two-point lead in the championship with two races left.
However, Moss had seen the incident in question, and – in an act of sportsmanship that is sadly unthinkable today – came to Hawthorn’s defence, successfully convincing them to retract their decision and preserve his second-placed finish.
Ultimately, Hawthorn went on to beat Moss to the Drivers’ Championship title by a single point to become Britain’s first ever World Champion.
“I didn’t want him to have an unfair advantage over me, and I didn’t want to win the title because he’d slipped up an escape road, so I petitioned for him to be reinstated.,” Moss later told us in an exclusive interview.
“That it cost me the title is irrelevant.”
6. Keke Rosberg and Nelson Piquet, 1982 Brazilian Grand Prix
Fearing that their works-supported turbo rivals were enjoying too much of an advantage, a number of British outfits – most notably Williams, Brabham, Lotus and McLaren – took an unusual interpretation of the minimum car weight rules.
With these outfits running naturally-aspirated Ford Cosworth engines, their cars were far lighter than the minimum weight limit and had to use ballast to bring them up to the threshold.
Not surprisingly, it was Lotus’ Colin Chapman who came up with the idea of a reserve water tank – ostensibly under the guise of brake cooling – to bring the weight up.
The cars would start the race on full tanks, quickly dump the water once the race got underway, and then have the tanks topped up (legitimately) before post-race scrutineering, pictured left.
Nelson Piquet (Brabham) and Keke Rosberg (Williams) finished first and second at the 1982 season’s second race, in Brazil, but both were disqualified after FISA (now the FIA) discovered the water tank trick. Alain Prost’s Renault was declared the winner, with John Watson’s McLaren – which was itself running the same water tank system! – elevated into second place.
While the cars were legal to the letter (although certainly not the spirit) of the regulations, the political fall-out was significant, with many suggesting that there was an underhanded push to force the teams onto turbo engines.
Adding to the conspiracy theories was the fact that FISA President Jean-Marie Balestre and the race’s newly-declared winner shared the same nationality – it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that perceived conflict of interest would become apparent over the remainder of the decade…
5. Tyrrell, 1984 season
Two years on from the 1982 water tank scandal, most of the field had switched across to turbo engines with one notable exception: Tyrrell, which found itself uniquely placed to take full advantage of a similar ballast advantage against its much heavier turbo rivals.
The 1984 Tyrrell 012 was equipped with a water injection system (a common means of lowering cylinder temperatures to increase power), which had tanks that could be topped up late in the race.
What Tyrrell did was fill its water injection tanks with 140lb of lead shot, some of which was seen escaping from the top of its cars during their final pit stops while the tanks were being refilled.
After Martin Brundle finished in an excellent second place at the Detroit Grand Prix, the scheme was uncovered and the team retroactively disqualified from every race held in 1984 to-date.
The team was charged with using improperly fixed ballast (the lead shot) and – erroneously – for in-race refuelling, as the water/lead sample contained small traces of aromatics.
While Tyrrell was successfully able to argue in the later FIA appeals hearing that it had not contravened the in-race refuelling ban, the unsecured ballast charge was upheld. Tyrrell was excluded from the championship entirely and banned from the remaining three Grands Prix.
Many felt that Tyrrell’s disqualification amounted to little more than a witch-hunt by the FIA, which had been pushing to have an all-turbo series.
4. BAR-Honda, 2005 San Marino Grand Prix
There have been many a team to get caught up in a game of semantics when it comes to the FIA Technical Regulations, particularly when it comes to a debate over the letter, or the spirit, of the rules.
That’s a trap that the BAR team found itself caught in after the San Marino Grand Prix of 2005, where Jenson Button finished third and teammate Takuma Sato was fifth. Post-race scrutineering found both cars to be underweight when drained of all fuel, weighing in at 5.4kg under the 600kg minimum.
The team’s claim was that its car required an additional 6kg of fuel, stored in a separate tank, in order to run. The stewards accepted the reasoning, and it therefore came as a major surprise when the FIA appealed against the decision of its own stewards.
The governing body’s position was the the BAR cars could theoretically have run underweight during the race, and thereby gained a performance advantage in doing so. The secondary fuel tank, it claimed, was effectively serving as a form of ballast.
All sides’ arguments were heard in a special hearing of the FIA’s International Court of Appeal, where BAR tried to present evidence that its cars had never run below the weight limit during the Grand Prix at Imola, while the FIA countered that with its own argument that the only way of proving this was to drain the car of all its fuel.
The judging panel agreed with the FIA, but it did not apply the requested sentence of a complete disqualification from the 2005 championship. The BAR team was disqualified from the San Marino Grand Prix and excluded from participating at the next two races in Spain and Monaco.
3. Nigel Mansell, 1991 Portuguese Grand Prix
Pit stops call for a coordinated effort from the entire pit crew of up to 22 mechanics whose role it is to raise the car, remove and fit tyres, check for damage, clean radiators and helmet visors, and refuel the car.
A slip from one person could be the difference between a place lost or gained, but a monumental stuff-up can have broader ramifications.
We have already documented Nigel Mansell’s woes at Portugal (above), and the 1991 race would see yet another pit stop fiasco. Still in contention for the championship title in his battle against Ayrton Senna, Mansell needed a good pit stop to leap into the lead, but it all went horribly wrong when right right-rear-corner ‘spotter’ – no less than F1 journalist Peter Windsor! – indicated that Mansell’s right-rear tyre had been properly seated when this was not the case.
Mansell trundled a few feet down pit lane before wheel parted company with car, and he was disqualified from the race when his team refitted a tyre in the middle of pit lane!
It was no surprise to see Mansell disqualified from the race, and his slim championship aspirations became even slimmer…
2. Ferrari, 1999 Malaysian Grand Prix
The inaugural Malaysian Grand Prix saw Michael Schumacher back behind the wheel of his Ferrari – four months after suffering a broken leg at Silverstone – and (perhaps reluctantly) ready to assist teammate Eddie Irvine in his unlikely battle for the Drivers’ Championship crown against McLaren’s Mika Häkkinen.
Having struggled at recent rounds, the Ferrari F399 simply flew around the new Sepang circuit, with Schumacher putting the car on pole, a full second clear of the McLarens, which claimed the second row of the grid.
Having brilliantly played second fiddle by keeping Häkkinen at bay all race long while Irvine won, Schumacher’s return had been a success: Irvine headed into the season finale at Suzuka with a four-point lead over the Finn.
That was, until, however, the FIA stewards disqualified Irvine and Schumacher from their 1-2 result, giving Häkkinen the win and the Drivers’ Championship title by default.
Their reasoning? The F399’s new bargeboards’ design was illegal. Ferrari naturally appealed, and the FIA Court of Appeal overturned the disqualification after Ferrari was successfully able to argue that the stewards had taken the bargeboard measurements incorrectly.
The two Ferraris were reinstated, but Häkkinen still trounced them both in Suzuka, claiming a dominant win and back-to-back championship titles.
1. Ayrton Senna, 1989 Japanese Grand Prix
This would have to rank as the most controversial of all race disqualifications. Having fought tooth and nail all season, McLaren teammates Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost headed into the penultimate round of the championship at Suzuka with Prost leading 76-60 in the Drivers’ Championship points’ standings.
Senna had to win both of the last two Grands Prix in order to remain in contention for back-to-back World Championship titles, while Prost simply needed to finish in front of Senna.
The bad blood between the pair was now infamous, and Prost had publicly gone on the record to declare he was no longer prepared to be intimidated on the track by the Brazilian. So when Senna tried to pass him for the lead at the Casio Triangle chicane, Prost had no qualms about turning his car into Senna’s path, taking both out of the race.
Prost calmly exited his car, while Senna managed to get his McLaren bump-started by the marshals, and took to the chicane’s exit road to rejoin the circuit, pit for a new front wing and overtake new race leader Alessandro Nannini for the lead and victory.
But it wasn’t to be: Senna was disqualified from the race for using the escape road to rejoin the circuit, with the decision handing the title to Prost.
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