Driving can be dangerous. We’ve all probably heard the statement that you are statistically more likely to die in a car than in a plane or helicopter. Yet, most of us drive every day without a second thought. More impressive are the professional drivers who strap themselves into high performance cars and compete against other racers. The pinnacle of the racing world is the Formula One Championship, or F1. Here drivers pilot a specially designed car around a series of world circuits, utilizing around 750hp from their 1.6L turbocharged engines which rev at upwards of 15,000 rpm. The torque from the power units is substantial and to make things a little more challenging, the aerodynamic downforce generated by the cars is less than in previous decades. All of this combines to give the F1 car speeds of around 300kph which produce significant g-forces on the driver. As a result, the standard of racing in F1 is considered to be the highest and the drivers, the best.
Naturally, all of this speed and power can increase the risks of crashes and fatalities come race day. In the early decades of F1 it was not uncommon for several drivers to be killed every year during competitive racing. Over the years, F1 has greatly improved the safety of drivers with new technology and regulations, but you can only minimize the risks and danger, not eliminate them completely. The life threatening injuries suffered by Marussia driver Jules Bianchi at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix demonstrated this point all too clearly. Despite the inherent dangers of the sport, it remains common to see drivers attempting to gain any sort of advantage possible, even if it means cutting corners, ignoring rules and regulations or putting themselves or others at increased risk on the track.
The following looks at 10 of the more dangerous moves or tactics drivers have used on the track over the last few decades. Some of these moves were very controversial as they bordered on the reckless or blatant cheating. Other moves, while technically legal, nonetheless placed the driver and other competitors at greater risk. Egos, bad weather, team orders and bad tempers mix together with high horsepower and speeds to give us examples of the most dangerous moves and tactics drivers have used, and continue to use, in the F1 Championship.
10 Lift and Coast
9 Squeezing in That Extra Qualifying Lap
Qualifying runs are undertaken the day before the race to decide who will start where on the grid. Qualifying is set into three sessions of 18, 15 and 12 minutes with the slowest cars being removed for each subsequent session. Drivers lap the circuit until the time runs out – after which they are allowed to finish the lap they are on. The third and final qualifying session has the fastest 10 cars compete for the pole position and sometimes sees drivers pushing a little too hard to get in an extra lap. This is often caused by a driver’s desire to get across the start-finish line before the 12 minutes expire so that they can get in one more lap and potentially improve their start position.
8 Suffering ‘Inconvenient’ Qualifying Errors and Breakdowns
Of course, there are more underhanded ways of coming out on top in qualifying than just pushing ahead recklessly. Sometimes drivers who are guarding a fast qualifying lap time or trying to prevent an opponent from getting a high position ‘inconveniently’ suffer an accident or breakdown which disrupts everyone else’s lap times. Losing control of your car or stalling it deliberately on the track is pretty dangerous and you put a lot of faith in the track officials and other drivers that other cars won’t hit you. Ok, so there is no way to prove such events were on purpose but anyone who has watched enough F1 knows these things seem to happen at the most inopportune times and often involve those who are battling for the Drivers’ Championship.
7 The First Lap Push
Picture a congested highway where everyone suddenly goes from zero to over 100mph before all attempting to break for the same off ramp – chaos. The start of nearly every F1 race can look like absolute madness to the casual observer as drivers launch from the start and try their best to pass each other before reaching the first turn. It can be a spectacular scene which leaves you wondering how on earth the entire field doesn’t end up in a giant burning pile race after race. There is usually a bit of contact between cars in the opening lap as drivers push to exploit gaps and overtake, all in a relatively congested area. Crashes do occur but some drivers have a reputation for being more dangerous than others when it comes to the opening lap of a Grand Prix.
6 Blocking Off
This is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s like a pick in basketball or a player shielding the ball out of play in football – only this time it’s done with high horsepower cars travelling at highway speeds. In addition to driving and overtaking aggressively, it’s not uncommon to see drivers being defensive and trying to hold off the challenge of an oncoming car. Usually blocking tactics are best seen after the cars come out of a turn and one driver tries to pass another. Sometimes this tactic can cross the line from being a tactical move to just downright dangerous.
5 Rushing in the Pit Lane
Naturally, any area of the track that has race cars coming in and going out while dozens of team members run around to perform maintenance is going to be dangerous. F1 has moved to make the pits safer for drivers and crews over the last couple of decades. First, from 2010 on, in-race refuelling was banned. This meant cars started with a full load of fuel and pit stops no longer involved handling highly flammable material. Second, pit lane speeds were reduced to 80km/h and pit lane designs have been altered over the years to make the lane wider and force drivers to check their speed heading in.
4 Pushing the Car in Bad Weather
You could argue that undertaking an F1 race in bad weather is the fault of the organizers and not the drivers. In this case, this dangerous ‘move’ can be placed on the teams and organizations responsible for allowing the races to go ahead.That said, when the race is on, the drivers head out to do their best no matter what the weather. While they are the best drivers in the world, these racers are still competitive and push to win, regardless of conditions. As Jules Bianchi’s crash at the rain-soaked Japanese GP last season showed us, pouring rain and F1 can create some terrifying moments on the track.
3 Putting a Damaged Car Back on the Track
In addition to handling their own car and watching out for fellow competitors, F1 drivers also need to be aware of debris on the track. For the most part, foreign debris on a track comes about because of a collision, tire puncture or some other failure on a car. In cases where a car has suffered damage, the driver heads immediately back to the pits. In cases where a car has gone off the track and suffered damage, the driver normally abandons the car and heads over the safety wall. There are, however, some instances where drivers have taken their damaged car back onto the track in order to get back to the pits.
2 Aggressively Overtaking
Yes, overtaking and showing aggressiveness during an F1 race is part of the sport and every champion has demonstrated this trait throughout their careers. However, there’s aggressive and then there is what can be interpreted as just plain bullying. In such instances a driver is so aggressive they are accused of forcing others off the track or into drastic manoeuvres to prevent a crash. Whether it’s justified or just sour grapes on the part of the ‘victim,’ there are plenty of examples of drivers who overtake in a rather jaw-clenching manner.
1 Deliberately Taking Out Your Rival
Needless to say, taking your car and crashing it into an opponent is a move which is extremely dangerous. While the vast majority of us will only ever experience a vehicular collision on a go-kart track, F1 has seen its share of crashes which look suspiciously intentional. While it may not be a legal tactic, deliberately crashing your car into an opponent is a nearly sure-fire method of forcing your opponent out of the race and the points. Drivers who have been accused of this tactic often say they misjudged their car or the opponent’s car, while overall observers will attribute the crash to the competitive nature of the participants. The more likely reason for such an action to take place is jealousy, anger or just pure spite.
Some of the greatest drivers the sport has ever seen have been accused of deliberately smashing their cars into a rival’s vehicle. Who can forget the Ayrton Senna vs Alain Prost battles of 1989 and 1990? In 1989 at Suzuka, Prost was accused of deliberately trying to take out Senna heading into the hairpin. The following year at the same track, Senna returned the favor by putting his McLaren into Prost’s Ferrari on the very first lap. Not to be outdone, Michael Schumacher was also accused of deliberately trying to take out his rivals by colliding with them. The first was at Adelaide in 1994 against Damon Hill. The German repeated the tactic at Jerez against Jacques Villeneuve in 1997. Even last year, at Spa during the Belgian Grand Prix, there were strong suspicions that Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg deliberately collided with and punctured the tire of teammate Lewis Hamilton.
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