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.
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10 Lift and Coast
In the past, before regulations were tightened and refuelling banned, drivers often went flat out for most of the racing, only looking to conserve fuel for the final laps of the race. With refuelling banned after 2010 and an F1 focus on fuel efficiency, teams have had to change strategies and many drivers were left worried about how fuel regulations would affect tactics on the track. Heading into the 2014 season, in article from AutoSport.com,drivers like Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg feared fuel conserving techniques may lead to lift and coast tactics where a driver suddenly lifts off the accelerator in order to conserve fuel heading into or travelling through a corner. Given drivers’ use slipstreaming and cornering as periods to set up a potential pass, the sudden drop in power of a car in front poses a real problem. On the other hand, the tactic also requires drivers to re-learn braking points and begin adjusting the car for a corner earlier than before. This is because drivers are expected to coast into a corner before breaking rather than the traditional way of switching from accelerator to brake immediately upon entering the turn. As drivers get used to this technique over the coming years, it will be considered less of a wild card when it comes to safe tactics.
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.
During the qualifying session for the 2011 Japanese Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton discovered how dangerous a circuit can get in the dying seconds as competitors push to beat the clock. Heading into the chicane known as Casino Triangle, Hamilton was keeping a safe distance between himself and Jenson Button. Mark Webber and Michael Schumacher, travelling much faster as they pushed to get in an extra lap, caught Hamilton by surprise as they passed on either side and almost caused a serious crash. Naturally, there was a lot of finger pointing afterwards as Schumacher said Hamilton was driving too slow and Hamilton accused Schumacher of being to reckless in his passing.
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.
Who can forget the 2014 Monaco GP qualifying story when Nico Rosberg, who held the fastest lap time, went off the track on the final lap. With teammate Lewis Hamilton on pace to take away the pole, Rosberg reversed his car onto the track and sent the yellow flags waving. It spelled the end of Hamilton’s attempt at the pole. Monaco was also the site of Michael Schumacher’s infamous 2006 stall on the penultimate corner during qualifying. Holding the fastest lap time of the day, Schumacher parking job ensured no other driver could surpass his qualifying time. The stunt cost the German champ the pole as the stewards and other racers failed to believe his car had simply stalled.
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.
In 2012, Lotus’ Romain Grosjean got the reputation for being a dangerous driver at the start of races. Mark Webber went so far as to actually call Grosjean “the first lap nutcase,” according to Yahoo! Sports. Heading into the Japanese GP, Grosjean had already been involved in eight crashes. Of these, crashes in Spain, Monaco, Britain, Germany and Belgium had all occurred at the start or during the first lap of the race and involved contact with other drivers. At Japan, Grosjean lived up to his “nutcase” label as he slammed into Webber heading into the first corner while attempting to overtake.
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.
Recently, Nico Rosberg was involved in a scandal involving the blocking off of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso during the 2012 Bahrain GP. Video footage shows the challenging cars attempting to pass and Rosberg moving over to deny the pass to the point the challengers were forced to go off the track. In 2010, Michael Schumacher almost pushed Rubens Barichello into the barrier as the Brazilian looked to pass the German champion on the inside. That said, Rosberg and Schumacher have nothing on Ferrari’s Giuseppe Farina. The 1950 F1 champion was notorious for blocking off opponents – to the point of putting them and track personnel in risk of injury and death.
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.
You need only to take a look around YouTube to find examples of drivers and teams paying the price for trying to get an advantage in the pit during an F1 race over the years. There are more fines and time penalties handed out for speeding than can be listed here. Footage shows cars colliding with parked cars or cutting each other off while trying to get out and back onto the track. More than one crew member has been hit by a speeding car or a team driver who applied the brakes too late when coming in for a stop. There are numerous examples of cars leaving the pit with tires coming off or fuel lines still attached and flames engulfing the car or crew member.
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.
If you’re still not convinced that racing and overtaking on a rain soaked track isn’t dangerous, watch the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix. Twenty cars started the race and only six finished as car after car spun out or slid off in the rain soaked conditions. It was a race which saw Damon Hill slide off the track three times before retiring. After a horrible start to the race, Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher ran what was probably his best ever race, coming from well back to take the win. Commentators at the time likened the German’s reckless style to that of Ayrton Senna as anyone who watches clips from the race can see the numerous corrections required by Schumacher to keep the speeding Ferrari under control. Interestingly, there were no controversies surrounding the race, the tactics used or the fact most of the field failed to finish. Nonetheless, while we admire Schumacher’s skill today, one wonders how we’d view the race today if just one driver had been seriously injured as a result of the weather.
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.
Perhaps the best example of this happened at Zandvoort in 1979. Ferrari’s Gilles Villeneuve suffered a left rear tire puncture and went off the track. Rather than abandon the car, Villaneuve backed onto the track and finished the lap while the tire disintegrated. Video footage shows the Canadian battling to maintain control of the car which was effectively on two wheels. On the one hand, like the Schumacher example above, you could say this was a display of amazing driving given the condition of the car. On the other hand, you (and probably all of today’s F1 leadership) could also argue Villeneuve put the other drivers and himself at risk because his car was unstable, shedding rubber and metal onto the track and driving much slower through the winding circuit. Like #4, we’ll leave that one up to you.
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.
Perhaps one of the best modern examples can be found in Lewis Hamilton. The current F1 champion shows amazing skill on the circuit but he also has a reputation among some as a driver who is too aggressive and reckless in overtaking. For example, in 2008, the English driver was accused of forcing Mark Webber and Timo Glock off the track after overtaking during the Italian GP. Complaints against Hamilton didn’t stop there and during the 2011 Monaco GP he was again in the crosshairs of critics for performing what some deemed a dangerous overtake on Felipe Massa – a move which played a role in the eventual crash of the Brazilian driver.
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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