Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost collided at the first corner in Suzuka in 1990
Credit: Sutton Motorsport/PA
There have been some memorable acts of sportsmanship in Formula 1 down the years. Stirling Moss’s gesture to intercede on rival Mike Hawthorn’s behalf in Portugal in 1958, an act of largesse that ultimately ended up costing Moss that year’s championship, is one of the most celebrated in the history of sport.
Far more famous, though, are the dirty, lowdown and sometimes downright ruthless tactics employed by some of the sport’s biggest names in pursuit of their goals; from Ayrton Senna’s shunt on Alain Prost in Suzuka in 1990 to Michael Schumacher’s parking display at Rascasse in 2006.
The question occupying paddock minds at the moment, of course, is to what lengths Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton might be prepared to go to settle a campaign which is fast becoming a classic.
Heading into this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, just five points separate the Red Bull tyro and the seven-time world champion and the tension is palpable.
Indeed, while both men have tried in interviews to make light of their differences, insisting they are “professional” and can be trusted to play nicely from now on, they and their teams have used some fairly inflammatory language, suggesting the hatchet is far from buried.
Will either of them cross the line in pursuit of victory? Perhaps they already have. Toto Wolff effectively accused Verstappen of taking both cars out in Monza rather than risk losing the championship lead to his rival. The Austrian called it a ‘tactical foul’. Naturally, Red Bull and Verstappen denied any such suggestion. But such antics are hardly uncommon in a sport known as the Piranha Club, in which drivers would sell their own grannies for a few points.
Here, then, are five of the most controversial stunts drivers have pulled in pursuit of glory:
5. Lewis Hamilton vs Fernando Alonso – Hungary 2007
In what was becoming an increasingly poisonous season, the rivalry between double world champion Alonso – newly-arrived at McLaren – and rookie Lewis Hamilton, was absolutely enthralling. Suspicions festered. By the time the sport reached Hungary for the 11th round of the season, Alonso was no longer talking to McLaren team principal Ron Dennis. A messy weekend in which neither McLaren driver was blameless eventually saw the Spaniard take pole after holding up McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton in the pits so he could not get out for a final qualifying lap. Hamilton’s father Anthony went to see the stewards and lobbied hard for Alonso to be punished. The stewards gave Alonso a five-place grid penalty. The repercussions were stunning, Alonso going so far as to blackmail Dennis unless he punished Hamilton, threatening to reveal potentially incriminating emails to do with the ‘spy-gate’ case.
4. Michael Schumacher vs Alonso – 2006
Another for the Schumacher wall of infamy. The Ferrari driver’s failure to complete his final qualifying lap at the Monaco Grand Prix in 2006, effectively parking his car at Rascasse and ending the session was hugely controversial, denying title rival Fernando Alonso the chance to take a pole that looked to be his. The verdict was almost unanimous. When Schumacher walked past the Renault motor home afterwards, staff emerged to give him a thumbs down.
"Given that we are not Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, I think that what he did was unsporting," was the take of Renault team boss Flavio Briatore. "I don’t believe that he really had any problems," McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen agreed. So did the stewards. Having heard evidence from Schumacher, various team members and the FIA race director, they stripped the seven-time champion of pole and sent him to the back of the grid. Alonso was promoted in his stead and would duly go on to take victory and his second successive drivers’ championship later that season.
3. Schumacher vs Jacques Villeneuve – Jerez 1997
This one was more cut and dried; Schumacher colliding with Villeneuve on lap 48 of the European Grand Prix as they vied for the lead (Schumacher knew that finishing ahead of the Canadian would make him world champion in his second year at Ferrari) but only succeeding in taking himself out of the race. Again the German denied doing it on purpose. Others were less convinced. As Martin Brundle pointed out in commentary at the time: “That didn’t work Michael. You hit the wrong part of him, my friend.” The FIA agreed, stripping Schumacher of his 78 championship points from the 1997 season and his reputation in the eyes of many.
2. Damon Hill vs Schumacher – Adelaide 1994
Did Schumacher take a leaf out of Senna’s book at Adelaide in 1994? He always denied it, but the jury is definitely out on this one. Again it was a case of one driver (Schumacher) knowing that he would win the title if both cars failed to finish. And that’s exactly what happened. Schumacher, leading the race, hit a wall, damaging his Benetton. As Hill dived up the inside in an attempt to overtake his rival, Schumacher slammed the door on him, taking himself out of the race but also – crucially – breaking the suspension on the Williams car, which was forced to retire. Hill felt it was a ‘tactical foul’ but in the recent Netflix documentary Schumacher, he appeared to suggest he no longer judged the German for his actions. “As a competitor he was going to win come what may,” Hill said. “Michael did what he had to do to stop me beating him. Put me in the car, in Adelaide, and I’ve got a points advantage, and my rival comes up the inside, what would I do? I don’t know.”
1. Ayrton Senna vs Alain Prost – Suzuka 1990
Probably the most famous bit of F1 chicanery of all time. Senna was still incensed by what had happened 12 months previously when Prost, who had the championship lead, swerved into him, taking them both out of the race (Senna had managed to get going again but was controversially disqualified) and effectively securing the title. This time it was Senna who was ahead in the championship, knowing that if both cars failed to finish, he would be champion. Their race lasted nine seconds, Senna slamming into Prost’s right rear wheel at Turn One with the cars travelling at 150mph. Senna later admitted he had done it on purpose. “The World Championship is for sport, not war,” Prost fumed afterwards. “What he did today was absolutely disgusting.”