Formula One’s Biggest Controversies

All that glitz and glamour can’t hide these shockers

No sport is immune to controversy, but it seems to be drawn to Formula One like a fly to steaming pile of manure. Here are some unforgettable moments for all the wrong reasons.

1990 Japanese Grand Prix

An extraordinary mix of compassion and ruthlessness, the great Ayrton Senna typified the latter at the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix. The Brazilian was guaranteed to be champion if his rival, Ferrari’s Alan Prost, didn’t outscore him in the race. Heading into the first corner, Senna made sure of it by colliding with his former teammate. Both crashed out and he took home the title. After being questioned if it was deliberate, Senna responded without remorse: “When there is a gap you either commit yourself as a professional racing driver that is designed to win races or you come second… I race to win. If you no longer go for a gap that exists you’re no longer a racing driver.”


In 2007, Ferrari claimed that its former employee Nigel Stepney had provided vital technical information on its car to McLaren’s chief designer Michael Coughlan. The sheer stupidity behind this discovery was almost as huge as the scandal itself. Allegedly, Coughlan had his wife drop the documents containing the information off at a shop to be copied onto a CD. It then transpired that the shop worker responsible for transferring the images was a Ferrari fan who then googled the wife’s name and discovered her link to McLaren. The fallout? A criminal investigation and McLaren being excluded from the constructors’ championship and fined $100 million.

Michael Schumacher in 1994 and 1997

A formidable driver, Michael Schumacher was never far away from controversy in his search for racing dominance. Examples include the staged finish in 2002 when he overtook Rubens Barrichello and parking his car at the exit of Rascasse to slow down cars and secure pole at the Monaco Grand Prix. Arguably though, his most infamous moments came in 1994 and 1997. Colliding with Damon Hill at the Australian Grand Prix to win the drivers’ championship, he tried to repeat the trick three years later to title rival Jacques Villeneuve. This time, he failed. Either way, the seven time world champion maintained both moments were unintentional racing incidents.


F1 was rocked after it was discovered Renault ordered its driver Nelson Piquet Jr to deliberately crash during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, thus bringing out the safety car and helping teammate Fernando Alonso win the race. This wasn’t lying or spying. Aside from it being blatant cheating, it was knowingly endangering the lives of drivers, marshals and spectators. Renault was subsequently handed a two year suspended disqualification and team boss Flavio Briatore was banned for life. For many, these penalties weren’t enough. Instead, they only reflected how far teams will go to get one step ahead in such a demanding and lucrative sport, as well as highlighting the lack of credibility F1’s governing body has when dealing with it.

Bernie Ecclestone

The CEO of the Formula One Group which manages F1, Ecclestone has been a central figure in the sport for over 40 years, playing a major role in making it a global powerhouse. He’s also provided more controversy and scandal than a tabloid gossip column. Of course, Ecclestone isn’t the only authoritative figure in F1 to bring the sport into disrepute – Max Mosley (specifically his bottom) and the aforementioned Flavio Briatore are just two others. But Bernie’s critics see him as the physical embodiment of the sport’s failings. Sexism, anti-Semitism, dismissing racism towards Lewis Hamilton as nothing more than a joke, agreeing with Vladimir’s Putin’s stance on homosexuality, tax avoidance and bribery, to name but a few, hardly help to dispel this. Yes, Ecclestone plays the game with merciless efficiency to keep Formula One ticking, but at what cost?

What do you think are F1’s biggest controversies? Let us know below.

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