There are few sports in which the stakes are higher than in Formula One. Sporting glory is one thing, but when the competition can land you in hospital, or worse, the events that unfold on track take on another dimension.
It’s no surprise, then, that the collision between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton at the British Grand Prix split opinions. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was one of the most forthright in his views, claiming Hamilton had made a “desperate” and “amateur” move that led to a “hollow victory” after leaving his Verstappen in hospital.
Thankfully, the Red Bull driver was given the all clear and released from hospital later that evening, allowing the focus to turn to how the incident might impact the championship battle going forward.
But Hamilton and Verstappen are not the first rivals to collide on track while fighting for a title.
F1’s history is littered with the debris of high-profile crashes, some of which still stand as the sport’s most memorable moments.
Schumacher v Hill – 1994 Australian Grand Prix
When the F1 circus reached Australia for the final round of the 1994 season, Benetton driver Michael Schumacher found himself defending a one-point lead in the drivers’ standings from Williams’ Damon Hill. Leading the race, but under pressure from Hill in the opening laps, Schumacher ran wide on lap 36 and damaged his car against a concrete barrier.
Hill, unaware of the damage to the Benetton ahead, threw his car up the inside at the next to corner to try to pass, but as he did so Schumacher turned across on his rival and eliminated both cars from the race.
Although no action was taken by the stewards, the accident immediately raised eyebrows as it handed Schumacher the title. In the aftermath, Schumacher had stood waiting by the crash barriers to make sure his rival did not emerge in the lead on the next lap.
Years later, Hill said: “There are two things that set Michael apart from the rest of the drivers in Formula One — his sheer talent and his attitude. I am full of admiration for the former, but the latter leaves me cold.”
Mansell v Senna – 1987 Belgian Grand Prix
The 1987 Belgian Grand Prix had to be restarted following a huge accident involving Philippe Streiff and Jonathan Palmer, but it was a subsequent collision between Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna that was the main talking point after the race.
Senna took the lead at the restart but Mansell was quicker and attempted to pass around the outside of the Fagnes chicane on the first lap. The pair entered the corner side by side but soon ran out of asphalt, made contact and spun off in unison.
Senna beached his Lotus in the gravel and was out on the spot while Mansell struggled on for another 17 laps before returning to the pits with damage. As soon as he was out of his car, Mansell made a b-line for the Lotus garage and took Senna by the scruff of his overalls, dangling his rival a couple of inches off the ground.
Veteran F1 journalist Alan Henry later wrote: “The message he was seeking to convey was unmistakable.”
Senna v Prost – 1989 Japanese Grand Prix
A frequent addition to F1 crash compilations, the collision between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna at the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix was one of the most controversial of all time.
On lap 46 at Suzuka, the McLaren team-mates, who were fighting for the title with Prost holding a 16-point lead at the time, came together at the final chicane as Senna went to overtake the Frenchman. Prost turned in on his team-mate and the pair tangled wheels before coming to halt in a run-off area.
“I know everybody thinks I did it on purpose,” Prost said later. “But what I say is that I did not open the door, and that’s it … he tried to pass and for me the way he did it was impossible, because he was going so much quicker than usual into the braking area.
“As we came up to the chicane, he was so far back. When you look in your mirrors, and a guy is 20 metres behind you, it’s impossible to judge, and I didn’t even realise he was trying to overtake me. But at the same time I thought, ‘There’s no way I’m going to leave him even a one-metre gap. No way’. I came off the throttle braked — and turned in.”
As Prost climbed out of his McLaren, Senna managed to restart his car and continued down the escape road with some help from the marshals. He went on to win the race but was later disqualified for missing the chicane after a lengthily meeting with FISA officials.
The decision meant Prost was crowned world champion while Senna, infuriated at the decision, had to wait 12 months to get his revenge.
Senna v Prost – 1990 Japanese Grand Prix
The events of the previous year were still festering in Senna’s mind when he arrived at Suzuka in 1990, and ahead of the race his emotions were tested to breaking point by a decision to keep his pole position grid slot on the dirty side of the track.
He blamed the French FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre for manipulating the championship 12 months earlier and felt the same way when his request for pole position to be moved to the other side of the grid was denied.
As he predicted, Prost made a better getaway when the lights went out and he vented his frustration by piling into the Ferrari at the first corner. The two drivers were out of the race on the spot, meaning Senna was name world champion this time round.
A year later, Senna revealed what his thought process had been ahead of the race: “I said to myself ‘OK, you try to work cleanly and do the job properly and then you get f—– by stupid people. All right, if tomorrow Prost beats me off the line, at the first corner I will go for it, and he better not turn in because he is not going to make it’.
“And it just happened.”
Rosberg v Hamilton – 2014 Belgian Grand Prix
It became clear quite quickly at the start of the 2014 season that the drivers’ championship would be a two-horse race between Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. By the time the championship reached the 12th round of the season in Belgium, the battle was finely poised with Rosberg leading Hamilton by 11 points and everything still to play for.
But tensions were high in the Mercedes camp after Hamilton had refused to move over for his teammate at the previous round in Hungary despite the two drivers being on different strategies. In Spa, Rosberg got some satisfaction by taking pole position in qualifying but Hamilton claimed the lead on the opening lap, putting his teammate on the back foot once more.
Rosberg fought back on the second lap before attempting an unlikely pass at Les Combes, a medium-speed chicane at the end of the long Kemmel Straight. The German left the nose of his car on the inside of his teammate’s and as the chicane switched back, Rosberg’s front wing punctured Hamilton’s left rear tyre, damaging the floor of Hamilton’s car and eventually leading to his retirement.
Rosberg went on to finish second to Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, extending his championship lead, but the lap two collision took on a new dimension when it emerged in a post-race team briefing that Rosberg had caused the collision on purpose.
“It looked quite clear to me but we just had a meeting about it and he basically said he did it on purpose,” Hamilton told the media that evening. “He said he did it on purpose, he said he could have avoided it.
“He said, ‘I did it to prove a point’, he basically said, ‘I did it to prove a point’. And you don’t have to just rely on me, go and ask Toto [Wolff, Mercedes team principal], Paddy [Lowe, technical director] and all those guys who are not happy with him as well.
“I was gobsmacked when I was listening to the meeting. You need to ask him what point he was trying to make.”
Rosberg, who was speaking to the press at the same time as Hamilton, maintained that he saw the event as a racing incident.
“I have seen it and I don’t want to say what it definitely is,” Rosberg added. “The stewards’ judged it as a racing incident and that’s the way that one can describe it.”
Rosberg was internally reprimanded for the collision while Hamilton went on to win the next five races in a row, which would ultimately form the basis of his second title victory and his first of six championships with Mercedes.
Rosberg v Hamilton – 2016 Spanish Grand Prix
If Mercedes’ team management was angry after the Belgian Grand Prix in 2014, they were absolutely furious following the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix. Once again, the title battle was clearly going to be a straight fight between Rosberg and Hamilton and, once again, the two came to blows on track.
A series of reliability issues in the opening four rounds meant Hamilton arrived at the Circuit de Catalunya 43 points behind Rosberg in the championship standings. He took pole position for the race, but a poor getaway handed Rosberg the lead into the first corner on a circuit where overtaking was notoriously difficult.
However, Rosberg had left his car in the wrong engine setting at the start and as he came through Turn 3, the hybrid system started harvesting energy rather than deploying it. That gave Hamilton a 17 km/h speed advantage on the run down to Turn 4 and a chance to throw his Mercedes up the inside and retake the lead. As he did so, Rosberg realised his setting error and moved over to cover off Hamilton’s move. But by that point, Hamilton was in no mood to back down and the pair collided on the entry to Turn 4 and ended up in a pile of broken carbon fibre in the gravel trap.
Although the stewards deemed the collision a racing incident, when the two drivers were summoned to Mercedes’ engineering trucks to explain themselves, the team’s non-executive chairman Niki Lauda put the blame on Hamilton.
“The big question was whose fault was it?” Lauda said. “For me it was clear because Lewis was too aggressive going to the right, hit the grass, couldn’t stop his car and then hit him off.
“I said if I have to choose between the two it’s more Lewis’ fault than Nico’s fault. And Lewis did not appreciate that, because he was of a different opinion. He said, ‘Why do you criticize me?’ I said, ‘Excuse me. I cannot accept that you guys crash and then we have nothing and nobody’s fault. For me it has to be somebody’s fault.’ And then Lewis really got upset.
“Nico said, ‘Yes, it was your part too, you moved to the inside. Why did you not leave room?’ He said, ‘Why should I, I was doing the race’.”
Lauda said he met with Hamilton again on the Spanish island of Ibiza to talk through the incident one-on-one, while Mercedes issued a stricter set of rules of engagement to its drivers. Lauda later revealed that the rules came with the ultimate threat of a driver being released from his contract if he did not act in the interests of the team.
“We put some regulations in, we told them — especially in Barcelona when the pushed each other off the track — we said this was unacceptable for Mercedes and one of you guys has to win [the race] you cannot push each other off.
“We had some rules put in, that you are not allowed to [do that] and you have to pay a penalty if you do it again or we will think of releasing you from your contract, because we are team players here and we cannot destroy each other. This was the thing. Toto came up with some good rules and we had peace again. We fought hard and the accidents got reduced between them.”
Schumacher v Villeneuve – 1997 European Grand Prix
Michael Schumacher came to the final round of the 1997 championship with a chance of winning Ferrari’s first title since 1979. As was the case in 1994, he went into the last race with a one point lead and once again he was prepared to defend it at all costs.
His challenger for the title this time was Williams’ Jacques Villeneuve and on lap 47 the Canadian attempted to pass on the inside of the Dry Sac corner. Schumacher — in a similar move to the one on Hill three years earlier — turned in on him, breaking his Ferrari’s suspension but leaving the Williams with minor damage.
“The car felt very strange,” Villeneuve said after going on to finish third and being crowned world champion. “The hit was very hard. It was not a small thing.”
Schumacher was later disqualified from the championship by the FIA for the incident.
Schumacher v Coulthard – 1998 Belgian Grand Prix
A wet race at Spa-Francorchamps exploded on the 24th lap, when race leader Michael Schumacher came to lap the recovering David Coulthard. Schumacher’s title rival was Coulthard’s McLaren team-mate Mika Hakkinen, who was already out of the race, and Ferrari team boss Jean Todt had been down to McLaren to request that Coulthard get out of the way.
The McLaren driver lifted to allow the Ferrari past but stayed on the racing line while doing so and Schumacher, unsighted by spray, ploughed into the back of Coulthard. After making it back to the pits, Schumacher stormed up to the McLaren garage — along with numerous TV cameras — and had to be restrained as he shouted to Coulthard: “Are you trying to f—— kill me?”
Hunt v Mass – 1977 Canadian Grand Prix
Being taken out by a backmarker is one thing, but it’s quite another when the backmarker is your teammate. Such an incident left James Hunt livid at fellow McLaren driver Jochen Mass during the 1977 Canadian Grand Prix and he ended up taking out his aggression out on an unsuspecting marshal.
Hunt had been in a tight battle for the lead of the race with Mario Andretti when the pair came up to lap Mass. As Hunt attempted to pass his McLaren teammate on the inside they made contact and he ploughed into the catch fencing at 100mph, putting him out of the race on the spot.
“I was right up his chuff,” Hunt explained after the race. “I was forced to go left … then he suddenly moved across to the left, hit the brakes and waved me through on the right. But I was committed and couldn’t avoid him … I hit him right up the a—.”
After clambering out of his car, Hunt stood on the side of the track angrily waving his fist at Mass. When a marshal tried to usher Hunt away, the 1976 world champion responded with a crisp right hook that laid the marshal out cold. Hunt immediately tried to apologise to the marshal but was later fined $750 for walking on the track and $2000 for thumping the official.
Hill v Bandini – 1964 Mexican Grand Prix
Graham Hill arrived at the final round of the 1964 world championship in Mexico City with a five point lead in the driver’s standings over Ferrari’s John Surtees and a nine point lead over Lotus’ Jim Clark. A top two finish would secure him the title if Surtees won and third would be good enough if Clark, who started from pole, took top honours.
Things got off on the wrong foot, however, when the elastic on Hill’s goggles broke before the start and the delay sorting them out dropped him to 10th place. He fought back to third by lap 12 but started to come under pressure from Lorenzo Bandini, who dived up the inside of the BRM on several occasions but failed to pass — prompting some fist waving from the usually-composed Briton.
On lap 31, Bandini made an even more opportunistic lunge and the pair made contact, spinning the BRM backwards into the barrier. Both managed to rejoin the race, but a bent exhaust restricted the performance of Hill’s engine and he had to make a lengthily pit stop for repairs, ruining his shot at the title.
There were some suggestions of foul play after the race, given that the title went to Bandini’s Ferrari team-mate Surtees, but BRM team boss Louis Stanley was having none of it.
“After the race accusations were slung around,” he said. “Some said that Bandini had deliberately crashed the BRM as part of Ferrari tactics. I was reluctant to agree.
“By temperament Bandini was fiery and impulsive, a fearless driver but never guilty of doubtful tactics … Before we left the circuit, Dragoni, Ferrari team manager, Forghieri, chief engineer, and Bandini came to the pit and apologised. Bandini was in tears. Everyone shook hands. As far as BRM was concerned, the incident was closed.”
Webber v Vettel – 2010 Turkish Grand Prix
There were no handshakes at Red Bull following the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix, as the team was split down the middle following a collision between its drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.
On lap 41, Vettel got alongside Webber on the inside of Turn 12 but drifted back across his teammate’s path as they entered the braking zone. A puff of tyre smoke later and both were heading for the run off area with Vettel’s car terminally damaged.
“Seb had a top speed advantage and he went down the inside,” Webber said. “We were side by side and then it looks like he turned pretty quickly to the right and we made contact. It definitely happened fast.”
Vettel added: “I’m not in the happiest of moods. If you look at the pictures it was clear I had the inside. I was ahead and just going down to focus on the braking point and honestly, you can see we touched and he touched my right rear wheel and I went off.”
The collision cost Red Bull a near-certain one-two victory, but had much longer lasting consequences as it created a rift between the two sides of the garage that lasted until Webber left the team in 2013. Red Bull tried to plaster over the cracks in the immediate aftermath with a posed photo of the two drivers shrugging the incident off, but there was no hiding the animosity as they continued to fight for the title until the final round in Abu Dhabi, where Vettel came from behind in the standings to be crowned champion.
In a recent interview with Channel 4 about the relationship, Webber was asked if the drivers put their differences aside after the incident.
“Absolutely not. No chance,” Webber replied. “We absolutely overstepped the mark professionally often, and I lost a lot of trust with him on the professional sense.
“We are pretty tight now, there are messages exchanged so that’s gone, I’ve had enough bottles of red to let that pass on. But in terms of what was happening at the time if he got food poisoning, and I don’t know who would have put something in his food…but ultimately it was a headache for the team because we were going for a world championship in that 2010 year and we were both in the same team against Lewis and Fernando [Alonso], four of us at the last race, for this team that was an absolute headache.
“We had a lot of challenging moments mentally and the team started to separate so it was hard for [team boss] Christian [Horner] to manage that.”