With practice for Formula One’s 1000th Grand Prix getting underway in the early hours of Friday morning, let look back on three of the sport’s greatest controversies which got everyone talking for weeks and even the rest of that season.
“Multi-21, Seb. Multi-21,”
There is no controversy like an inter-team feud and Red Bull’s “Multi-21” saga has to be up there as one of the all-time classics, gripping F1 fans in debate between the 2013 Malaysian GP and the following Chinese GP.
This incident came after years of simmering tension between Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, with two incidents during the 2010 season triggering a slippery slope in which the German arrived in Sepang three years later as a reigning three-time champion whilst Webber was their clear no.2 driver.
The Australian however found himself on course for victory after a brilliant strategy put him out in front. Vettel then underlined his arrogance by repeatedly ignoring calls to hold station and forced his way past Webber despite Team Principal – Christian Horner saying; “This is silly Seb. Come on.”
Given that it was only the second race that season, Horner was right in what he said to Vettel because there was no need to risk the car and potentially rob their team plus fans potential 1-2 finish although there’s no doubting that this would be a defining moment for the team.
Webber however summed it up perfectly on the podium, when he said; “… In the end, Seb made his own decisions today, not respected team orders, but will have protection as usual and that’s the way it goes.”
That comment provided a real eye opener into how Red Bull worked because we didn’t see Vettel receive much of a punishment, with karma doing a better job than the team ever did, as Webber retired at end of that season only for his younger compatriot – Daniel Ricciardo to come in and trounce Vettel the following season.
If anything, this controversy exposed the true nature of what F1 can be like with constructors favouring certain drivers ahead of their teammates, especially if their no.2 driver is a fan favourite.
Remaining with the 2013 season, tyres were also a huge talking point after a series of random blow-outs for several drivers.
Excessive tyre wear affected various teams throughout the early stage of the season, culminating in Pirelli introducing new rubber for Monaco and Canada but only after a post Spanish GP test with the then current Mercedes cars.
Although it’s important not to use current cars for any unofficial tyre testing in fear of teams gaining any advantage, I feel that Pirelli were justified in wanting to use 2013 cars at that time because they would of garnered more suitable data to use to improve the tyre designs than if had used any cars from previous seasons.
My only criticism is how both parties went about that test without seeking permission and karma certainly came home to roost at that season’s British Grand Prix, when Lewis Hamilton’s left rear blew on lap seven whilst leading the race.
Just to add further insult, five other drivers including Sergio Perez suffered tyre failures during the race although it was the Mexican’s second of that weekend after experiencing his first such incident during FP3.
It’s bad enough when one driver has a huge tyre failure over any weekend but for SIX to suffer the same issue was nothing short of embarrassing for a major F1 race, especially as could of been much worse if over half of the field had their tyres randomly explode.
Pirelli however did a grand job in swiftly reacting to the issue despite the German GP being just a week later, in reverting back to the popular Kevlar belts on rear tyres and FIA also forbid teams from swapping designated tyres to the opposite sides to increase the tyre’s life expectancy.
Overall, this was a fairly bonkers controversy by modern F1 standards but at the same time, it highlighted some of the hidden dangers in F1 and got both F1 personnel and fans talking.
Six Car Grand Prix
Fancy watching a six car Formula One Grand Prix?
Well it did happen in 2005 at the US GP in Indianapolis after teams running Michelin tyres suffered various tyre failures during the weekend, before pulling out after two proposed safety compromises concerning turn 13 were declined by the FIA.
What made this more shocking though was the fact that they all participated in the formation lap as normal before pitting as the Bridgestone running teams lined up on the grid.
If that happened today, it would be the ultimate humiliation for any motorsport category and fans were justifiably furious as nobody wants to pay to sit and watch Ferrari dominate whilst the other runners were lapped whether it’s in the stands or at home so credit to those spectators who demanded refunds.
Either way, this is probably F1’s worst multi-team controversy because to have just six cars in a GP is just absurd and could of easily been avoided if a compromise had been agreed.
- Crashgate – Renault instructed Nelson Piquet Jr to crash his car on lap 15 of 2008 Singapore GP, therefore helping teammate – Fernando Alonso win that race through strategy but that incident is low for any team to help one of their drivers at the other’s expense.
- SpyGate – Confidential technical information was passed from Ferrari to McLaren with the latter guilty of receiving stolen information and gaining a fraudulent sporting advantage in what probably has to be the most political yet confusing controversies to hit the sport with various twists throughout.