F1: Ferrari invoking team orders in 2002 and Spa ‘farce’ – F1’s most controversial races


Just when Formula One fans think they’ve seen it all, they get served the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix. 

Just when Lewis Hamilton restarting on his own on the grid at the Hungaroring looked to be the most bizarre moment of the season so far, three laps at Spa constituting an official ‘race’ in Belgium now has control of the title.

Max Verstappen, pole sitter after qualifying, was guided by the safety car and never had to defend or race as he won half-points for the victory in what was on record the shortest Grand Prix in Formula One history. 

Max Verstappen was crowned the winner of the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix after a bizarre event

Max Verstappen was crowned the winner of the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix after a bizarre event 

The race was declared active following just two laps behind the event's official safety car

The race was declared active following just two laps behind the event’s official safety car 

Hamilton labelled it a ‘farce’ and McLaren boss Zak Brown called for an immediate look at the rules in place as a ‘review’ is needed to prevent a repeat.

Formula One is not averse to controversial races, the sport’s history is littered with them, and this one simply adds to the collection. 

From boycotts in the 80s to Michelin tyres wiping out 14 of 20 drivers before the race had even begun in the United States, Sportsmail looks at six of the most controversial F1 races…

1982 San Marino Grand Prix 

Politics and sport rarely often mix well and here is a good case in point. 

Round four of the 1982 F1 season swung round to Imola and it had already been a season mired in controversy. 

Drivers had gone on strike in the first round at Kyalami to protest what they felt were restrictive new rules on their superlicences. 

The reason there was so much bad blood heading to Imola was that a retrospective decision to strip Nelson Piquet of victory from the Brazilian Grand Prix, and also disqualify runner-up Keke Rosberg, due to weight limit caused outrage.  

Seven teams were all that entered the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix due to an ongoing boycott

Seven teams were all that entered the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix due to an ongoing boycott

The Formula One Constructors’ Association (FOCA) protested the decision and the teams closely aligned to FOCA showed immense resolve in boycotting the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix.

Seven teams entered, with 14 cars on the grid for the ’82 Imola race. 

The likes of Brabham, McLaren, Williams and Lotus all boycotted the race. 

Others, including the Tyrrell, Osella, ATS and Toleman teams went against the boycott, citing ‘sponsor obligations’.  

Despite many teams boycotting the event it still counted towards the world championship and Renault finished with a 1-2 of René Arnoux and Alain Prost. 

1989 Japanese Grand Prix 

For sheer ridiculousness this has to make it in.

Ayrton Senna’s title defence was mired in controversy right until the end in his battle to hold off fierce rival Prost.

Team-mates at McLaren it was 1989 when their rivalry really exploded with arguments over gentleman agreements and who was getting the better equipment for racing. 

Prost was leading the standings with two rounds remaining- 76 points to 60 – and so Senna, well they both did, knew that he needed to win both of the last two races.

Senna qualified pole, Prost second, and it was all set up for a thrilling race in Suzuka.

Prost took the early advantage but it was cat and mouse and Senna knew eventually he would need to overtake his team-mate. On Lap 47, with six left of the race, Senna made the move up the inside of his team-mate only for Prost to turn in and they tangled wheels, both being sent off track.

Ayrton Senna was left furious after he was disqualified from the Japanese Grand Prix in 1989

Ayrton Senna was left furious after he was disqualified from the Japanese Grand Prix in 1989

Prost emerged from his car, perhaps thinking job done, only to see Senna’s pleas for marshalls to give him a push start heard and off he went.

Senna crossed the line first believing his title hopes would go to the final race – only for officials to take a dim view of his push-start.

The Brazilian was disqualified and with it his title hopes were over. Prost would be the 1989 champion. Remains one of the most memorable and controversial episodes from that thrilling season. 

Senna got his own back 12 months later when he torpedoed the race of Prost to ensure he won the title. Deja vu for all involved.  

1994 San Marino Grand Prix 

While others on this list saw political protest, team in-fighting or tyre woes spoil proceedings, Imola in 1984 is here for the heartbreaking cruelty of one of the sport’s greatest ever meeting an untimely end.

Senna had been vocal with his safety concerns for years and the entire grid was on edge when on Saturday Roland Ratzenberger, qualifying for just his third race in F1, suffered a fatal crash.

Having earlier suffered front wing damage he continued on in the second qualifying session only to see the wing snap off and he careered into the wall at just shy of 200mph. 

Ratzenberger was killed by the basilar skull fracture and the horror which unfolded left a mark on the other drivers. 

The memoir of Professor Sid Watkins, who headed up F1’s medical unit at that time, detailed how Senna ‘ broke down and cried on my shoulder’ at news of Ratzenberger’s death.

Roland Ratzenberger was killed in qualifying for the San Marino Grand Prix in April 1994

Roland Ratzenberger was killed in qualifying for the San Marino Grand Prix in April 1994

Watkins goes on to explain that he urged Senna, already a three-time world champion, to quit the sport and focus on life outside of racing, something the Brazilian simply could not do. 

He qualified on pole position with Michael Schumacher in second. 

What followed was a tragic story as he lost control of his car rounding Tamburello corner, flying into the wall at around 135mph.

There had been faster crashes but Senna was struck by a piece of flying suspension and that inflicted a fatal head injury. 

Coverage was graphic and viewers were left horrified as Senna’s body was tended to by medics while the world watched on aghast. 

News of his death was like an earthquake on the sport, drivers and team owners in tears with fans and while there have been fatalities since that fateful day it proved significant in bringing about safety changes.

Senna’s death saw F1 vow to become proactive – rather than reactive – to driver safety. 

Senna died in the race following a crash and F1 vowed to be proactive for driver safety

Senna died in the race following a crash and F1 vowed to be proactive for driver safety

2002 Austrian Grand Prix 

Perhaps the most egregious moment in F1 history. 

The case can definitely be made that the moment Rubens Barrichello was ordered by Ferrari to allow Schumacher through for victory in Austria in 2002 remains one of the sport’s biggest lows. 

Barrichello was winning, comfortably, before he was told to hand victory to his team-mate. 

He initially refused before yielding on the final corner as Schumacher roared through for the hollowest of victories. 

Media members and fans were left outraged. The result of the race dictated by one team. It was not even subtle – Barrichello essentially pulled over to let his team-mate, who had won four of the first five races in 2002, through. 

Rubens Barrichello (right) and Michael Schumacher (left) were booed by fans after team orders saw Barrichello let his team-mate past for victory on the final corner in Austria in 2002

Rubens Barrichello (right) and Michael Schumacher (left) were booed by fans after team orders saw Barrichello let his team-mate past for victory on the final corner in Austria in 2002

Those in attendance booed loudly during the ceremony and Schumacher continued to go against protocol when he had Barrichello step up to the top of the podium and lift the winner’s trophy.

Podium antics costed them and Ferrari a fine of £657,000 and the the FIA world motorsport council ‘deplored’ the team orders and their behaviour on the podium.

Team orders have been around in many guises since F1 began but this bore no subtlety in fixing the result. 

Later that year, the FIA decided to ban team orders from the 2003 season onwards – only to eventually realise it was far too difficult to enforce.

2005 United States Grand Prix 

Pardon the pun but the wheels had been in motion for this sort of mess from the start of the season.

In 2005 a new piece of legislation for teams restricted drivers to just one set of tyres for qualifying as well as the race. 

Michelin was the big name in the tyre field and they were supplying many of the teams.

Alarm bells were starting to ring on the Friday when Toyota third driver Ricardo Zonta had a tyre issue and spun off. Michelin called an emergency meeting that night after it emerged that other cars were beginning to show ‘danger signs’ in their tyres.

A Michelin tyre problem saw 14 cars retired before the race at the 2005 United States GP

A Michelin tyre problem saw 14 cars retired before the race at the 2005 United States GP

Michelin became increasingly concerned at blow-outs and told teams to take it easy in Saturday qualifying – not the message team bosses or drivers wanted to hear.

Rows back and forth about track modifications to improve safety proved fruitless and to the amazement of spectators only six drivers using Bridgestone tyres – Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi – took to racing.

Schumacher, followed by Barrichello, roared to victory for Ferrari but the fall-out continued for weeks after. 

The non-competing teams were called to a World Motor Sport Council hearing where they were found guilty of ‘failing to ensure that they were in possession of suitable tyres for the 2005 US Grand Prix; but with strong, mitigating circumstances,’ and ‘of wrongfully refusing to allow their cars to start the race, having regard to their right to use the pitlane on each lap.’ 

Remains one of the most staggering races in the sport’s history. 

2021 Belgian Grand Prix 

A barely believable race.

Verstappen got his hands on the winner’s trophy after just three minutes and 27 seconds of work.

Rules stipulated that organisers needed just two laps completed behind a safety car before they could classify the race and award half-points.

Rain hammered down on the the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in the Ardennes Forest and eventually they managed to surpass two laps before returning to the garages and packing up for this weekend’s Dutch Grand Prix. Job done. 

Torrential rain saw the Belgian Grand Prix reduced to the shortest race in the sport's history

Torrential rain saw the Belgian Grand Prix reduced to the shortest race in the sport’s history

It is far and away the shortest Grand Prix on record, comfortably taking the title from Australia. 

It was Adelaide in 1991 when just 14 of 81 laps were completed. In comparison to Spa, fans witnessed a relatively lengthy 24 minutes over in Australia. 

While it was the right decision to not put drivers at risk in horrible conditions with visibility incredibly poor, it remained a truly farcical – the word of choice for Hamilton – afternoon which should have been waved off entirely. 

Expect some rule changes to prevent a repeat of Spa in the future.  



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