Racing Point was handed a $400,000 fine and docked 15 points for breaching the sporting regulations by using Mercedes-designed rear brake ducts on the RP20. Some teams believe this penalty isn’t harsh enough, Racing Point doesn’t think it’s done anything wrong, and almost everyone is confused as to why the team is allowed to keep running the offending parts and whether the reprimands they continue to be given after each race actually means anything.
With the matter heading to appeal, it could go one of three ways. The penalty could stay the same, with further clarification on what’s going to happen. If Racing Point wins, it could be scrubbed entirely. On the other hand, it could be escalated to an even more severe punishment. If that’s the case, it’ll probably go down as being one of the biggest in F1 history – here are seven other examples of rule-breaking which proved extremely costly.
At the start of 2007, Ferrari chief mechanic Nigel Stepney was unhappy with the way things were going at the team – especially once he was reassigned to a job at the factory. Later that year, he was accused of sending 780 pages of confidential Ferrari information to McLaren’s chief designer Mike Coughlan after his wife went to a local shop in Woking to have them photocopied. The only problem is that the person who worked in the photocopier shop was a Ferrari fan, noticed the documents were confidential Ferrari property, and contacted the factory to inform them.
Investigations were conducted by the teams and the FIA, Coughlan and Stepney were dismissed by their, teams, and that seemed to be the end of that. Despite allegations that McLaren has accessed and used this information, the investigation revealed that it Coughlan had acted alone and that nobody else in the team knew what was happening.
However, a couple of weeks later, the Hungarian Grand Prix happened. During qualifying, Lewis Hamilton ignored a team order in an attempt to hinder teammate Fernando Alonso. Incensed, Alonso famously waited longer than he should have done in his pit box, allowing him enough time to get out and set a pole position lap but prevent Hamilton from doing so. Alonso was penalised and given a grid penalty, while McLaren was barred from collecting any constructors points from the race for bringing the sport into disrepute. However, this was just the tip of the iceberg.
On the morning of the race, a furious Alonso confronted Ron Dennis and told him that he was going to release emails he and McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa to the FIA which confirmed that McLaren did know about the confidential Ferrari information. Dennis immediately explained that Alonso had blackmailed him to FIA president Max Mosley and claimed there was no basis to the claims.
However, this new allegation prompted the FIA to reopen the investigation. The three drivers – Hamilton, Alonso, and de la Rosa – were essentially given immunity for testifying and telling the truth about what was going on. On 13 September – just over a month since the Hungarian GP and almost two months since initially being cleared – the FIA announced its revised verdict: McLaren was guilty.
Because of the honesty of the drivers (and probably because they were both involved in a compelling championship battle with Kimi Raikkonen that everyone was loving), they were allowed to continue to fight for the title. However, McLaren was disqualified from the Constructors’ Championship and issued a whopping $100 million fine.
Despite being one of the biggest punishments in sporting history, it could have been even worse. Mosley joked that the penalty was “5 million for the offence, and $95 million for Ron Dennis being a twat”. He had initially wanted to ban McLaren for two years, but was convinced by Bernie Ecclestone to be a bit more lenient. McLaren was also threatened with a points deduction for the following season in case the 2008 car contained any the Ferrari data, but after the team issued a full formal apology, Mosley decided the team had suffered enough and left them to it.
One team that did get disqualified from an entire season was Tyrrell. In F1’s first turbo era, any team running naturally-aspirated engines tried to find ways to gain a competitive edge over the more powerful turbo teams, with weight being a particular focus. The likes of Brabham and McLaren first did this by fitting a large tank of water under the guise of being used for ‘cooling the brakes’. In reality, it wasn’t needed for cooling at all, and the water would be emptied in the early stages of the race, allowing the cars to run underweight. It was then topped up after the race to meet the minimum weight limit again – completely legal, but very definitely an exploiting of a loophole.
By 1984, Tyrrell was one of the few teams left that hadn’t gone down the route of turbo power, so they came up with their own method. They too used a water tank which sprayed water on the engine inlets to try and improve power. Again, this was completely legal – but the problem came with the way the team topped up the tanks again.
Refilling fluids after the race had been banned, so Tyrrell elected to refill them during the race. The cars would pit and have these water tanks refilled – only this time, the water contained a fair amount of lead shot in order to boost the weight up. Rival teams noticed this lead shot spilling onto the floor in the pit lane and before long, the governing body was investigating what was going on.
Following the Detroit GP, Tyrrell was investigated. Amazingly, the use to lead to bring the weight up was legal, but the fact that it wasn’t secured meant that it fell foul of rules surrounding ‘movable ballast’. To make matters worse, a sample of the water in the tanks was tested and discovered to contain a certain amount of fuel, which meant that the team could also be charged with refuelling during a race (which was banned), using illegal fuel, and using illegal fuel lines which didn’t conform to safety regulations.
Unsurprisingly, Tyrrell appealed the decision. Subsequent tests on the water found that the amount of fuel in the water to be negligible, meaning that the only charge that could realistically stick was the use of unsecured ballast.
The court of appeal dropped the charges on the fuel lines and mid-race refuelling, but remained firm on believing the fuel in the water was offering an advantage. Controversially, they also announced a new charge, claiming that two small holes in the floor of the car (which were vents for the water tank system) were in contravention of aerodynamic regulations. Despite two rival team engineers arguing in Tyrrell’s favour with regards to the floor, the appeal was rejected. The punishment? Tyrrell was banned from taking part in the remaining three races of the season, and disqualified from the 13 races that had already taken place that year.
The team also lost $1 million worth of travel concessions for the following year, and was forced to pay $500,000 in damages. Ken Tyrrell was shocked by the decision and felt that it was an attempt to silence him, having spent years speaking against the introduction of the turbo runners.
It was the last race of 1997 at the Jerez circuit in Spain, and Michael Schumacher in the Ferrari was up against Jacques Villeneuve for the championship. Effectively, whoever won the race would win the title. But if they both failed to finish, Schumacher would win it.
Schumacher took the lead at the start, but as the race progressed, Villeneuve was catching him. With 23 laps to go, Villeneuve went for a move into Jerez’s Dry Sack corner. It was a big lunge, but doable, and as Schumacher saw him coming, he jerked out of the way. However, a split second later, he reversed that decision, and turned into the Williams instead. His front wheel banged Villeneuve’s sidepod and while Schumacher ended up in the gravel, Villeneuve carried on his merry way.
It was obvious to everybody what had happened – speaking on commentary, Martin Brundle immediately said “That didn’t work, Michael. You’ve hit the wrong part of him, my friend”. With Schumacher out, Villeneuve only had to nurse his damaged car to finish sixth to win the title; he ended up third and took the crown.
At the time the stewards had deemed it a racing incident. But collisions had decided championship in three of the past eight seasons (Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in 1989 and 1990, and Schumacher and Damon Hill in 1994) and the FIA were keen to put a stop to it.
Two weeks after the race, Schumacher was summoned by the FIA to a disciplinary hearing in Paris. The outcome? All of his race results would stand, but he was disqualified from the Drivers’ Championship, (promoting Heinz-Harald Frentzen to second overall) and he was also made to take part in FIA road safety campaign the following year. One concerned German citizen also checked in with some lawyers to see if Schumacher could be charged with attempted murder but thankfully, common sense prevailed and the charge (if you can even call it that) was dropped.
Did it work? Well, since then no world championship has been decided by a collision between the title contenders, so it seems the message got through…
After a few years of underwhelming results, in 2004 the BAR team finally delivered the kind of results it had been promising since coming into the sport in 1999. Jenson Button took a string of podiums and finished third in the championship as he started to look like one of the sport’s top drivers. Teammate Takuma Sato was a little less successful thanks to some poor reliability and being… well, Sato, but he was still quick, and the team finished runners-up to Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship.
2005 hadn’t started quite so well as, after three races, the team was still yet to score. But at Imola, things were looking rather better – Button qualified and finished third, while Sato started sixth and finished fifth.
The celebrations didn’t last long. After the race, Button’s car was found to be underweight. That would normally mean a fairly straightforward disqualification, but there was more to it than that. By little more than luck, stewards discovered that BAR had installed a hidden, secondary fuel tank which could store over 11kg of extra fuel, meaning it was theoretically possible for the car to run under the minimum weight limit (which at the time was 605kg in qualifying, 600kg in race conditions). This also meant that the team had been lying to the scrutineers and stewards when asked if all the fuel had been drained from the cars, saying it had when it hadn’t.
BAR maintained that the extra fuel was necessary for the car to work (apparently, without enough fuel, the engine wouldn’t pump it properly) and that it never ran under the weight limit, although this was pretty much impossible to prove.
Although the scrutineers at the meeting accepted BAR’s explanation, the FIA wasn’t buying any of it. After a hearing at the International Court of Appeal, Button was disqualified from the San Marino Grand Prix and, despite his car being above the minimum weight in Imola, so was Sato. On top of that, the team was thrown out of the next two races in Spain and Monaco and given a six-month ban, suspended for a year. It could have been far worse – FIA president Max Mosley was seriously against cheating and wanted BAR thrown out for the rest of the season – which probably would have been a little bit harsh.
Rubens Barrichello had dominated the Austrian Grand Prix from pole and was looking set to take his first grand prix win in almost two years. But, coming round the final corner on the final lap, he slowed down and handed Michael Schumacher the victory on a platter.
Team orders had always been a thing in F1, but seldom had they been so blatant… or so disappointing. It was only the sixth race of the season, and it was hard to make an argument for Ferrari needing to boost Schumacher’s points tally so early into the season, especially when Barrichello was still theoretically a championship contender. To say it was disappointing was an understatement and confirmed the feeling many fans had that Schumacher was not only the clear lead driver, but that whoever was number two at Ferrari wasn’t going to be allowed to beat him on the rare occasions that they could.
The crowd booed and jeered at the end of the race as Schumacher and Barrichello went to the podium to sheepishly collect their trophies. Nobody realistically gained anything from what had happened – but it was completely legal. Nothing could be done to redress the sporting wrong that had happened.
However, the podium ceremony itself provided the FIA with the opportunity they needed. Clearly understanding how badly the whole sorry sight had gone down, Schumacher urged Barrichello onto the top step of the podium, before handing him his race winners trophy. In doing so, they’d breached podium protocol and the FIA decided to make an example of it. A fine of $1,000,000 was issued, divided between the team and the two drivers, with half to be paid immediately, and the other half suspended for 12 months, to be paid if the same thing happened again. It also directly led to the FIA banning team orders which affect the result of the race for the 2003 season.
That rule stayed in place until 2010 but proved to be rather ineffective as teams had simply switched to using coded messages. When Ferrari issued another blatant team order in that year’s German GP, ordering Felipe Massa to give up the win for Fernando Alonso, the FIA decided the team orders ban was too difficult to police, and the rule was scrapped.
In 2008, mid-race refuelling was still a thing, and there was also a rule that the pit lane would initially be closed if a safety car came out until the whole field was bunched up behind it. This meant that pitting just before a safety car would be an enormous strategic advantage, while anyone who had to pit during a safety car would lose a large amount of time. Renault learned this in Hockenheim, when Nelson Piquet Jr found himself unexpectedly leading in the closing stages of the race before eventually finishing second.
In Singapore that year, Fernando Alonso was looking like a genuine contender for victory in a Renault which had been generally uncompetitive. However, his car suffered an issue in qualifying, and he only started 15th. Usually in this situation, the strategy would be to fill the car up with as much fuel as possible and run long into the race, in order to maximise options to move up the field. Unusually, Alonso had been one of the first to stop, and came into the pits on lap 12. Two laps later, teammate Piquet crashed hard into the wall at Turn 17 (where he’d also had a spin on the warm-up lap), bringing out the safety car. Alonso leapt towards the front of the field and eventually went on to win. It raised a few eyebrows at the time, but generally it was seen as just a bit of a lucky win thanks to the safety car, and the fact his teammate had caused it was just a coincidence.
It wasn’t a coincidence.
Piquet was fired by Renault mid-way through the following season and on 30 August, 2009, allegations surfaced that he’d been ordered by team principal Flavio Briatore and engineering director Pat Symonds to crash on purpose in order to benefit Alonso. Fearful that not going along with the plan might cost him his drive, he agreed to.
On 4 September, Renault was charged with breaching Article 151c of the International Sporting Code, which read: “Any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interest of any competition or to the interest of motorsports generally”. A hearing was set for 21 September, with an investigation to take place in the meantime.
Briatore and Symonds initially denied the claims (and Renault even attempted to sue Piquet for slander), though Symonds later admitted during the investigation that the conspiracy was real – although he claimed the idea had come from Piquet himself. On 16 September, both departed the team, and Renault announced that it wouldn’t be contesting the charges – as clear an admission of guilt as you could ever wish to see.
At the hearing, the FIA World Motorsport Council gave Renault a suspended two-year ban, Symonds was banned from working in any FIA event for five years, while Briatore was banned altogether (Although these were both later overturned). Despite essentially admitting to race-fixing, Piquet got off without punishment, having been given immunity for speaking out about the scandal. Alonso? He denied any involvement in the scheme and there was no evidence to suggest he’d known anything about it. However, Piquet (and many others) wondered that if he didn’t know about it, then it was odd that he went along with what was obviously such an unlikely strategy.
The race result itself stood, meaning that Alonso kept his win and the championship result stood. This made Felipe Massa furious – during the safety car, a mistake by Ferrari during their pit stop led Massa to leave his box with the fuel hose still attached. This cost him a load of time and he eventually finished 15th – a result which he believes cost him the championship.
Why did they do it? Well, in 2008 the world was in recession and the future of manufacturer teams in F1 was uncertain. If Renault could be shown to be race winners, it might encourage the board to keep the team in the sport. On top of that, there were murmurings that there was a performance clause in Alonso’s contract that he could end his two-year contract a year early if he didn’t win a race. Having a two-time champion in the team
Instead, Crashgate ended up being perhaps the biggest scandal in the history of the sport which tarnished the legacy of Symonds and Briatore, ruined Nelson Piquet Jr’s Formula 1 career, and put a big asterisk next to the result of the race. The biggest irony? At the very next race of 2008 in Fuji, Alonso and Renault won completely on merit, rendering many of the reasons for Crashgate utterly worthless.
On paper, Andrea Moda just looks like your average early-1990s backmarker team: they had mediocre car which mostly failed to qualify for races and which didn’t even last a whole season. But what set Andrea Moda apart was the utterly shambolic way in which the team was run.
At the first race of the season in South Africa, the team wasn’t allowed to compete because it hadn’t paid the entry fee and in Mexico, the cars hadn’t been built in time. At this point, drivers Alex Caffi and Enrico Bertaggia had both realised what a joke Andrea Moda was – Caffi said as much and was fired, while Bertaggia decided to walk away. In their place came Roberto Moreno and Perry McCarthy. Moreno gave it his all and suprisingly managed to qualify for the Monaco Grand Prix, but McCarthy may as well have not been there. He had engine failure before he could get out of the pit lane in Spain, was sent out to qualify on wet tyres in the dry at Silverstone, and in Hungary was sent out of the pit lane so late that by the time he got around to the start line, the time had run out and he couldn’t set a lap.
The FIA noticed that McCarthy was clearly being treated unfairly and told Andrea Moda that they had to make a serious effort to run a second car for McCarthy or risk being excluded from the sport.
Other mishaps the team got into during the season were failing to turn up to the Canadian GP with any engines to the point where they had to borrow one from Brabham, to missing the French GP entirely because the team trucks got stuck in a blockade.
It all came to a head at Spa. McCarthy was sent out with a steering part which had come from Moreno’s car and which the team knew was broken – his steering froze going through Eau Rouge and he was fortunate to avoid a colossal accident.
On that same weekend, team boss Andrea Sassetti was arrested in the paddock on allegations of forgery. The FIA had seen enough. A week later, the team was banned from F1 for failing to run a team to Formula 1 standards and for bringing the sport into disrepute. Despite being banned, Andrea Moda still decided to rock up at Monza to try and race, but was refused entry to the paddock.