The United States has had a very on again-off again relationship when it comes to hosting Formula 1 Grands Prix, with no fewer than ten different circuits having hosted races (not all of them under the guise of the United States Grand Prix). As a result it’s had it’s fair share of funny and strange moments – here are nine of the best.
1974 – DNQ? DN-Care!
In 1977 Hans Heyer famously started the German Grand Prix illegally after failing to qualify, but it wasn’t the first time this had happened – in 1974 Australian Tim Schenken did the same at Watkins Glen.
Driving a one-off race for Lotus to test the ill-fated Lotus 76, Schenken had failed to qualify but a quirk of the rules at the time allowed the non-qualifying drivers to do the warm-up lap. The thinking was that if a driver broke down on the warm-up lap there would be someone else ready to take their place. The non-qualifying cars were meant to pull into the pits before the start but Schenken (on the orders of Colin Chapman) started the race anyway. After a few laps the organisers realised there was a car on track that shouldn’t have been and he was disqualified. Different times indeed!
2002 – Ferrari’s failed formation finish
2002 was a bad year for Ferrari – not in terms of results, obviously, they totally dominated – but in terms of PR. They’d already made a mockery of the sport in Austria when Rubens Barrichello was forced to hand Michael Schumacher the win, but what happened in Indianapolis later in the season was just…bizarre.
Schumacher had headed Barrichello for much of the weekend and the pair would finish a comfortable one-two, but heading through the final corner Schumacher purposely slowed and the two drivers crossed the line side-by-side… and Barrichello was declared the winner by just 11 thousandths of a second. Was it a formation finish gone wrong? Was it an attempt to create a dead heat? Or was Schumacher just trying to repay Rubens for what he did in Austria earlier in the season? Either way, it was a bit of a farce.
Still, at least the race gave us this footage of Pedro De La Rosa climbing over a barrier and falling into a river on the other side. Ouch.
1991 – F1 cars? We prefer ostriches!
The last in a long line of failed American street circuits, Phoenix was a somewhat uninspiring layout that actually facilitated some pretty good racing – the Alesi-Senna battle in 1990 is a classic.
During the three years Phoenix hosted Grands Prix attendance was a persistent problem, and when the 1991 event drew a smaller crowd than a local ostrich race, the track disappeared from the calendar for good.
2012 – The failed high five
F1 seems to have found a happy home in the US at COTA, a track enjoyed by drivers and fans alike. The first race there in 2012 was a memorable one for many reasons, but there are two people who may prefer not to remember this race.
It’s one thing to fail a high five, but to do it on live international television? Yeah.
1979 – Gilles walks on water
Just one of the many legendary moments of Gilles Villeneuve’s all-too-short career happened during practice for the 1979 USGP at the awesome Watkins Glen circuit. Friday practice was so wet that only six cars set a time; Villeneuve was fastest from team mate Jody Scheckter by over nine seconds.
Scheckter summed it up best himself: “I scared myself rigid that day. I thought I had to be quickest. Then I saw Gilles’s time and — I still don’t really understand how it was possible!”
2005 – Tyre failures fail the fans
A series of tyre failures for Michelin during the Grand Prix weekend at Indianapolis threw the race into some doubt. A number of solutions were proposed: a chicane in the high speed final corner, mandatory pit stops for the Michelin runners every few laps, or even running the event as a non-championship race just to give the fans a show.
In the end none of those were accepted, and at the end of the warm up lap all of the Michelin-shod teams pulled into the pits and withdrew, leaving just Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi to race. The crowd were understandably annoyed and threw all sorts of things onto the track and displayed messages of disgust – they’d come to see 20 cars race, not six cars take part in a demonstration run.
There was a brief battle for the lead between the Ferraris, but the race was largely devoid of any action. Watching it at the time was strangely interesting, but there could be no doubt that this was a low point in the history of Formula 1 and the mood on the podium between the Ferrari drivers reflected that. Although Tiago Monteiro, who finished third for Jordan, didn’t care about the circumstances and celebrated like he’d just won the championship.
F1 returned to Indy for two more years but its footing there was never quite secure after the debacle in 2005, and it wasn’t until 2012 that F1 returned to the US at the Circuit of the Americas.
1983 – Rosberg’s 360
A constant criticism of Nico Rosberg is that he isn’t aggressive enough on track, but the same can’t be said of his father. In the last F1 race at Long Beach in 1983 Keke made a combative start and then tried to wrest the lead from the Ferrari of Patrick Tambay later on the first lap, but lost the car under braking and span.
No worries, of course he recovered it and only lost one place, he’s Keke Rosberg! Later on in the race he tried to take the lead again, but collided with Tambay, Jean-Pierre Jarier and his team mate Jacques Laffite on the same lap and retired. Meanwhile the McLaren duo of John Watson and Niki Lauda (who had started 22nd and 23rd) were carving through the pack and would eventually finish 1-2, setting the record for the lowest from which a Grand Prix had ever been won.
1984 – Rosberg’s Redemption
The following year F1 headed to Dallas for a brand new race and had to cope with searing heat and a track that was falling apart. It was so bad that parts of the circuit were being dug up and repaired throughout the night, but determined not to disappoint the fans the race went ahead anyway.
With ambient temperatures exceeding 40°C the track started to deteriorate again, and many drivers crashed out as a result. Mansell started from pole and led the first half of the race before Rosberg got past. Prost took the lead briefly but crashed out, leaving Rosberg to take victory ahead of René Arnoux (who had started last after stalling on the grid) and Elio de Angelis as the gruelling race hit the two hour time limit, while Mansell famously collapsed while pushing his car across the line to finish 6th.
2015 – Hamilton and Rosberg fight each other
In 2015 Hamilton secured his third championship at COTA after winning the race ahead of Rosberg. It’s fair to say the two drivers don’t exactly get on and after the race emotions ran high. The two drivers engaged in a shockingly brutal fight after the race and the whole thing was captured live on camera.
WARNING: Watch this video at your own risk. Not for the faint-hearted.
I know, I know. We did warn you!