To be a champion, a sportsperson must be willing to do anything to win. But, at a certain point, a line must be drawn. In Formula One, this is just as important to keep everything fair game. However, in its nearly 70-year history, there have been incidents where drivers and team bent the rules in their favour.
Naturally, the FIA has been very strict and have punished the offenders for their misdemeanours. Here are 10 instances where drivers and teams have cheated in Formula One.
1. 2006 Monaco GP
Michael Schumacher is a great example to kick off this list. As great a driver that he was, he did have moments where he blatantly cheated. Case in point, the 2006 Monaco Grand Prix. He trailed Renault’s Fernando Alonso by 15 points, heading into the principality. Monaco is a race where pole position is of utmost importance.
In qualifying, Alonso was very quick and looked primed for pole. However, Schumacher had other ideas and stopped his car at La Rascasse. Naturally, he slowed up everyone else behind him and prevented Alonso from setting a better qualifying time. Schumacher’s explanation was that he tried to back up and the car stalled. However, the FIA stewards were not convinced by this fancy tale and punished him accordingly.
2. 2002 Austrian GP
This was one of the darkest days in Formula One and it was facilitated by the Ferrari team. Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello was leading the Austrian GP from teammate Michael Schumacher. The Brazilian looked set to win the race until team boss Jean Todt came on the radio, instructing him to slow and let teammate Michael Schumacher overtake for the win and maximum points.
After much hesitation, Barrichello followed the orders and Schumacher won the race. It was not the first time this had happened and Schumacher was booed by the crowd during a bizarre podium ceremony that saw Ferrari fined $1 million. Afterwards, Schumacher claimed that he had no knowledge that the team were going to carry out the order. On the podium, Schumacher made Barrichello take the top step while he took 2nd place.
3. 2005 San Marino
This incident involved the BAR Honda team after the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix. BAR’s Jenson Button and Takuma Sato finished 3rd and 5th in the race. However, it transpired that both their cars were found underweight in post-race inspection. The team explained that that the cars required 6kg of fuel, held in a special reserve tank, to operate properly.
As a result, the team was banned for two races that year. It was relatively light as they barely escaped a season ban.
4. 2009 Australian GP
During the season opener, Lewis Hamilton was embroiled in a controversy, dubbed ‘Liegate’. Near the end of the race, Jarno Trulli went for an off-track excursion while under safety car conditions. Hamilton promptly passed the Italian and moved to third. According to audio recordings, Hamilton asked his team if he should let Trulli retake third, which they agreed to.
When Trulli tried to take back the position, he was penalized for passing while under caution. During post-race inspection, Hamilton said that he had received no orders to allow Trulli to pass. indicating the move had been illegal. Trulli’s explanation of the incident was: “When the safety car came out towards the end of the race Lewis Hamilton passed me but soon after he suddenly slowed down and pulled over to the side of the road. I thought he had a problem so I overtook him as there was nothing else I could do.”
5. 2007 F1 Season
Infamously dubbed ‘Spygate’, In 2007, Ferrari chief mechanic Nigel Stepney allegedly handed over a substantial amount of technical information concerning his team’s cars, plans and finances to McLaren. McLaren’s chief designer Michael Coughlan had his wife drop the pile of documents off at a shop to be scanned onto a CD. It all went downhill from there with McLaren receiving all sorts of penalties, a record $100 million fine and all their points stripped off them. The intra-team duel between Alonso and Hamilton didn’t help their case either.
6. 1994 F1 Season
During that year, there were several rules in place to prevent teams from gaining an advantage. One of those rules was the ban of traction control, in an effort to test the skill of the drivers. However, cheating allegations were thrown during the first round of the 1994 season. On lap 21 of the Brazilian GP, Ayrton Senna’s Williams pitted from the lead, with Michael Schumacher’s Benetton following him. Interestingly, the Benetton team’s pit crew made a very quick stop for Schumacher. Schumacher went on to win the Grand Prix and this sparked speculation that Benetton were using a system to make quicker pit stops.
Later on, Ferrari test driver Nicola Larini leaked to the Italian media that he had used traction control during the practice session for the race. Ferrari and Larini later denied the claims to the worldwide press.
7. 2010 German GP
The issue of team orders reared its ugly head again when Felipe Massa got a call on the radio. The message said, “Fernando is faster than you, can you confirm that you understood the message?”.
What followed next was Felipe Massa slowing down drastically and allowing teammate Fernando Alonso past him. At that time, team orders had been banned from Formula One. Ferrari’s punishment consisted of a $100,000 fine, and the legalisation of team orders once again.
8. 2009 F1 season
Ahead of the 2009 Formula One season, the FIA clearly stated that the rear diffuser had to be at a certain size. However, F1 newcomers, Brawn F1 managed to find their way around that technicality. The whole shape of the car acted like there was a second ‘double decker’ diffuser area stacked on top of the one the rules intended.
Naturally, other teams protested the legality of the diffuser, but it was so effective that it practically secured Brawn the driver’s and constructor’s championship.
9. 1994 and 1997 F1 Seasons
This was a case of ‘fool me once, joke’s on me, fool me twice, joke’s on you’. At the 1994 Australian Grand Prix, Schumacher smashed his car into Damon Hill’s Benetton opening the way for the Driver’s Championship. Hill argued it was on purpose while Schumacher, naturally, said it was unintentional.
A few years later at Jerez, Schumacher’s car ‘unintentionally’ repeated the same move on Jacques Villeneuve. This time, it was Schumacher who emerged the loser. Schumacher was disqualified from the championship following an FIA investigation and the Formula One title to the Canadian.
10. 2008 Singapore GP
During the 2008 Singapore GP, Fernando Alonso had a poor qualifying session, ending up 15th. Around lap 12 of the Formula One race, Alonso pitted for fuel and tires, a seemingly scheduled stop. Later, it transpired to be a very ‘lucky’ pit stop as Alonso’s teammate, Nelson Piquet Jr., crashed. The incident brought out the Safety Car to bunch the field up.
As Lady Luck would have it, Alonso got out of the pits in front of the Safety car. When the pit lane reopened, everyone dived in for fuel and tires while Alonso kept going. The Spaniard eventually won the race. A year later, the truth came out when Piquet Jr. reported that he was instructed to crash on a specific turn to help out Alonso.