Formula One is one of the most intense sports due to its aggressive nature and cutthroat competition. Every successful driver has had a hand in controversy, the most successful ones being the most controversial. In this way, the most controversial has to be either of the 7X WDC champions, Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton due to their longevity or experience.
On the other hand, drivers like Nikita Mazepin or Lance Stroll have been on the receiving side of hatred from the fans because their parents owned the team. This results in the notion that they were born with a silver spoon and do not have enough talent to race in F1.
Nikita Mazepin and Nicholas Latifi also receive the long end of the stick from the fans due to their driving style, which causes issues for the rest of the grid. On the contrary, drivers like 4X WDC champion Sebastian Vettel and 2X WDC champion Max Verstappen have received a lot of slack because of their phenomenal, but almost fearlessly careless driving on the grid.
Controversies have been a part of F1 since its inception. We will work back from the recent to the older big controversial events that deserve a place in this list.
2021 Abu Dhabi GP
The 2021 Abu Dhabi GP has to be the controversy still fresh in the minds of many fans. An error from the side of race control by the FIA cost 7X WDC Lewis Hamilton his 8th WDC to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Nicholas Latifi crashed out in the last leg of the race and Hamilton had a huge lead over Max Verstappen who started the race with the same points (369.5) as Hamilton.
The crash led the FIA to deploy a yellow flag that let the lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen unlap themselves. At this point, Hamilton was running on worn-out tires and Verstappen was out on slicks and had recovered huge ground.
When the race resumed, one lap was left and Verstappen breezed through for P1 owing to his newer tires and went on to win the 2021 WDC
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff told Motorsport “How it panned out, I think I have values around fairness, and especially sporting fairness. This is what provides my fundamental love for the sport. And then that was kicked with the feet on that particular day.” This event caused FIA race director Michael Masi to be fired.
Pink Mercedes, 2020
The Pink Mercedes controversy in the 2020 Formula One season took the proverb ‘imitation is the best form of flattery’ seriously and featured accusations that the Racing Point team had copied the design of the championship-winning 2019 Mercedes car, which had been dubbed the “Pink Mercedes” due to its resemblance to the Racing Point car.
The row arose after several rival teams, including Renault, objected to the Racing Point car’s design, claiming that it was too close to the 2019 Mercedes and thus violated rules banning teams from directly imitating the designs of their rivals.
Racing Point’s “Pink Mercedes” has been one of the biggest talking points of 2020, with many accusing the team of cheating.— PlanetF1 (@Planet_F1) October 18, 2020
However, technical director Andy Green says F1 needs an element of copying in car design otherwise the sport would “stagnate”.https://t.co/WeUDSfar9R pic.twitter.com/TJ7x7tNryw
The FIA investigated and revealed that Racing Point had used some design elements from the 2019 Mercedes, but that the team did not break any specific rules. The FIA decided that the Racing Point car was legal, but added extra regulations to avoid similar events in the future.
The controversy highlighted the ongoing debate in Formula One about the proper balance of innovation and fair play, with some arguing that the sport should encourage teams to push the boundaries of design and technology, while others believe that strict regulations are required to prevent unfair advantages.
The Crashgate scandal refers to an incident that occurred during the 2008 Singapore GP in which Renault driver Nelson Piquet Jr. knowingly wrecked his car, resulting in the race being paused and permitting his teammate, Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard, to take the victory. The collision was initially believed to be a racing accident, but it was subsequently later revealed that it had been arranged and coordinated by the Renault team.
Following the scandal, Renault team manager Flavio Briatore and technical director Pat Symonds were found guilty of directing Piquet Jr. to crash by the FIA and were prohibited from competing for the duration of the investigation. In exchange for his assistance with the investigation, Piquet Jr. was granted immunity from prosecution.
In the F1 Spygate controversy, McLaren was accused of obtaining confidential technical knowledge from Ferrari. The squabble began when Ferrari found that one of its employees, Nigel Stepney, had given technical knowledge to a McLaren employee, Mike Coughlan.
Spygate was the story that shook Formula 1 to its core 🚨🏁— BBC 5 Live Sport (@5liveSport) February 27, 2023
But how has F1 evolved since those dramatic days?
And what questions do listeners have about the scandal?
Listen to two BONUS episodes of ‘Sport’s Strangest Crimes: Spygate’ now on @BBCSounds 🎧👇#BBCF1
The FIA investigated and discovered proof that McLaren had acquired confidential technical knowledge from Ferrari. The FIA penalized McLaren $100 million and stripped the squad of all points in the 2007 Constructors’ Championship. The squad was also barred from competing in the Constructors’ Championship for the 2008 season.
The controversy harmed McLaren’s image and resulted in the resignation of team director Ron Dennis. The dispute also emphasized McLaren and Ferrari’s intense rivalry, which has been a distinguishing feature of Formula One for many years.
Senna vs Prost at Suzuka, 1990
The Senna vs. Prost incident at the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, Japan is one of Formula One’s most infamous and controversial events. Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost’s long-running rivalry came to a peak during the race, with the two drivers clashing on the first turn.
Prost, Senna’s McLaren partner at the moment, was in control of the championship and knew that if he positioned clear of Senna in the race, he would win the title. Senna, on the other hand, was determined about winning the race and the title, and as a result, both drivers took extreme risks on the first turn.
Both drivers withdrew from the race as a consequence of the collision, with Prost winning the title as a result of his upper hand in the standings. However, after the race, it came to light that Senna had consciously collided with Prost to win the championship.
The incident caused extensive debate and discord in the Formula One community, with many alleging Senna’s actions were unsportsmanlike and dangerous. However, some supporters and experts backed Senna, claiming that his solid desire to win drove him to take the risks that ultimately contributed to the accident.
The most controversial driver of all time?
Basking among names like Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, and Fernando Alonso, one name that stands out as the most controversial ever in Formula one has to be Brazillian legend, Ayrton Senna.
The legend is widely regarded as one of F1’s most polarizing drivers due to his aggressive racing style and on-track fights with other drivers.
Senna was known for pushing himself and his vehicle to their limits, and he was known for his readiness to take chances and make daring maneuvers to win races. This, however, meant that he was engaged in several high-profile track incidents, which sparked controversy and condemnation from other drivers, spectators, and the media.
Senna’s conduct of the track was also occasionally contentious. He was known for his intense concentration and commitment to his sport, but he was also prone to emotional tantrums and conflicts with other drivers and team members.
In addition, he was involved in several controversial happenings regarding his relationships with teammates and his activities in sports politics.
With the amount of money that is poured into Formula One, it is evident why it is one of the most heated sports since its inception. It is entertaining to learn about the controversies of the past to see how far the sport and its management have come since then.