• Top Ten - Silliest Crashes

F1 crashes that should never have happened

Alan Henry March 5, 2010
What remained of Innes Ireland's Lotus 21 after his qualifying crash © Sutton Images
Enlarge

Innes Ireland, 1961 Monaco Grand Prix
Ireland was a jovial and gregarious Scot who had great skill and natural talent, but just enjoyed life a little bit too much to really get the best out of his real racing talent. Practising for the 1961 Monaco GP he mistakenly selected second gear rather than fourth in his works Lotus 21 as he exited the tunnel at 130mph. He later recalled, a split second before he lost control, "Christ, I'm in the wrong bl**dy gear!" And he was. The Lotus locked its rear wheels, pirouetted several times, hit the wall on the exit to the tunnel and threw its driver out onto the road. Amazingly, Ireland survived with serious asphalt burns and a fractured knee cap

Helmut Marko, 1972 French Grand Prix
This was both silly and tragic in equal measure, and on neither count the responsibility of the genial Marko, although he was the luckless victim and never raced again. Having qualified his BRM P160 an excellent sixth for the French GP at Clermont-Ferrand, he was running midfield when a stone thrown up by the rear wheel of another car was sent straight through his visor, blinding him in one eye. Amazingly he managed to control the pain for long enough to bring his fuel-laden car to a halt alongside the barrier, but both his race - and his career - were at an end.

Niki Lauda, 1974 German Grand Prix
Lauda may have qualified his Ferrari 312B3 on pole position for the 1974 German GP on the challenging Nurburgring, but he was beaten off the line by his team-mate Clay Regazzoni and the Tyrrell of Jody Scheckter. Desperately attempting to regain second place from Scheckter, under braking for the North Curve, he tripped over the Tyrrell's left front wheel and pirouetted off the track into a catch fence. "I can't imagine what I was thinking about," said Lauda. "I should have won that race quite easily."

Vittorio Brambilla, 1975 Austrian Grand Prix
Affectionately nicknamed 'the Monza Gorilla' by friends and enemies alike, Brambilla was a wild and woolly F1 driver who proved himself to be remarkably quick on many occasions driving for the works March F1 team in 1974 and 1975. Driving the works March 751 at the rain soaked Osterreichring, he never put a wheel out of place - until the chequered flag was shown just after half distance to end the race prematurely in the terrible conditions. The excitement proved all too much for him. Punching the air with delight, he took the chequered flag only to spin into the pit wall smashing in the nose of the car in the process and completing his slowing-down lap with it dragging on the track.

James Hunt, 1978 British Grand Prix
By the summer of 1978 it was becoming clear that Hunt's appetite for F1 had almost run its course. Two years had passed since he won his world championship by a single point, from his old mate Lauda, and McLaren's new M26 had proved something of a disappointment. Hunt was now so nervous that he was throwing up regularly before getting into his car prior to the start of the race and was chain smoking not just cigarettes. After only a handful of laps he spun on Bottom Straight at Brands Hatch, mowed down a corner marker and shuddered to a halt. No other car was involved.

Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna collided during the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix, Senna remained in the car, was push started and went on to win. He was later disqualified. © Sutton Images
Enlarge

Prost and Senna, 1989 Japanese Grand Prix
The rivalry between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in the McLaren-Honda squad during 1988 and 89 was totally fearsome to behold. It wasn't that they really disliked each other, it was simply that they were such very different personalities that it was impossible for one to live with the other in the same environment. Their competitive spirit brimmed over in the 1989 Japanese GP at Suzuka where Prost, who made a last minute aerodynamic adjustment on the grid, led for most of the race. In the closing stages Senna gradually started to catch him and forced his way past going into the tight chicane before the pits. Prost didn't give him room and the two McLarens, slid to a halt, locked together in the middle of the track. It was one of the silliest sights you could imagine.

Michael Andretti, 1993 British Grand Prix
This was a classic example of the need to know who you are racing against and what they might or might not do. Andretti, son of the 1978 world champion Mario, had joined the McLaren team for his F1 debut season as team-mate to Senna. But unfamiliarity with the circuits and lack of miles at the wheel caused by restrictions to testing that was permitted all conspired to work against him. At Silverstone he made a good start, but then chose to go head-to-head with tough guy Jean Alesi's Ferrari going into the first turn. The two cars banged wheels and Andretti, inevitably, ended up in the gravel trap.

Christian Fittipaldi, 1993 Italian Grand Prix
Coming up to the finishing line of the 1993 Italian GP at Monza, Fittipaldi misjudged things as he tried to tow past his Minardi team-mate Pierluigi Martini. He clipped the rear of Martini's car and executed a perfect backward flip, crashing down on the track again pointing in the right direction and careering past the chequered flag in 8th place.

Mansell and Senna, 1987 BELGIAN Grand Prix
Nigel Mansell's Williams-Honda and the similarly engined Lotus of Senna collided and both retired, although Senna had a long walk back to the pits to let his temper boil out of control. But Mansell was ready for him and even Senna should have known that you tangle with the tough driver from Birmingham at your peril. Mansell sought an audience with his rival and lifted the Lotus driver by the scruff of his overalls to the point that he was dangling a couple of inches off the ground. The message he was seeking to convey was unmistakable.

Senna and Brundle, 1989 Australian
It rained so hard in Adelaide prior to the start of this race that many of the competitors felt it would be a mistake to start, but only Prost was brave enough to stick to the agreement and pulled in at the end of the opening lap. Senna, his team-mate, simply bounded off into a seemingly uncatchable lead in conditions of standing water and almost-zero visibility. Later in the race, and further back down the field, Martin Brundle spun his Brabham-Judd and, as he recovered, briefly wondered if he was still driving in the right direction. Television viewers around the world got the message a split-second before he did. The Brabham's rear-facing camera picked up the nose of Senna's McLaren as it emerged from the spray and slammed into the back of Brundle's car. Both men were out on the spot.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Feeds Feeds: Alan Henry

Alan Henry Close
Alan Henry is a journalist at the Guardian and author Alan has been reporting on F1 since 1973 since when he has covered more than 600 Grands Prix and written more than 40 books on motorsport subjects. Currently a columnist for the Guardian and Autocar, he has edited the prestigious AUTOCOURSE annual for 20 years and contributed to a wide variety of publications across the world