- Decade Review - Part Four
The rule-benders of the decade
Scandal of the Decade
McLaren was disqualified from the 2007 championship and fined US$100 million - the largest fine in Formula One's history - for benefitting from secret data from Ferrari . McLaren's chief designer, Mike Coughlan, was at the centre of the case, after it was revealed he had received the documents from Ferrari engineer Nigel Stepney. Both men were dismissed from their teams, and McLaren had to submit its designs to the FIA to ensure no ideas were copied. Despite the team's disqualification drivers Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso were allowed to keep their points.
Nelson Piquet Jnr's revelation that he crashed on purpose at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix rocked the sporting world. Cheats had previously been uncovered in the sport, but no one was prepared for the news that a driver would willingly crash and endanger himself and his competitors to gain an advantage. A swift hearing followed and Renault team boss Flavio Briatore was banned from the sport indefinitely, while technical director Pat Symonds was handed a five-year ban. The team itself received a two year suspended ban, but suffered huge embarrassment as title sponsor ING almost immediately pulled the plug on its funding.
Third: BAR's petrol tank modification
BAR was banned from two races in 2005 after its car was found to have an auxiliary fuel tank that meant it could run under the weight limit. When the second tank was full the car met the FIA's weight requirements, but when it was drained it was under the minimum limit. The stewards ruled that it could not be guaranteed that the car was running at a legal weight at all times, and said BAR should have checked with the FIA before running the extra tank. The team was banned from the Spanish and Monaco Grand Prix.
Disappointments of the Decade
Winner: Toyota's decade in the sport
Toyota entered the sport with huge resources in 2002 and high hopes of challenging at the front of the field. It tested the car for a year prior to the race debut, but when it came to its first season it scored just two points. The team withdrew from the sport in 2009 having never finished higher than fourth in the championship. At its height the team was rumoured to be spending over US$350 million a year. It even developed a Lexus supercar to celebrate its first win - which never came. Toyota's efforts epitomised an era in the sport when manufacturers increased budgets dramatically, only to leave when economic conditions worsened.
Second: Michael Schumacher retires
Schumacher retired from F1 in 2006 after 17 years in the sport. In that time he won seven world championships and 91 races, making him the most successful driver of all time. Many fans were disappointed by his retirement as he appeared to quit at the top of his game, having finished a close second to Fernando Alonso in his final season. In 2009 it looked as though he might make a sensational return when Ferrari invited him to replace Felipe Massa - who had been ruled out of the second half of the season by an accident in Hungary. However, Schumacher fans were disappointed again when it turned out an existing neck injury was still serious enough to prevent him racing. Now he is set to start the new decade with a new team. Whether he will be as successful as in he was in the 2000s remains to be seen.
Third: Grooved tyres
When grooved tyres were introduced in the late 1990s they were supposed to be the answer to a number of F1's problems. First off, they were meant to make the sport safer by reducing cornering speeds. However, the teams simply made up for this with gains in aerodynamics. They were also supposed to aid overtaking by decreasing grip and lengthening braking zones. Yet the new emphasis on aerodynamics meant cars struggled to follow each other closely - a problem emphasised by the lack of grip from the tyres. Overtaking declined massively over the course of the 2000s, so much so, that the FIA brought in a raft of changes to increase the excitement for the 2009 season. Rather damningly for grooved rubber, a return to slick tyres was at the top of the list.