Last weekend, at the Spanish Grand Prix, we saw several incidents occur because of backmarkers in the way, such as Felipe Massa hitting Karun Chandhok, and a slow Lucas di Grassi giving Hamilton a position ahead of Vettel. While the first incident I mentioned was not the backmarker’s fault, it is at least an indicator of the dangers of slower cars on the track.
With the Monaco Grand Prix next weekend, many teams were concerned about Q1 being too congested, with drivers unable to set a fast lap, and possibly an accident. Since then, the idea of a split qualifying session was suggested, but no agreement was reached between the teams.
However, the problem of slow backmarkers is certainly not a new one. Throughout Formula 1 history, there are many occasions of drivers holding up each other in crucial situations, some accidental, some not.
Norberto Fontana, Jerez 1997
This is one you may well remember. In the championship showdown of 1997, Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve were battling for the lead, and the title at the same time. They approached the backmarker Norberto Fontana of Sauber. Fontana allowed Schumacher through swiftly, but enraged Villeneuve by holding him up for around half a lap, by which time the gap between him and Schumacher was 3 seconds.
But, it may not have been accidental. Fontana alleged, years later, that he was instructed by Jean Todt, before the race, to hold Jacques up if the situation arised. He said:
"Two or three hours before the race started Jean Todt entered [the
motorhome] and went straight to the point: by strict order of Ferrari,
Villeneuve must be held up if you come across him on the track. To
whoever this applies."
Although Peter Sauber denies this, Martin Brundle made a fair point (in the video) that Sauber were using Ferrari engines. Also, in the years afterwards, Sauber were expected to vote Ferrari’s way when it came to technical rule changes. Have a look for yourself:
Jean-Denis Deletraz – All 3 races of his career
Another well known name, and not for a good reason. Deletraz was signed by Larrousse, who were desperately short of money, and Jean-Denis had plenty of sponsorship. On his debut in Adelade, he had fallen behind by 80 seconds after only 9 laps, and was lapped repeatedly before he retired on Lap 57. He was somehow allowed to drive the Pacific car for the last 5 races of the 1995 season, but didn’t improve. In qualifying at the Nurburgring, he was 12 seconds behind the pole sitter, and actually would have qualified 22nd in a F3000 support race with that time. After 3 laps in the race, he was 40 seconds behind, and was lapped after 7.
You may be wondering where the incidents with the frontrunners are, I’m getting to that. At that same race, he was involved in 2 seperate incidents. First of all, when Michael Schumacher was lapping him (again), Deletraz proceeded to weave on the track, while Schumacher was passing him, leading Murray Walker to ask: What is he doing?
Then, later on in the race, Damon Hill, Gerhard Berger and Michael Schumacher were all battling for position, while Deletraz was about to be lapped up ahead. When Michael went past him, he nearly turned into the path of Damon Hill, who had to lock his brakes to avoid him.
Satoru Nakajima – Interlagos 1990
This was Interlagos’ first ever F1 race, and Ayrton Senna was on course to win his home Grand Prix for the first time. But, when he came up to lap the Tyrrell of Satoru Nakajima, he collided with him, knocking off his front wing. He was forced to pit for repairs, and threw away his chances of winning.
While Senna did make a lunge down the inside, I would still say that Nakajima didmove too close to the inside. Have a look at the video to see for yourself (skip to 8:10):
Jos Verstappen – Interlagos 2001
Sometimes, you have just no excuse. Juan Pablo Montoya was in the lead of the 2001 Brazilian Grand Prix, and on course to win the first race of his career. He was comfortably in front, and came up to lap the backmarkers.
He passed Jos Verstappen on the straight after Turn 2, but disaster struck at Turn 3. Jos completely lost his braking point, and smashed into the back of Montoya, taking him out of the race on the spot. They blamed each other afterwards, but when you have a look at the replay, seeing Jos swerve behind Montoya says it all.
Sorry for the stupid music on this video, was the only one I could find:
Eliseo Salazar – Hockenheimring 1982
Another driver being taken out from the lead here. This time, at the 1982 German Grand Prix at the Hockenheimring, Nelson Piquet was making his way past backmarkers, when he came up against Chilean Eliseo Salazar. Eliseo failed to brake in time for the chicane, and failed to let Piquet through as well, meaning an imminent crash, and a furious Piquet. A brief fight started, before both drivers left.
A few months afterwards, a BMW mechanic told Piquet that his engine was about to blow before he crashed. So, Nelson called up Salazar, thanking him for sparing BMW embarresment at their home race.
Keke Rosberg – Brands Hatch 1985
Most of the incidents I have listed here were accidents, but what Rosberg did here to Ayrton Senna was absolutely disgraceful.
On Lap 6, Senna and Rosberg collided, which gave him a puncture. Rosberg was furious that Senna had closed the door on him, but was forced to pit. However, when he exited the pit lane, he just happened to exit right ahead of Ayrton, albeit one lap down, with Rosberg’s team-mate Nigel Mansell right behind them.
Keke proceeded to hold up Ayrton for as long as he could, until Nigel took the lead from the Brazilian. Rosberg let his team-mate past, before holding up Senna a little bit more. If he did something like that today, a massive punishment would be in order.
By showing all of this, hopefully we can see that the problem of slow backmarkers is not a new one. Monaco will probably see a collision, but with 6 slow cars, and after watching these videos, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more.