Scandals of the decade

© Sportz Interactive, 20 December 2010

As the decade draws to a close, we look back at the most controversial episodes that defined the last ten years. Here’s a look at six of them:

1) Team orders: The beginning

© AP Images
The 2002 Austrian Grand Prix was perhaps the biggest turning point for regulations in the decade. Team orders were not new to the sport – Ferrari had utilised similar directives the year before for second place at the same venue involving the same drivers. However, it was blatantly misused in the following season when Rubens Barrichello was instructed to let teammate Michael Schumacher take the win despite the fact that the German was leading the championship comfortably from his nearest rival. Fans were left disappointed at the farcical result with the use of team orders subsequently banned from the sport.

2) Michelin duds

© AP Images
Michelin was left embarrassed during the 2005 United States Grand Prix when the French manufacturer was left exposed, as its tyres could not cope with the track surface at Indianapolis. During practice, the Michelins could not hold itself, even causing Ralf Schumacher to crash out horrendously at the banking. Michelin admitted that its circumstances were dangerous and called for a chicane to be placed on the banking for the race. However, the Bridgestone-clad Ferrari did not give consent with Jordan too opting to run in the race. Minardi reluctantly took part as well. The result? After the warm-up lap, all Michelin runners pitted in their respective garages as only six cars started the race!

3) Spygate

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McLaren was excluded from the results of the 2007 season when it was established that it had acquired data from rivals Ferrari through espionage. The Spygate or Stepneygate scandal erupted when Ferrari’s former employee Nigel Stepney was revealed to have passed on technical information to the Woking-based team’s senior engineer Mike Coughlan. During the investigation, Fernando Alonso provided ample proof of the charge as McLaren was convicted and fined $100 million for the episode. In 2010, Stepney was convicted and handed a 20-month prison sentence for his part however due to the intricacies of the Italian legal system he is not expected to serve the term.

4) The sex chronicles

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The FIA president – a position of utmost responsibility – was corrupted when Max Mosley was found to be involved in sado-masochistic acts with prostitutes in an allegedly Nazi role-play. The event subsequently served as a deterrent to Mosley’s image and was one of the factors that led to his downfall. A year after the incident came into light, the FIA and FOTA were embroiled in a battle over budget caps however, the president survived a no-confidence motion. Nevertheless, he eventually declared that he would not be running for the post at the end of his term as he took a bow from the sport.

5) Crashgate

© AP Images
The crashgate scandal not only took team orders to a new level but also corrupted the very fabric of the sport. F1 aims for safety and fair play however; both were defiled during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. Nelson Piquet Jr. was asked to crash his car on a pre-determined lap to let the Safety Car out so that teammate Fernando Alonso could win the race through an agreed strategy. Renault that year had lost its glory of being a front-runner and desperately needed a good result. The plot worked. The following year however after the Brazilian driver was unceremoniously replaced, he revealed – under conditions of immunity – the entire plot engineered by team principal Flavio Briatore and race engineer Pat Symonds. Both were found guilty and banned from the sport.

6) Team orders: The end

© AP Images
Team orders made an open return at the 2010 German Grand Prix when another Brazilian Ferrari driver, Felipe Massa, was instructed through a coded message to let teammate Fernando Alonso take the win. Massa’s race engineer, Rob Smedley’s radio message “Fernando is faster than you” was hardly subtle as the Brazilian slowed down to let the Spaniard through. Ferrari denied that they issued the orders and explained that it was merely communicating to the driver the status of the proceedings. The vagueness of the issue and lack of adequate proof prompted the World Motor Sports Council to let the Italian team off the hook with a paltry $100,000 fine – an amount Alonso earns in a day! Subsequently, at the end of the season the ban on team orders was lifted.


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