Seven chaotic F1 race weekends: Missile strikes, COVID-19, track invaders and more
No matter how carefully planned they are, F1 race weekends don’t always go as intended.
Be it through weather interventions, unexpected visitors on the track or otherwise, there have been plenty of examples of races where outside influences have had their say on how events have unfolded.
So, in no particular order, here is a selection of occasions of when F1 weekends have not quite gone to plan since the turn of the new millennium.
Indianapolis 2005 – Tyre safety issue creates six-car farce
Okay, we may have literally just said no particular order, but there’s really nowhere else to start, is there?
One of the strangest sights in the history of Formula 1 was created at the peak of the ‘tyre wars’ between Michelin and Bridgestone in the mid-2000s, with the Michelin rubber not taking particularly kindly to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the 2005 United States Grand Prix – far from ideal in a season where in-race tyre changes had been banned, meaning durability was key.
Multiple tyre failures among the Michelin runners in the early sessions prompted concerns surrounding the safety of those cars, particularly around the banked final corner with the tyres at full load.
This caused worries to such a degree that eventually led to the decision that, after the formation lap, every Michelin-clad car was forced to come into the pit lane and sit out the race.
This left only six cars on the grid, both Ferrari drivers and the back-marking Jordan and Minardi cars, and the lights went out on a race that saw Formula 1’s reputation in the United States heavily damaged, with 70% of the grid not actually taking part and Michael Schumacher romping away to his only win of an uncompetitive season by his illustrious standards.
Suffice to say, a lot of people were very unhappy about it. Two more races were held at Indianapolis before America fell off the calendar completely for five years prior to Austin’s arrival – and now Formula 1 will stop at three US locations in 2023. How times change.
Saudi Arabia 2022 – Nearby missile strike causes race doubts
The 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was thrown into doubt when a nearby Aramco oil plant was struck with missiles in a drone attack, with a large fire breaking out a matter of just a few miles from the Jeddah Corniche Circuit – with smoke visible in the distance as the cars drove during FP1.
This led to emergency talks among the drivers and Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali ahead of FP2, before it was ultimately decided the session would go ahead.
Talks would then resume with the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association and head deep into the night on Friday as the grid deliberated about whether or not to race in the wake of the strikes, but they ultimately pressed on with the weekend and the sport avoided a boycott.
Max Verstappen won around Jeddah after a lengthy game of cat and mouse with Charles Leclerc at the front of the field.
Germany 2000 – Track invader tries to get one over on old employers
The German Grand Prix around the old Hockenheim layout, which saw the drivers sail away for a blast into the forest, was going rather well for both McLaren drivers until lap 25, when a man hopped the fence and began walking along the side of the track and towards the pit lane, draped in a poncho with handwritten messages of contempt towards Mercedes-Benz, who had let him go from his employment contract not too long beforehand.
He was eventually arrested and fined for his breach of the track, but the deployment of the Safety Car to enable him to be ushered off the circuit helped close up the pack in changeable conditions, allowing Rubens Barrichello to take advantage and jump both McLaren drivers and into the lead of the race – with McLaren powered at the time by… Mercedes.
An emotional Barrichello eventually brought home his first victory in Formula 1 around Hockenheim in testing conditions, with the vast layout having some dry and some wet portions of track, making it a true test of mettle as the Brazilian took the win – though without the intervention of the track invader, who later apologised for his infraction, you wonder if things may have turned out differently that day.
Britain 2003 – Another track invader, but ‘sent by God’ this time
Sadly, it would not be the only time a ‘fan’ would jump the fence during a race, and at Silverstone in 2003, things were significantly more dangerous.
Around 10 laps into the race, Neil Horan, an Irish Catholic priest, broke onto the circuit and ran up the Hangar Straight while wearing banners bearing religious statements, with cars flying past at upwards of 180mph, forcing the drivers to swerve and take avoiding action against him.
He was later jailed for two months for breaking onto the circuit, and the marshal who tackled him to the ground off the circuit, was given the BARC Browning Medal for “outstanding bravery in tackling a track invader” – and thoroughly deserved, too.
The result of the race seemed almost immaterial after the fright Horan caused by breaching the perimeter and getting onto the circuit, but Barrichello eventually went on and took victory ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya.
Australia 2020 – A global pandemic cancels F1 at the last minute
The first time force majeure makes an appearance on this list, and it isn’t the last.
Formula 1 was gearing up for the 2020 season to start, but other sporting events had already fallen victim to the outbreak of COVID-19 – the Chinese Grand Prix being one of them before the year had even began.
But nonetheless, despite uncertainty and concerns from teams and drivers, the sport pressed ahead with its plans to start the season as normal in Australia in March, but events would gradually unfold and several crew members from the paddock were placed into isolation upon entering the country after showing flu-like symptoms.
And with opposition growing, just a few hours before FP1, the race weekend was cancelled, and the Formula 1 season was thrown into doubt altogether as the world’s medical situation worsened.
It was a last-minute decision that caused a significant amount of upheaval at the time, but was ultimately the correct call to make in the context of the outbreak of the virus.
A 17-race calendar was eventually able to be put together by Formula 1 later in the year, with Lewis Hamilton going on to win his seventh World Championship in dominant style.
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Japan 2019 – Typhoon threatens race weekend
The Japanese Grand Prix in 2019 was forced to be condensed into a two-day affair, with all track activity cancelled for Saturday as Typhoon Hagibis was forecast to hit Suzuka and the surrounding area.
It was a wise piece of foresight that saw a packed Sunday of action instead, with qualifying taking place on Sunday morning – with a three-hour turnaround before lights out after the grid had been set.
The rain that had battered the local area on Saturday was not there on Sunday, but there were still high winds for the drivers to negotiate around Suzuka, and Valtteri Bottas’ excellent start saw him leapfrog Sebastian Vettel at the beginning of the race – and he was eventually able to cruise to victory.
A long day of action for racegoing fans to watch on the Sunday, but ultimately F1 prevailed and got the race on when the weather had appeared threatening.
Canada 2011 – Downpours and delays creates longest ever F1 race
A wet Montreal saw one of the sport’s great last-to-first drives… eventually.
The 2011 Canadian Grand Prix took place in wet conditions but, with 20 laps of the race gone, the rain worsened and the Safety Car was brought out, before the race was stopped completely – for over two hours.
Jenson Button had already been forced to pit after colliding with McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton, and he and the rest of the grid had to sit and play the waiting game as marshals did their level best to clear the track surface at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
With daylight still on the drivers’ side, racing was able to get underway again, and Sebastian Vettel had been leading throughout, though a charging Button had been catching up hand over fist in the closing stages.
With the track now having a dry line by the time the closing stages came around, the previously nerveless Vettel dipped a tyre onto a wet patch on the final lap and sent him off-line, allowing Button to charge through and take one of his most memorable wins in Formula 1 – four hours and four minutes after the lights went out.
F1 rules now dictate that a maximum of a two-hour race now must take place within a three-hour window, so unless that rule changes again in future, this race will remain the sport’s longest ever.