10 memorable red flag F1 races that caused the most chaos

Thomas Maher
The red flag is waved at the 2021 British Grand Prix. Silverstone, July 2021.

The red flag is waved at the 2021 British Grand Prix. Silverstone, July 2021.

Red-flagged races have resulted in some chaotic and memorable moments over the years. Here are some of the most infamous races involving the red flag!

Red flags, nowadays, are far more common than they once were. Last weekend’s Australian Grand Prix was the first race this year to be red-flagged, while three races in 2022 had to be suspended due to incidents and weather.

An astonishing six races were red-flagged in 2021 – markedly different to when there were no red flags in the entirety of 2018 and 2019!

Red flags have been used throughout the entirety of Formula 1 history, although there was a very long gap between the first one (Indianapolis 1950) and the second (Canada 1971) – 21 years!

Looking back through the decades, here are some of the most memorable races that saw the red flag waved.

2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

The inaugural race on the streets of Jeddah was initially red-flagged due to a hefty crash for Haas’ Mick Schumacher, but this race was memorable due to the fact that the ensuing restarts allowed for tense showdowns between title rivals Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.

In what was a particularly ill-tempered weekend, Verstappen refused to cede position to Hamilton at the first restart – pushing the Mercedes man wide and allowing Esteban Ocon to nip through.

Behind them, another incident that wiped out Sergio Perez, Charles Leclerc, Nikita Mazepin, and George Russell resulted in another red flag. On the next restart, Verstappen – who had been shuffled down to third by instruction of then-race director Michael Masi – elbowed his way past both Ocon and Hamilton in what was a perfectly-judged lunge.

The race went on to have more dramas as Verstappen hit the brakes in front of Hamilton going down the back straight later on, with Hamilton going on to win the race on what was a particularly memorable weekend in that year’s controversial title fight.

1976 British Grand Prix

1976 title contenders Niki Lauda and James Hunt – driving for Ferrari and McLaren, respectively – started from the front row for the baking hot British Grand Prix in the summer of 1976.

But both were clobbered out of it at the first corner by Lauda’s teammate Clay Regazzoni as the Swiss driver lunged up the inside of Lauda into Paddock Hill Bend, with Ligier’s Jacques Laffite also falling by the wayside.

The stewards ruled that drivers who completed the lap and made it back to the pits could restart, which ruled out Hunt – a fact that the home crowd didn’t enjoy as they began throwing stuff onto the track and chanting “We want Hunt!”

While McLaren had prepared the spare car for Hunt – something the stewards weren’t going to permit – the delay in resuming allowed his mechanics to repair his initial car.

Hunt would make the restart and go on to win the race ahead of Lauda, but the result was immediately protested by three teams – including Ferrari – due to Hunt having taken the restart despite having not completed the initial lap.

The protest went as far as an FIA tribunal later in the year, which upheld Ferrari’s position, and Hunt was removed from the classification to give Lauda a 23-point lead.

1998 Belgian Grand Prix

There was nothing particularly complicated about the red flag situation on the first lap of the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. With torrential rain and heavy spray, an error from David Coulthard exiting La Source triggered a massive pile-up that saw car after car pile into the ever-expanding debris field.

With carbon fibre everywhere, and untethered wheels bouncing their way down to Eau Rouge, the full list of crashed drivers were: David Coulthard, Jos Verstappen, Eddie Irvine, Alexander Wurz, Rubens Barrichello, Johnny Herbert, Olivier Panis, Jarno Trulli, Mika Salo, Pedro Diniz, Toranosuke Takagi, Ricardo Rosset, and Shinji Nakano.

Four drivers were unable to restart, due to there only being one spare car per team, meaning Rubens Barrichello, Ricardo Rosset, Mika Salo, and Olivier Panis had to watch on for the second start.

Title contender Mika Hakkinen promptly retired from the race after spinning himself out at La Source and being hit by Herbert, while a later crash would see a lapped Coulthard being hit by race leader Michael Schumacher to negate the Ferrari driver’s championship advantage – much to Schumacher’s fury.

1984 Monaco Grand Prix

The race at which Ayrton Senna first made his presence known in F1, the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix saw the Brazilian driver make his mark by reeling in the McLaren of Alain Prost in heavily wet conditions.

Senna had started the race from 13th in his Toleman, climbing up to second place and setting off in hot pursuit of Prost. With the French driver suffering from a brake imbalance on his McLaren, Prost began waving to the stewards to complain about the track conditions being unsafe as Senna drew ever closer.

The red flag was waved at the end of Lap 32, with Jacky Ickx, course clerk, deciding conditions had become too poor to continue. Senna passed Prost before the finish line on the 32nd lap, but the rules dictated the positions were taken from the last lap completed by every driver – that being Lap 31, when Prost was leading.

Ickx’s decision to stop the race resulted in him being suspended from duty due to making the decision by himself, and raised eyebrows due to his connection to Porsche as a leading sportscar driver – Porsche providing the engine in the back of Prost’s McLaren.

The race being stopped also had repercussions in the title fight. Had it continued until 75% race distance, the full points awarded to Prost for a likely second place (at least) would have resulted in a six-point score, instead of 4.5 for a half-points win. Prost would lose the 1984 title by just half a point.

1991 Australian Grand Prix

Until the Belgian Grand Prix of 2021, the Australian Grand Prix from 30 years prior was the shortest-ever F1 race at just 14 laps completed.

The reason for the early stoppage was torrential rain falling on the Adelaide Circuit, with constant mistakes and crashes from the fifth lap onwards.

A Lap 14 crash for Mauricio Gugelmin was a particularly scary moment, while Nigel Mansell had to be brought to hospital for checks after crashing out on Lap 16.

The race was stopped minutes later, with Ayrton Senna declared winner ahead of Nelson Piquet and Gianni Morbidelli.

“I don’t think that was a race, it was just a matter of staying on the circuit, and there was no point to try to go quick at all,” Senna said in the post-race press conference.

“It was impossible! We had a race, a very bad one, here a couple of years ago and then was impossible and today was even worse! There was even more water on the back straight.”

1994 Japanese Grand Prix

Held in torrentially wet conditions, the 1994 race at Suzuka was red-flagged after 15 laps due to a crash when Martin Brundle spun off in his McLaren. A marshal, attending to an already crashed car after Gianni Morbidelli slid off in his Footwork, was struck by Brundle and suffered a broken leg.

Michael Schumacher had been leading the race by almost seven seconds at the time of the red flag, but the decision was made to resume once the weather had cleared up a little.

The procedure taken was to run the race according to aggregate timing, essentially turning the restarted race into something of a rally stage as Damon Hill attempted to stay far enough ahead of Schumacher to claim the win overall at the chequered flag.

Hill’s lead at the end was 10.1 seconds, meaning the Williams driver took the win by 3.3 seconds overall – the last time in Formula 1 an aggregate race time has been used to determine the winner.

Hill’s famous win put him a point behind Schumacher to keep his title dreams alive heading to the final race in Adelaide…

1998 Canadian Grand Prix

The 1998 Canadian Grand Prix was red-flagged on the opening lap due to a huge crash that, thankfully, resulted in nothing worse than some damaged cars.

In a moment that became part of F1’s highlights reels for years afterward, a midfield-starting Alexander Wurz proved too optimistic into the first corner and caused a multi-car accident involving Jean Alesi and Jarno Trulli – Wurz barrel-rolling his car through the gravel in the process.

The race was immediately stopped but, on the restart, Hakkinen’s gearbox wasn’t able to take the strain of a second start and jammed up. Ralf Schumacher also pushed too hard in his Jordan, with his spin across the middle of the track setting off another chain reaction as Trulli drove over the top of Alesi’s car after being pushed wide by a wayward Arrows.

2003 Brazilian Grand Prix

A chaotic race at Interlagos in 2003 saw several crashes through the high-speed Turn 3, including a scary moment when Michael Schumacher crashed his Ferrari while a recovery vehicle was attending to the separate crashes of Antonio Pizzonia and Juan Pablo Montoya at the same location.

But it was a late race crash for Mark Webber in his Jaguar that set off chaos, with the Australian crashing entering the pit straight. It was a huge impact, with loose wheels and debris scattered all over the track. Fernando Alonso came onto the scene at full speed in his Renault, colliding with a wheel lying in the middle of the track and slamming into the barriers with another significant impact as the car spun across the circuit.

With Alonso picking up a bruised left elbow, knee, and thigh, he was put on a stretcher to be brought to a local hospital for checks. With the huge amount of debris, personnel on track, and having been entering the closing stages of the race with 56 of the 71 laps completed, the race was ended under a red flag with Giancarlo Fisichella having just taken the lead away from Kimi Raikkonen.

Entering the pits, Fisichella’s car caught fire and needed attention from the marshals as arguments began over who had won the race – the regulations started the race would be “deemed to have finished when the leading car crossed the line at the end of the lap two laps prior to that lap during which the signal to stop was given” in the event more than 75% of it was completed.

Kimi Raikkonen was given the win initially, with the stewards deciding Fisichella has been on the 55th lap when the race was red-flagged. Jordan would argue the point after the weekend, with arguments and timing evidence submitted to the FIA that showed Fisichella had begun his 56th lap and thus should have been decreed the winner.

An unofficial handover of the victory occurred at the next race, with Raikkonen and McLaren team boss Ron Dennis handing over the trophies to Fisichella and Eddie Jordan for what, to this day, remains the most recent victory for a Ford engine and the last for Jordan as a constructor.

Raikkonen would end up losing the title by two points to Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari – had the Finn kept his Brazilian win, he would have won that year’s World Championship.

2020 Italian Grand Prix

Charles Leclerc crashed out of the Monza race on Lap 25 of the 2020 Italian Grand Prix, with the crash initially being covered by the Safety Car.

Pierre Gasly, who had not yet pitted at the time, was running in third place and, with the rules allowing for tyre changes, was able to make the restart without having made a pitstop to fall back down the order.

The AlphaTauri moved up to second place off the restart grid, inheriting the lead when Lewis Hamilton dived into the pits to serve a time penalty for having pitted while the pitlane was closed under the Safety Car.

Gasly didn’t put a wheel wrong for the remainder of the race, weathering the pressure of a pursuing Carlos Sainz in the closing stages as the Spaniard reeling him in, giving the Italian squad their first win since Sebastian Vettel’s victory at the same venue in 2008 when the team were called Toro Rosso.

2021 British Grand Prix

One of several major flashpoints in the dramatic 2021 title fight between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone saw the pair collide going through the ultra-fast Copse Corner on the first lap.

With Verstappen sticking to an outside line, Hamilton made contact with Verstappen’s right rear and the Red Bull driver was pitched around and flew off the track at full speed. It was a hefty crash, with Verstappen requiring hospitalisation for precautionary checks after being helped out of his destroyed RB16B.

The race was immediately red-flagged, which proved to be hugely significant for the race and the championship. The collision had resulted in ‘remarkably little’ damage to Hamilton’s W12, but had cracked his front-left wheel. According to Mercedes, this would likely have resulted in a retirement had the race not been stopped.

But the red flags allowed Mercedes the chance to fit Hamilton with new wheels and tyres, as the rules permitted accident repair and wheel changes. Despite having to serve a time penalty after being at fault for the clash, Hamilton would go on to win and pull back 25 points against Verstappen in the title fight.

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Honourable mentions

2009 Malaysian Grand Prix

The 2009 Malaysian GP at Sepang was another rain-shortened race, being called off after 33 laps due to the conditions.

While rain threatened the race on an increasingly-damp track throughout, the rain didn’t properly hit until Lap 31, when Sebastien Buemi and Sebastian Vettel both spun out despite being on the full wets.

With cars starting to aquaplane down the straights, the decision was taken to red-flag the race and wait for conditions to improve. With darkness setting in, the call was made to end the race, declaring Jenson Button the winner in what was an early victory for the Brawn GP team en route to the title.

2011 Canadian Grand Prix

To this day, Montreal 2011 remains Formula 1’s longest race, with a long delay after Lap 25 due to heavy rain.

After completing six laps behind the Safety Car as the rain intensified, the stoppage ended up lasting for over two hours before the race resumed.

Jenson Button, had already been in the wars after a collision with McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton as well as being given a penalty for pitlane speeding, fell down to last place as a result of a puncture following a collision with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, would prove the star of the show in the final third of the race as he sliced through the pack on a drying but still treacherous Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Applying the pressure to race leader Sebastian Vettel in the closing stages, the Red Bull driver made an error by touching a damp patch on the final lap and slid sideways – allowing Button to nip through and take the win on what had been a hugely dramatic marathon of a Grand Prix.

1986 British Grand Prix

Starting from the front row for his home race at Brands Hatch, Nigel Mansell suffered a driveshaft failure on the run down to Paddock. This ended up triggering a multi-car pile-up, taking out Thierry Boutsen, Christian Danner, Piercarlo Ghinzani, Allen Berg, Jonathan Palmer, and a career-ending crash for Jacques Laffite.

Mansell climbed into the spare car, set up for teammate Nelson Piquet, and promptly set about winning the race – delivering a victory in front of Sir Frank Williams as the team owner returned to the paddock for the first time since suffering life-changing injuries in a road car crash four months prior.

It was also Brands Hatch’s final F1 Grand Prix, with Silverstone playing host to the British Grand Prix ever since.

2011 Monaco Grand Prix

Leading the Monaco Grand Prix in the closing stages in 2011, Sebastian Vettel found himself under serious pressure as the reigning World Champion was stalked by Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button.

The Red Bull driver had pitted for fresh tyres on Lap 16, meaning he was attempting a 62-lap run to the end. While the strategy had given him the lead, his tyres were on the verge of giving up – and the two World Champions breathing down his neck knew it.

But Vettel would be saved by a crash on Lap 72, when Adrian Sutil, Lewis Hamilton, Jaime Alguersuari, and Vitaly Petrov all got tangled up going through the Swimming Pool.

The resulting red flag allowed the leading drivers to fit fresh tyres and, when the race resumed, Vettel simply wasn’t under the same pressure anymore – the German driver’s victory a particularly egregious example of how the red flag rules can take the element of strategy out of play.