Azerbaijan Grand Prix: When drivers attack – a history of road rage in F1

Formula 1


Have it. Sebastian Vettel rams into the side of Lewis Hamilton as the red mist descends

Sebastian Vettel’s petulant sideways swipe at Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix was just one incident among many in an astonishing race, but one destined to be replayed endlessly in the years ahead.

The act of a driver calculatedly crashing into another to gain an advantage is no rarity in this sport – incidents involving Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher leap instantly to mind – but blind, unthinking road rage is less common.

Vettel’s actions in Baku were exactly that. It was the instinct of a kid in the playground – unthinkingly lashing out with no consideration for the consequences.

It could have retired him on the spot. It didn’t as it turned out, but the 10-second stop-go penalty that followed denied him a certain victory in the light of the head rest problems that hit Hamilton later in the race.

Here, BBC Sport takes a look at the – surprisingly limited – history of road rage in F1.

Schumacher v Coulthard, Belgium 1998

Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard return their damaged cars to the pits – moments before a heated set-to in the McLaren garage

One of the most famous incidents of a driver losing it in spectacular fashion played out on a soaking afternoon at the Belgian Grand Prix 19 years ago when race leader Michael Schumacher slammed into the back of David Coulthard amid a wall of spray as he tried to lap the McLaren.

“Oh god!” came the shout from Murray Walker in the commentary box as Schumacher’s car was reduced to three wheels in the blink of an eye.

The two cars returned to the pits, where Schumacher – red mist fully descended – leapt from his cockpit and charged down to the McLaren garage, shrugging off the pleading of a Ferrari engineer as he went, where he was only prevented from laying his hands on the British driver by a wall of Coulthard’s mechanics.

“This is a bit like Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna at that Belgian Grand Prix, when Nigel got him by the throat,” added Walker from somewhere near the commentary box ceiling.

Which brings us nicely to…

Mansell v Senna, Belgium 1987

Eleven years earlier Spa was also the scene for this famous pit lane spat, which occurred after Nigel Mansell’s Williams tangled with the Lotus of Ayrton Senna on the first lap.

Back in the garage, Mansell grabbed Senna by the overalls and pushed him up against the wall.

“He wore loose overalls in those days and I pulled the zip up beyond his chin to just below his nose,” Mansell recalled.

He later added: “You can’t control yourself when you see the red mist. Everyone has a chip inside them called self preservation and it’s activated when you’re on the edge.

“I’d never experienced that before in my life. I saw red like there was no tomorrow.”

“When a man holds you round the throat, I do not think that he has come to apologise,” was Senna’s to-the-point assessment of the set-to.

Piquet v Salazar, Germany 1982

Nelson Piquet (left) won three world titles, while Eliseo Salazar scored three points in a 24-race F1 career

A YouTube favourite this one. For sheer entertainment value, Nelson Piquet losing his rag with backmarker Eliseo Salazar