The ten most embarrassing moments of 2010 in Formula One
December is traditionally the time to reflect on the past Formula One season, a season that started with a boring race in Bahrain, but ended on a high with no less than four competitors from three teams fighting for the title during the very last race in Abu Dhabi. German Sebastian Vettel took the crown, and last week the youngest Formula One champion in the 60-year history of the sport collected his trophy during the annual FIA Gala in Monaco. But it was a long an winding road to the title for the 23-year old champion, as it was for the other title contenders: Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.
Below the ten most embarrassing moments of the 2010 Formula One season. This is not a top ten, the events are ordered chronologically, and the numbers one to ten do not refer to the most or least embarrassing moment.
1. Only one lap for Karun Chandhok in Bahrain
Karun Chandhok's first Formula One race ended after just one lap, a big bump in the new section of the desert circuit became his Waterloo. "I hit a bump in the new part of the circuit, I do not have too much experience in that part of the track as I had driven only four timed laps over the weekend," the Indian said about his premature exit. But in all fairness, Chandhok was a victim, his Hispania Racing Team (HRT) was very ill- prepared, and even a visit of the Spanish King Juan Carlos to the HRT garage could not change that. The shakedown of the car was done during the free practice sessions, Bruno Senna was able to do 17 laps with his car, but Chandhok's car was fired up for the first time during the third free practice session and he barely managed to drive four complete laps.
During qualifying the HRT's were eight seconds slower than the Red Bull of Vettel, and three seconds slower than the other two rookie teams Virgin and Lotus. When asked if he thought he would last long enough in the first HRT race ever to make a pit stop, Chandhok answered: "I'm not sure, if we do, it will be interesting, because we haven't had the time to practice any pit stops yet." His team colleague Senna did make it until his first pit stop, but after 17 laps a cloud of smoke from the back of his car signaled the end of his race. An embarrassing start for the HRT team, but after a few races they got their act together, and HRT even finished ahead of Virgin in the Constructors' Championship.
2. Ferrari's classic rookie mistake during qualifying in Malaysia
During a rainy qualifying session in Malaysia, Ferrari made a classic mistake during Q1. Both Ferrari drivers stayed in the pit thinking the rain would subside, but instead the rain got worse and Alonso and Massa ended up on 19th and 21st place respectively on the start grid, with both drivers of the Lotus rookie team ahead of them. A major embarrassment for the Italian team, and a very red-faced team principal Stefano Domenicali had to explain what had happened to the media. "We made an error of judgment in trusting the weather forecast: when we went out on track the rain, rather than dying down, suddenly got even stronger. With hindsight, it is easy to say we should have gone out immediately."
Yes, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and can provide a wonderful excuse as well, but a team that has been in Formula One for 60 years and has participated in over 800 Grands Prix, should have known better than to trust the weather gods. Needless to say the race was a disappointment as well for Ferrari as Massa finished in seventh and Alonso in 13th position.
3. Double trouble in Istanbul
During the Turkish Grand Prix Formula One witnessed a classic battle between two team colleagues, Webber and Vettel, but unfortunately for Red Bull, it ended in tears. The clash sparked a discussion about driver rivalry, driver etiquette and who is or should be first or second driver. On lap 39, during a very controversial overtaking maneuver, Vettel collided with his team mate -- the winner of the last two races -- Webber. Vettel had to retire, and Webber had to pit for repairs, and a sure one-two Red Bull victory went down the drain. After the collision Vettel was seen making gestures which indicated he had serious doubts about Webber's sanity, but the man who later won the 2010 title, wasn't entirely innocent himself.
Vettel had caught up with Webber who was leading the race, but was slower because his team had told him to save fuel. Vettel assumed Webber would simply move out of the way, but the Australian did not want to give up his first place without a fight. Vettel decided not to wait until the start-finish straight to overtake him and he got into the inside just before the last corner. Webber gave him plenty of room, but Vettel nevertheless moved to the right and hit Webber's car, both pirouetted off the circuit giving the lead to Hamilton, who was behind the Red Bull pair.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said about the incident, "It's disappointing for the team to have got into that position today. The one thing I always ask the drivers is that, yes, they can race each other, but give each other room, and that's exactly what didn't happen. They didn't give each other room; it's as simple as that." Well, in the end it wasn't as simple as that, both drivers weren't on speaking terms anymore, and the incident had its impact on the Red Bull team for remainder of the season.
4. Webber flies at Valencia
The luckiest man during the European Grand Prix at Valencia must have been Webber. After an early pit stop Webber was told by his team to overtake the slower Lotus of Heikki Kovalainen before the others would pit. Webber didn't waste any time, but he hit the Lotus from behind, his Red Bull was tossed in the air, and after a terrifying summersault the car landed on its wheels again, and helplessly slid hard into the tyre barrier. "I am OK, I hope he is OK, he just had a hardcore flight," Kovalainen reported over the radio.
Webber later commented about the accident, "I have a few cuts and bruises, but otherwise I'm fine. What's frustrating was that this accident should never have happened. I mean, how long was Heikki going to stay ahead of me? Another 15 seconds? He must be asking himself whether it was worth it."
Lotus technical director Mike Gascoyne defended the actions of Kovalainen: "He was defending his line and racing for position, and that's what we will always do in that situation. It's just a great shame, and we're very glad that neither driver was hurt. It's the responsibility of the guy behind [Webber] to make the overtaking maneuver safely. He blatantly didn't." Which means it is still not clear whether this incident was an embarrassment for Webber, or for Kovalainen.
5. "OK, so Fernando is faster than you."
One of the most embarrassing incidents for the sport was the Ferrari team order controversy that unfolded during the German Grand Prix. At the start of the race, Massa took the lead after he had caught Vettel by surprise, and he was still leading the race on lap 49 when his race engineer Rob Smedley told him on the radio, "OK, so, Fernando is faster than you. Can you confirm you understood that message?" Not only did Massa understand the message, the whole world understood the message which was in fact a team order, and Massa duly let Alonso past. "Good lad. Just stick with it now. Sorry," Smedley said to Massa after he had given up his first place.
After the pair had crossed the finish line, the media stormed to the Ferrari garage to question Domenicali. The words 'team orders' and 'fixing the race' were used, but Domenicali and both his drivers ignored the comments and maintained it had been a great race with a great result for the Italian team. Formula One wasn't happy with the badly disguised team order, neither were the FIA officials, who handed the Ferrari team a $100,000 fine. The incident caused an emotional discussion about team orders, and much to the joy of Ferrari, two weeks ago the FIA decided to scrap the ban on team orders from the 2011 regulations.
6. "If it works you're the king, if it doesn't, you're an idiot".
Those were the words of Vettel after the Belgium Grand Prix, again a race where the weather gods played an important role. The safety car had already been on track for an earlier incident during the first lap when veteran Rubens Barrichello had missed his braking point at the last chicane before the start-finish straight and slammed into the Ferrari of Alonso, and triggered a chain reaction that involved several other cars. On lap 15 Vettel was about to overtake Button at the same chicane, but he lost control of his Red Bull under braking, he went sideways and went straight into the left side pod of Button's car. The impact destroyed the radiator on the McLaren and Button had to retire on the spot. Vettel visited the pits for a new front wing and continued his race.
The FIA stewards gave the German a drive though penalty, which again cost him a number of positions. Vettel regained several positions when he overtook Liuzzi's Force India, but he was a little bit too optimistic and made another mistake. He damaged his left rear tyre when he drove off the front wing of the Force India. He had to slowly drive a full 7 km lap with a flat tyre before he reached the Red Bull pit again. He rejoined the race in 20th position, finished the race in 15th position, one lap behind race winner Hamilton. Not a good race at all for Vettel, and McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh later referred to Vettel as 'the crash kid.'
7. Hamilton crashes again at Singapore
Hamilton had already crashed out of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, during the first lap he was too optimistic when he tried to overtake Massa. Hamilton got into the inside of the Variante della Roggia, but there was simply not enough room for two cars, he hit Massa, his steering rod broke and that was the end of the race for him. He was criticized for his move and Hamilton later said, "At that moment, perhaps I should have just stayed there for a while. But I put my car up the inside of Felipe into Turn Four, trying to get third, and that was probably a little bit too much."
But although Hamilton had vowed he would be more careful and would in the future concentrate on finishing a race, he made the same mistake again during the Singapore Grand Prix. Hamilton was challenging Webber for third place, when the latter ran into problems overtaking a backmarker. Webber slowed down a little bit, just enough for Hamilton to take advantage of the situation. He pulled alongside Webber, but again there was not enough room for two cars, the pair collided and Hamilton again retired from the race.
But Hamilton refused to take the blame for the accident. "I was on the outside going into Turn 7, and he was in my blind-spot, just behind me. I thought I'd got sufficiently past him, though. I braked, turned in, and tried to leave enough room for him on the inside -- and the next thing I knew I'd got clipped, my tyre was blown, and that was it," a disappointed Hamilton said after the race. Both accidents cost Hamilton valuable championship points, and the Briton later said he needed a major 'miracle' to win this year's championship, which as we now know, did not happen.
8. Ferrari bets on the wrong horse in Abu Dhabi
During the final race in Abu Dhabi Ferrari made a capital mistake, they betted on the wrong horse, the horse however, was Webber's Red Bull. Michael Schumacher and Vitantonio Liuzzi collided during the first lap, and Vettel, who had started the race from pole, was leading after the safety car had left the track again. He was followed by Hamilton, Button, Alonso and Webber. On lap 10 Webber ran a bit wide and his right rear wheel brushed the wall, not much later he reported to his pit crew he was losing grip, and he was called in for an early pit stop to change his tyres. Ferrari made the disastrous decision to follow Webber's strategy, as they believed he was the main threat for Alonso. The Spaniard pitted four laps later and he rejoined the race in 12th position, just ahead of Webber.
That was the moment the other title contenders, Vettel and Hamilton, realized they could beat Alonso and Webber simply by staying on track as long as they possibly could before making their mandatory pit stop. To make things worse, Alonso and Webber got stuck behind Vitaly Petrov, Robert Kubica and Nico Rosberg, who had already pitted during the safety car period. After Hamilton and Vettel had pitted, they rejoined the race behind Button, who still had to pit and was not a title contender. Vettel regained the lead when Button finally pitted on lap 39, by then Alonso and Webber had moved up to eighth and ninth position respectively, but were still trapped behind Rosberg and Petrov.
Before the race started, all Alonso had to do was to finish in second position, and the title was his, regardless of the position of the others. By the time Ferrari and Alonso realized they had made a capital mistake, it was already too late. With Vettel now leading, Alonso had to move up to fourth position to take the title, but it became an impossible mission, on lap 47 Alonso was in seventh position, but with only eight laps to go, he had to overtake Petrov, Kubica and Rosberg. Alonso later tried to blame Petrov for the disaster, who had defended his position fiercely during the last 25 laps. After the race Alonso admitted his defeat, "Everything went wrong today, from the start itself to the strategy. With hindsight, it would have been better not to pit so soon, but it's easy to say that when you have all the facts."
9. Williams takes $15 million and dumps Hulkenberg
Also embarrassing for the sport was the decision Williams made, or had to make, to dump Nico Hulkenberg and 'hire' Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado. While most people go to work to make money, Maldonado will next year go to work and bring $15 million, which equals $750,000 per race, to the Williams team. Although the decision was hardly a surprise, it is certainly a sign of the times, as privateer Williams had problems making both ends meet this season, and was more or less forced to take Maldonado's millions and sack Hulkenberg. But it is also a moral dilemma: should money be the decisive factor, or natural talent?
The FIA has in the past promised cost-cutting measures, but until this day there have been no significant changes, a better 2013 Concorde Agreement in which teams get a bigger share of the revenues could help to solve some of the problems, but as long as teams are allowed to spend 300 or 400 million Euro per year, small teams who want to survive have no other option than to favor a driver with big sponsors.
The grapes are especially sour for Hulkenberg, who is a very talented driver that has won about every race series he participated in, one can only imagine what went through his mind when he heard the news. His manager Willi Weber is doing all he can to get his protege back in a race seat, but even Weber cannot chance the Formula One world, and drivers with a big bag of money are still his main concern. Meanwhile the chances for Hulkenberg are becoming slimmer, as only Force India and HRT have not yet made a decision about their 2011 line-up.
10. Embarrassing return for Schumacher
In this case not just one race, but the whole 2010 season was a major embarrassment for the seven-times World Champion, who had joined the Mercedes team this year after he had retired from Formula One in 2006. Schumacher's 2010 season ended on an all time low during the last race in Abu Dhabi, when he lost control of his Mercedes during the very first lap. His race ended abruptly when Liuzzi slammed into his stricken Mercedes. Schumacher's expectations were high at the start of the season, but the German soon found out Formula One had changed dramatically since his retirement.
Completely different cars, no more in-season testing, no favors from Bridgestone, and to add to the misery, the 2010 cars with the narrower front tyres did not suit Schumacher's driving style at all and from the first race on he was struggling to find the right pace. Although Schumacher insisted his poor performance did not influence his good spirits, it must have been very painful for him to see he was outclassed time after time by his team colleague Nico Rosberg, who scored 142 championship points this season, while Schumacher only scored 72 points.
Schumacher about his season with Mercedes: "We clearly did not meet our expectations. But then, you have to fight for the things you want to achieve, which has always been my credo." About the criticism he said, "I can live with criticism very well, you just have to differentiate it and it can bring you forward as well." And his expectation for 2011? "Fighting for the world championship is still our goal, it can only be like this. We are talking about competing at the absolute peak of motorsport. You cannot just come along, put a new team together and beat everybody," said the German.
2010: A classic season
The 2010 Formula One season was without a doubt a very exciting season, and it will go into the history books as a classic season, perhaps even as the best season of the past 30 years. New regulations, new cars, new teams, new gadgets like the F-Duct and the double diffuser, and the role the weather gods played were the main ingredients for this classic season.
Next week the ten most glorious moments of the 2010 season.