Thought Max Verstappen had a stinker in Monaco? William Swerve picks a few other F1 drivers from the past who should have stayed in bed on race morning.
Jean-Louis Schlesser – 1988 Italian Grand Prix
Double World Sportscar champion, multiple Cross Country World Rally champion, multiple winner of the Paris-Dakar – in his own car – Schlesser is nonetheless doomed to be remembered – as any penalty shoot-out misser can attest – for the single thing he cocked up than all the other things he didn’t.
Filling in for a chicken pox-ridden Nigel Mansell for his one and only Grand Prix at Monza in 1988, Italy’s soon-to-be favourite Deus Ex Machina must surely have been expecting something other than the excruciating, slow descent into ignominy the weekend ultimately heralded.
Spending two days gradually working the Williams FW12 into a speed heretofore unseen – qualifying over two seconds behind teammate Riccardo Patrese – Schlesser’s continual striving for performance continued up to Sunday’s wretched – or mesmeric, depending on your point of view – conclusion with the Frenchman spending most of race day dreamily admiring the scenery at the back of the field, before waking up suddenly with a lap to go to discover the nightmare of a Mclaren where fresh air had been previously.
Before anyone knew it, including Jean-Louis, he had braked too late, bounced across the kerb and, in compensation for crushing the dreams of Ron Dennis, was rewarded with the fulfilment of the Tifosi as the Ferraris swept past Ayrton Senna’s beached MP4-4 to a delirious 1-2. Disbarment from Woking, free entry to Rome; not a bad swap, all things considered.
Michael Schumacher – 1992 French Grand Prix
F1’s winningest driver spent a not inconsiderable part of his early track career leaving it at high speed, such was the knife edge he kept his Benetton dancing upon.
Arriving at Magny Cours in 1992 for his first French Grand Prix eight points ahead of resident acknowledged F1 genius, Ayrton Senna, many had begun to whisper the German’s name as the natural heir to the Brazilian’s mantle. A mere 20 seconds after the lights went green however, the only mantle Michael looked like inheriting was the red hot steaming variety after an optimistic lunge up the inside at the Adelaide Hairpin abruptly and violently terminated the Brazilian’s race, if not the German’s.
Unbeknownst to Schuey his unwilling dance partner hadn’t got on the next private jet out of there, and with the race being temporarily halted thanks to a downpour 11 laps later, Senna got his chance to publicly let the young pretender know exactly what he thought in the sort of style Don Corleone would have been familiar when negotiating with especially obstinate opposition.
Shaken and sheepish at the starting grid dressing down, the clearly unsettled Schumacher then climbed back aboard his Benetton for the second start and – Senna presumably cackling off screen Dick Dastardly-like as he did so – proceeded to drive straight into an unwitting Stefano Modena at exactly the same piece of tarmac; an offer in the circumstances, he apparently couldn’t refuse.
Ayrton Senna – 1991 Spanish Grand Prix
The most unconvincing title consolidation since Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito went to get “Made” in Goodfellas.
It’s entirely plausible that Ayrton’s successful mental strong-arming of the uncomfortably rapid Schumacher was inspired partly by his own experience of letting the pressure get to him barely a year earlier at the Spanish Grand Prix. In theory he was comfortably on the cusp of his third world title, thanks to a string of victories compounded by bad luck for his main rival, Nigel Mansell, Senna nonetheless contrived to have the sort of weekend at the brand new track straight out of the bottling-it manual. Beaten in qualifying by his teammate Gerhard Berger for only the second time that season, the Brazilian’s fabled wet weather ability was the second gift that departed him on raceday nearly as quickly as his stablemate up the road in front of him.
In the inclement conditions he found himself outpaced, not only by his fellow McLaren driver and Prost’s “truck” like Ferrari, but was also – again, most atypically – on the wrong end of overtaking moves from the likes of Britain’s fastest moustache, his Williams teammate Ricardo Patrese and the other Ferrari of Jean Alesi, stumbling home via a quick spin over a minute behind the leader in 5th place. “Do I amooz you!?!” – that Sunday Ayrton, yes; you were a real comedian.
Sebastian Vettel – 2010 Belgian Grand Prix
It all started to go downhill – appropriately enough – at the plunge down to the Bus Stop on lap 17; Seb, seeking to wrestle 2nd place from an obstructive Jenson Button, unleashed an overtaking move that began with all the grace of a newborn elk getting off an ice rink and ended in bits with his Red Bull practically inside the now defunct Mclaren cockpit.
Earning a drive through for the misdemeanour, Vettel fell to 11th, having already dropped five places once his team had fixed the original damage. Attacking Liuzzi at the same corner four laps later in the hope of a comeback meanwhile duly delivered; if by comeback you meant “to the pits” which the resulting puncture sent him hobbling back to for his third unscheduled stop of the day.
By now at one with the pitlane if not the racetrack, he still had time for a fourth visit for intermediates in a gamble on a sudden rainshower which became a fifth when it resolutely refused to start and he was finally put out of his misery with the chequered flag falling a lap sooner than the leader in a distant, dismal 14th place; a case of F1’s drivers’ circuit making that year’s champion look everything but.
Pastor Maldonado – 2012 Monaco Grand Prix (though see also the rest of 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, etc.)
Like packing a tartrazine-intolerant toddler off to the Palace of Versailles with a hammer and a bottle of Sunny Delight, Pastor’s 2012 trip to Monaco straight after the giddy high of victory in Barcelona swiftly turned into a regretful and expensive rampage.
The Venezuelan didn’t start smashing up the Principality until FP3, but made up for his belated violence with originality by inexplicably sideswiping Sergio Perez at Portier; a maneuver of such absurdity it possibly distracted the mechanics from properly checking the Sauber prior to qualifying whereupon it crashed after a steering failure.
Pastor carried on; on this occasion, the only thing between him and the Armco was his FW34, but it was a close run thing given the speed of Casino Square and the apparent determination of the Williams driver to be the first driver to park his car inside the Tip Top bar. Putting its foot down over Pastor’s inability to control either of his, the FIA sent him to the back of the grid, but in so doing merely sealed his and Pedro de la Rosa’s fate.
A mere seven seconds after the lights went green, the unfortunate HRT driver found himself first in the queue to walk back to the pits with a stiff neck thanks to being first in the queue between Maldonado and the lead. Still the stand out weekend of the only man ever to play at real Grand Prix racing with the crash settings turned off.