Before the largest case of cheating in the history of Formula 1 stained the sports’ fabric, before Renault finally got caught red-handed, there were five previous incidents where drivers took things a little too far in order to win. Some were successful and others were not:
1. Nelson Piquet (Sr.) drove for a team in 1982 named Brabham. His squad, accompanied with the Williams F1 Team (and a few others) were running regular engines, while other teams choose to run turbo-charged engines. Obviously, the turbo aided in a power advantage, so the turbo-less teams had to call to their creative side.
Brabham and Williams both requested to run a reserve water tank which, when asked by the FIA, was used to aid brake cooling. Whether or not they used the water to cool the brakes was not the issue. The teams filled up the reserve tank just before it was time to weight the cars before the race and emptied them during the first stint. That left the them a whole reserve water tank lighter, giving them the advantage they needed over the turbo engines. A loophole in the rules enabled them to re-fill the tanks after the race. During one race weekend, Piquet crossed the finish line in first place, thanks to his trusty reserve water tank. Ferrari and Renault protested, arguing against the existence of the reserve tank. The FIA sided with Ferrari and Renault and stripped Piquet (and Williams’ driver Keke Rosberg of second place) of his win, handing it over to Renault’s Alain Prost.
A rule was later written stating that all cars need to be weighed before liquids were added.
2. Martin Brundle was behind the wheel of a Tyrrell who were only a handful of teams not harnessing turbo power. In 1984, the Tyrrell team decided to get just as creative as Brabham in 1982. They installed a 3.3 liter water tank to their racer which (quite legally) sprayed water into the air inlet trumpets on the engine. Suspicions suddenly arose when Tyrrell pit only to fill their water injection tank. After an investigation, it became apparent that mechanics were adding shots of lead into the tank at the same time, resulting in them running under the minimum weight. The team was banned for the remaining three races and excluded from the championship.
3. Arton Senna was furious for having lost out to rival, Alain Prost, during their controversial clash in the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix. Senna had always thought it was Prost who caused the incident (who happened to win the title while Senna was disqualified from that race). Keeping that in mind, Senna came back twelve months later seeking his revenge. Senna managed to secure pole while Prost sat satisfied in second. Off the line, Prost lead only slightly. Into the first turn, Senna stayed hard on the accelerator and took both of them out, securing his title.
4. Michael Schumacher had been driving a Benetton in the 1994 season finale when he slid off-track. After damaging his car, he took to the track just in time to steer into the Williams of Damon Hill, which eliminated them both and handed Schumacher the title (this stunt is getting quite repetitive). Having had great luck that year, he attempted at another scenario in 1997. He made a similar move, this time on Jacques Villeneuve. Both retired from the race but this time saw Schumacher disqualified from the championship. Villeneuve took the title. A Schumacher stunt which might be fresher in our minds than others happened at the famous Monaco circuit in 2006. He was on course to complete a qualifying lap when he (what seemed to be) under steered at the Rascasse corner, blocking his rivals from completing any potential quick laps (keeping his pole position time on top). Schumacher protested his innocence but was stripped of his pole and sent to the back of the grid.
5. Jenson Button and his BAR Honda team rarely saw a step of the podium and were disgusted with that fact. During the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix, they managed to secure a third and fifth place finish seeing Button on the podium. However, through post-race investigations, the team had been using a secret fuel tank. Once drained of fuel, the empty tank would have the car weighing at 5 kilograms below the minimum weight. The team argued, claiming that the car would never be operational unless the secret tank had at least 6 kgs of fuel stored (making it impossible to run below the limit). The stewards accepted their claim but the FIA didn’t. The team were later disqualified from Imola and banned from the two upcoming races.
You see, loop holes and white lies and bending the rules only slightly before they break are all tools of the game. It has just never witnessed pure idiocy. Planning to rig a race for the advantage of the team is not one of the tools F1 occasionally use to get ahead. Rigging a race is illegal. I’m glad Briatore has been banned from all FIA related practices, glad that Symonds is living out his five-year ban (in regret), and that Renault might witness similar fate.