chaotic Formula

Formula 1 most chaotic beginning line incidents

On this day in April 1979, Ferrari star Gilles Villeneuve caused confusion at the start of the US Grand Prix West by missing his grid spot. We look at eight chaotic F1 starts throughout the years. 1979 US Grand Prix West – Long Beach 1/8 Photo by: Motorsport Images On April 8 1979, 24 Formula…

On this day in April 1979, Ferrari celebrity Gilles Villeneuve caused confusion at the start of the US Grand Prix West by missing his grid spot. We consider eight chaotic F1 starts during recent years.

Formula 1's most chaotic start line incidents

1979 US Grand Prix West – Long Beach

1979 US Grand Prix West - Long Beach


Photo by: Motorsport Images

On April 8 1979, 24 Formula 1 cars were set to line up to the grid Long Beach for the US Grand Prix West. At least, that was the plan. Polesitter Gilles Villeneuve simply forgot to stop in his designated grid place and drove past, apparently occupied with getting warmth into his Ferrari’s tyres. The Canadian caused plenty of confusion . Fourth-placed Patrick Depailler hauled up alongside the Ferrari, gesticulating to Villeneuve.

In the confusion Depailler’s Ligier team-mate Jacques Lafitte ground to a halt when the rear of his car seized. The drivers ultimately decided the return into the pits and await a restart. That allowed second-placed Reutemann, who didn’t create the first gridand Lafitte to begin the race from the pitlane. After heated discussions Villeneuve was allowed to maintain his pole. The Canadian took victory just under 2 hours after after a gruelling race where only nine cars watched the chequered flag.

1981 Belgian Grand Prix – Zolder

1981 Belgian Grand Prix - Zolder

two /8 )

Photo by: Motorsport Images

The 1981 Belgian Grand Prix in Zolder was struck by catastrophe on Friday. A mechanic was injured during practice after being struck by Carlos Reutemann in the pitlane. He’d succumb to his injuries the Monday following the race. The incident triggered protests from mechanics from all teams about the lack of safety in the pitlane. In those days, well before the arrival of pitlane speed limitations, pitlanes were overcrowded with hangers-on and generally much thinner than now. Many drivers joined the protest and vacated their cars on the starting grid, which proved to be a bit of a problem once the organisers chose to begin the formation lap anyway at the time…

With many cars stuck onto the grid, second-placed Nelson Piquet caused a further delay when he forfeited Villeneuve’s error in Long Beach and missed his grid place. The Brazilian has been sent round again and had to weave his way beyond his colleagues on the dense grid. Because of the long wait many automobiles fought with combustion engines. Arrows driver Riccardo Patrese wildly gesticulated about the grid, asking for aid. His mechanic Dave Luckett jumped into his aid, assuming the field would be first sent on a different formation lap. As it happened, the organisers began the race when Piquet had taken his appropriate grid place, with Luckett still tending into the Arrows. Many cars managed to take avoiding action, but eventually the unfortunate mechanic was struck by the next Arrows of Siegfried Stohr. Luckett broke a leg in the incident, but made a full recovery.

The events at Zolder triggered security improvements to the beginning process. Mechanics were no longer permitted on the grid 15 seconds before the start of the race.

1982 US Grand Prix West – Long Beach

1982 US Grand Prix West - Long Beach


Photo by: Motorsport Images

Long Beach was the scene of the following starting grid accident in 1982. Coming onto the grid, Lotus motorist Elio de Angelis parked in the incorrect spot. De Angelis, realising his error, put his vehicle in reverse and backed to his team-mate Nigel Mansell. Mansell also reversed to try and avoid further damage. Unexpectedly the green light came on, giving the Briton the doubtful honour of starting a motor race .

Needless to say the Lotus pair dropped a long way behind. Due to the typically large attrition rate around Long Beach, De Angelis managed to salvage two points in fifth – albeit one lap behind. Mansell missed by completing seventh, two laps behind winner Niki Lauda.

1984 Austrian Grand Prix – Osterreichring

1984 Austrian Grand Prix - Osterreichring


Photo by: Sutton Images

In a year where McLaren was notable with its TAG Porsche turbo motors, Niki Lauda took an important step towards his third world title after winning his home grand prix. The 400th F1 Grand Prix got off to a chaotic start, however.

Due to a problem with the beginning lights, which went from red to green and back to red, third-placed Elio de Angelis hesitated to get going, holding up Patrick Tambay and Teo Fabi behind him. There was no hesitation on the other side of this grid, together with Ayrton Senna vaulting up the order from tenth to fourth in his Toleman.

The races was red-flagged and it was soon determined to restart the race from scratch following another formation lap. This time polesitter Piquet held off Prost. The race – and the championship – took a massive twist when Prost crashed out on an oil patch and Lauda overtook Piquet for its direct. In the closing stages the Lauda was going to retire with a gearbox issue. The Austrian ultimately decided to continue and bypass fourth gear, and managed to score a stunning home win.

1987 Austrian Grand Prix – Osterreichring

1987 Austrian Grand Prix - Osterreichring

5/8 )

Photo by: Sutton Images

While the 1984 Austrian Grand Prix took 2 attempts the start the race, the 1987 edition of the race on the same Osterreichring trumped it with three begins. An accident by Martin Brundle’s Zakspeed caused a multi-car pile-up on the first start and brought out the red flag.

The resume, however, was possibly even worse. Nigel Mansell got off the line slowly in his Williams, which suffered clutch problems, and triggered mayhem behind him. As many as twelve cars were involved in the ensuing melee, including the likes of Riccardo Patrese, Eddie Cheever, Stefan Johansson and Ivan Capelli.

Teams were given a chance to fix the damage or prepare spare automobiles for a third beginning, which ran two hours late. Philippe Streiff was missing as Tyrrell had run out of chassis. A lot of other drivers started from the pitlane. Brundle, who was included in both pile-ups, was rushed out using improvised bodywork on his Zakspeed and was finally disqualified for it. Mansell, who was lucky not to be collected at the next start, ended up winning the race by nearly a minute over Williams teammate Piquet.

1988 Portuguese Grand Prix – Estoril

1988 Portuguese Grand Prix - Estoril


Photo by: Sutton Images

In the days before anti-stall, the 1988 Portuguese Grand Prix was another race that took three tries to get going. The first start was called off if Andrea de Cesaris postponed his Rial. Derek Warwick ground to a halt on the second start and has been hit by De Cesaris, Luis Perez-Sala and Satoru Nakajima.

The next effort was shown to be the right one. Ayrton Senna swept beyond his McLaren team-mate and rival Alain Prost to take the lead into Turn One. Prost returned the favour as they came round to begin the second lap. Senna famously pushed Prost towards the pit wall, but was not able to prevent the Frenchman out of retaking the lead. Capelli played a starring role at the March, departure Senna for moment because the Brazilian was fighting with an erroneous gas index. In the 13th grand prix of the season, it was the very first time a dominant McLaren-Honda was passed on course. Capelli secured second behind Prost and well before Thierry Boutsen’s Benetton.

2001 Brazilian Grand Prix – Sao Paulo

2001 Brazilian Grand Prix - Sao Paulo

7/8 )

Photo by: Motorsport Images

With the coming of the safety car, red flagging a race due to a single grid stall is something of the past. Among the most well-known examples is Mika Hakkinen’s stall in the 2001 Brazilian Grand Prix. Hakkinen frantically waved his arms on the starting grid because his McLaren shut down. Luckily, his opponents managed to safely prevent the Finn.

After a short safety car intervention the consequent flying restart supplied one of the standout moments of the year as rookie Juan Pablo Montoya muscled his way past the top Ferrari of Michael Schumacher. 

2015 Italian Grand Prix – Monza

2015 Italian Grand Prix - Monza


Photo by: Autodromo Nazionale Monza / Actualfoto / Alessio Morgese

Thanks to technological advancements and other reliability improvements, hard grid stalls have become a rare occurrence in the modern era. One of the latest examples was Kimi Raikkonen’s scare at the beginning of the 2015 Italian Grand Prix. Raikkonen had procured a front row start in front of the Ferrari tifosi, but the Finn’s car went into anti-stall at the beginning. That did allow Raikkonen to get going, but he was swarmed by the remainder of the pack as he slowly crept off the lineup.

In the hybrid era drivers have more choices if their engine fails to perform ball. In the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix, Carlos Sainz managed to restart his engine to the grid using his MGU-K system. If anything, this record shows the technical evolution of the sport, in addition to the many security improvements during the years. From mechanisms being put in harm’s way all the way into a motorist restarting a dead engine utilizing hybrid energy – the chances of suffering turmoil on the starting grid have mercifully been radically decreased.

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