Trouble in the pits: The 12 biggest pit-lane incidents in Formula 1 history
While the Formula 1 action is typically associated with on-track goings on, the pit lane can also be a source of drama, but sadly also danger.
While drivers will put in the hard work out on the circuit in pursuit of their respective goals, it can so easily all become undone through a key element of Formula 1 racing – pit stops.
Here the mechanics can make a pivotal difference, pulling off that ideal stop which all those hours of training went into creating, or on the flip side, it can be when it all goes terribly wrong for the team and driver.
And of course sometimes, it can be the driver themselves making that difference either in the positive or negative sense, while as we saw at the 2023 Azerbaijan GP, from time to time a rather unusual hazard can threaten to throw a spanner in the works.
So, let’s take a look back at the biggest moments of pit-lane drama in Formula 1…
Esteban Ocon, Baku 2023
When Alpine’s Esteban Ocon came into the pits on the last lap of the 2023 Azerbaijan GP to make his mandatory pit stop, of all the obstacles he could have expected to meet, an assembled group of photographers in the fast lane was most likely not on that bingo card.
With the race onto its final lap and media personnel readying for the podium celebrations, word seemingly did not get round that Ocon had not yet stopped in the race, and so only some good work on the brake pedal from Ocon and fleet-footed photographers meant disaster was avoided.
Ocon, understandably, never wants to see a repeat of that “scary” moment again, and Formula 1’s governing body the FIA were of course in agreement, with revisions to pit-lane protocols coming.
Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, Canada 2008
Kimi Raikkonen and Robert Kubica did what they were supposed to at the end of the pit lane back at the 2008 Canadian GP, that being to stop when they saw the red light. Sadly, this rather caught Lewis Hamilton by surprise, who had been leading the race but was jumped in the pits by that duo.
The McLaren driver would end up slamming into the rear of Raikkonen’s Ferrari, spelling retirement for both, while Nico Rosberg damaged his front wing by hitting the back of Hamilton’s car.
Thankfully, nobody was injured, with Kubica going on to secure his first and only Formula 1 victory.
Kazuki Nakajima, Brazil 2007
The Williams driver got his first ever Formula 1 pit stop very wrong indeed, making quite a hash of slotting neatly into his pit box for the waiting mechanics.
Three mechanics were flattened by the Japanese driver, but fortunately after hospital checks, the all-clear was given and thus a frightening situation had a positive outcome.
Adrian Sutil and Robert Kubica crash, Hungary 2010
It is dangerous enough when a lack of accuracy from a driver spells trouble for their mechanics, but a potential whole new level of severity is reached when it comes to cars colliding around the personnel at work.
This is what happened at the Hungaroring in 2010, as Kubica coming out of his pit box, met Force India’s Adrian Sutil coming in, the end result being a collision.
That marked the end of Sutil’s race, while Renault were fined $50,000 for an unsafe release. Thankfully, the only thing which was wounded was Renault’s bank account.
Jerome D’Ambrosio spin, Hungary 2011
While that collision between Sutil and Kubica was worrying enough, it was only one year later at the same venue where the Marussia crew were in for quite the fright.
As the Belgian racer tried to negotiate the greasy surface on his way to the Marussia pit box, he would instead lose control of the car and go into a spin heading straight for the waiting folks at Marussia.
It was a huge relief then when the car just ran out of momentum before arriving on the scene of the mechanics. Disaster avoided!
David Coulthard, Australia 1995
The 1995 Australian GP was the last to be held at the Adelaide Street Circuit, and David Coulthard would depart with a rather embarrassing memory from his final visit.
As Coulthard attempted to make his first pit stop of the race from the lead, he got the entry all wrong in his Williams, carrying too much speed as he locked up and hit the pit wall. That was the end of his race after quite the oops moment.
Nigel Mansell, Portugal 1991
Now, if the car itself is not the hazard in the pit lane, then another piece of associated equipment often can be.
Take the tyres for example, as Nigel Mansell found out at the 1991 Portuguese GP when his right-rear tyre quickly made a break for freedom after exiting his pit box.
As other mechanics ducked and dived to evade the tyre’s path, the Williams crew set off down the pit lane to re-fit the tyre at the place where Mansell was stranded in the middle of the pit lane, it later resulted in his disqualification from the race.
Lewis Hamilton, China 2007
That incident for Mansell effectively wrecked his title hopes that year, and there were similar implications for Lewis Hamilton at the 2007 Chinese Grand Prix when he paid the ultimate price for going wide at the pit-lane entry.
As Hamilton headed for the pits on severely worn dry tyres, he would fail to negotiate the left turn and slid into the gravel trap, getting his McLaren beached there. That spelled the first retirement of his Formula 1 career, and the one which ultimately cost him the World Championship in his rookie campaign.
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Felipe Massa, Singapore 2008
Those tyres can be a real pest, and in a now bygone era of Formula 1, the same was very much true for fuel hoses too.
Take Felipe Massa’s now iconic moment at the first Singapore GP for example, as what needed to be a routine pit stop for the race leader proved to be anything but.
Not only did Ferrari release him prematurely with the fuel hose still attached, forcing the mechanics to chase after him and remove it as he dropped to the back of the pack, but Ferrari had also sent him out into the path of Force India’s Adrian Sutil, resulting in a drive through penalty for Massa.
He ended up finishing the race which he was on course to win down in P13.
Kimi Raikkonen and Heikki Kovalainen, Brazil 2009
While Sutil was able to avoid getting caught up in Massa’s dramas, a year later Massa’s Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was through no fault of his own involved in a fiery incident with McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen.
As Kovalainen took the McLaren fuel hose with him from his pit stop, Raikkonen behind who had also pitted was doused with the liquid, causing his car to briefly catch fire! All hail the fireproof suits as Raikkonen escaped that incident completely unharmed.
Eddie Irvine, Belgium 1995
Sadly, this was not the most dangerous fireball incident which Formula 1 has seen, as the one which Eddie Irvine suffered at the 1995 Belgian GP had set a higher bar.
A jammed fuel valve at Irvine’s pit stop would cause his Jordan car to burst into flames, this time the fire continuing as Jordan-Peugeot mechanics scrambled for the fire extinguishers, to their credit quickly putting out the blaise.
Fortunately Irvine was unharmed, which made the fact that his car was damaged beyond repair of little significance really considering what had just gone down.
Jos Verstappen, Germany 1994
But, when discussing fiery incidents in the pit lane, it really does not get bigger than Jos Verstappen’s at Germany’s Hockenheimring.
Fuel would accidentally be sprayed onto the hot bodywork of his Benetton car during a pit stop at the 1994 German GP, causing an eruption of flames to envelop the car.
One crew member’s suit was on fire, a colleague thankfully putting that out to spare the mechanic potential injuries, while Verstappen escaped with only burns around his eyes as his visor had been up. In the circumstances, a very lucky escape for all.
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