Formula 1 is a sport where drivers are constantly pushing the limits at extremely high speeds. But, sometimes, it goes wrong, and they end up plowing into the barriers or hitting another car. Some crashes have defined title fights, caused rifts between teammates, and left you wondering how someone could walk out of that crash virtually uninjured. These are the best F1 crashes.
Some of the best F1 crashes have been highly controversial. These include Hamilton and Verstappen at Silverstone in 2020, Schumacher and Hill in Adelaide in 1994, and Nelson Piquet Jr in Singapore in 2008. Some, like Grosjean’s accident at the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix, made your heart skip a beat.
Some of the best F1 crashes have defined world championships, while others have been shrouded in controversy long after the incident. However, some have also produced unforgettable moments where drivers would win their first-ever F1 races. Don’t worry; none of the crashes on this list includes incidents where drivers have passed away.
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Verstappen & Hamilton’s Silverstone 2021 Crash
Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton’s first lap collision during the 2021 British Grand Prix at the Silverstone Circuit is perhaps one of the most controversial crashes in recent F1 history. The two were, and still are, embroiled in an intense title challenge which has increased tensions and pushed the drivers to the edge.
After starting second on the grid, Hamilton and Verstappen were locked in a tight battle from the very start. However, Verstappen had managed to hold the Mercedes driver off until Copse corner (one of the fastest corners on the F1 calendar).
Hamilton attempted to go around the inside, while Verstappen opted for the outside line. However, Hamilton didn’t nail the apex of the corner, and as a result, he clipped the Red Bull driver’s rear right wheel and sent him flying into the barriers.
The race was red-flagged to enable the marshals to extricate Verstappen’s damaged car and get Verstappen out of his car and into the ambulance to be taken to the medical center. While Verstappen was not seriously injured, the impact with the barriers was 51Gs, which meant he was severely winded and very sore. The Red Bull driver was also taken to the hospital for precautionary check-ups.
Despite Hamilton receiving a 10 second time penalty (much to Mercedes’s disappointment, who insisted he did nothing wrong), he would eventually go on to win the race in front of his home crowd. But it was the fallout from the incident that makes this one of the best F1 crashes.
Max Verstappen started the controversial reaction to the crash with a tweet while still in the hospital. He said, “Watching the celebrations while still in hospital is disrespectful and unsportsmanlike behavior, but we move on.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner then said Hamilton “shouldn’t be making maneuvers like that. It is unacceptable.” He further said, “I’m very disappointed that a driver of his caliber should make such a move. It’s dangerous.” Horner also described Hamilton’s victory as “hollow.”
Helmut Marko, head of Red Bull’s driver development program and an advisor to Red Bull Formula 1 teams, said Hamilton’s behavior was “negligent to dangerous.” He then called for the British Driver to be suspended from some future race. While he didn’t indicate how many, it was clear that he was calling for a race ban.
Red Bull’s furious reaction to this incident, combined with the fact that it was between two drivers locked in an intense title battle, made this one of the most talked-about crashes in Formula 1 in years.
Here is a video of Hamilton and Verstappen’s controversial crash:
Romain Grosjean’s Bahrain 2020 Crash
Romain Grosjean’s crash at the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix hosted at the Bahrain International Circuit was one of the most alarming crashes in F1. Daniil Kvyat’s Alpha Tauri clipped Grosjean’s car on the first lap, which sent him flying into the barriers, where he experienced a 67G impact.
However, the issue is that the barrier on this part of the track was made from metal rather than tires or another softer material. This meant that the barrier split in half instead of absorbing the impact and embedding the car in the barrier.
The issue with the barrier splitting like this is that it sheared Grosjean’s Haas car in two. This meant that the fuel lines were severed, which caused the wreckage to burst into flames due to the high temperatures of the car, causing the fuel to ignite.
Grosjean ended up spending 27 seconds in the flames before he managed to stunningly extricate himself from the burning wreckage thanks to the help of the F1 doctor, Dr. Ian Roberts. Grosjean astonishingly escaped without any fractures and only suffered bad burns on his hands.
Grosjean was saved by three things that ensured he could walk out of the flames relatively unharmed:
- The Halo prevented him from being likely decapitated by the top part of the metal barrier.
- The quick response by the marshal and the medical car, who were on the scene exceptionally quickly with fire extinguishers and helped to get Grosjean out of the flames.
- The fire-proof clothing, shoes, and helmet prevented him from suffering severe burns while he was in flames.
Romain Grosjean’s fiery accident during the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix epitomized modern safety standards in Formula 1 and ensured that he did not become the 53rd F1 driver to lose their life while racing.
Here is a video of Romain Grosjean’s terrifying accident in 2020:
Schumacher & Hill’s Australia 1994 Crash
Damon Hill came into this race, the final season, only one point behind Michael Schumacher. Therefore, all Schumacher had to do was better Hill’s result, or for Hill not to finish the race for the German to claim his first Formula 1 World Championship.
The two had been pushing each other the whole season, and it all came down to the title-deciding race in Adelaide, Australia. Schumacher took the lead at the start of the race, but Hill was not far behind him. Hill stuck close to Schumacher’s Benneton for the first part of the race, but after around 20 laps, Schumacher increased the gap.
However, Schumacher went wide around a corner on lap 35 and ended up scraping the barrier. His car was still driveable, but he had lost a lot of time to Hill, who was now right on his tail and was looking to overtake him.
Schumacher pulled over to the left to test his car and ensure that everything was working, and Hill sensed the opportunity to take the lead. He made a dart around the inside (to the right) to try to squeeze past Schumacher. However, Schumacher moved back inside, and the two cars made contact.
This flipped Schumacher up onto two wheels before sending him into the barriers and ending his race. Hill’s car initially seemed like it had survived and that he would be on to win his first Formula 1 World Championship. Unfortunately for the Williams driver, his car proved to be too damaged to continue, and he had to retire from the race, and in doing so, handed the championship to Michael Schumacher. This would be the first of his record-breaking and setting seven F1 world championships.
At the time, Hill did not directly blame Schumacher for the accident; however, he has since changed his stance and explicitly accused Michael Schumacher of attempting to take him out. In the recent Netflix documentary, Schumacher, Hill said, “He (Schumacher) was going to win, come what may. Michael did what he had to do to stop me beating him.”
This would not be the last time Schumacher tried to take his title rival out. During the 1997 F1 season, Michael Schumacher, now at Ferrari, went into the final race only one point ahead of Jacques Villeneuve. Villeneuve started the race at Jerez on pole, but Schumacher managed to overtake him at the start. He led the race until he was told that he had to retire his Ferrari because of a water pressure issue.
Villeneuve then attempted to overtake Schumacher. The Ferrari driver realized that if Villeneuve managed to pass him, the Williams driver would claim the World Championship. Schumacher then hit Villeneuve’s car in an attempt to take him out. He was unsuccessful, and he ended up running off the track and stalling, bringing an end to his race.
The FIA deemed that Schumacher’s behavior was unsportsmanlike as he deliberately tried to take out a rival. As a result, Schumacher was disqualified from the 1997 Championship (he had his points stripped from him), and he was forced to participate in a road safety course the following year.
Here is a video of Schumacher and Hills’ infamous crash in Adelaide:
You can watch a replay of Schumacher and Villeneuve’s incident here:
Hamilton & Rosberg’s Barcelona 2016 Crash
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg went from being best friends to absolutely hating each other and not speaking to each other. Their time as teammates at the Mercedes AMG F1 Team from 2013 to the end of 2016 was filled with tension fuelled by intense competition on the track.
Their crash at the 2016 Grand Prix at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya epitomized their fiery relationship. Hamilton was starting on pole position; however, he was passed by his teammate after the start at turn 1. Rosberg led the pack for part of the lap until turn 3, where Hamilton, in an attempt to pass the German, ended up on the grass on the side of the track. This caused Hamilton to lose control of his car, which saw the back of his Mercedes spinning around and smashing into the back of Rosberg’s car.
Unfortunately for the two drivers, this spelled the end of both of their races, a race which would see Max Verstappen claim his maiden victory in Formula 1 on his Red Bull debut, making him the youngest ever driver to win a Formula 1 race. Verstappen was 18 years and 228 days old at the time.
In 2021, Lewis Hamilton said that the angriest he had ever seen Mercedes team-principal Toto Wolff was after the collision with Rosberg at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix.
Here is a video of Hamilton and Rosberg’s first lap crash:
You can also watch a short analysis of this accident by Nico Rosberg, which he did in 2018.
Spa-Francorchamps 1998 First Lap Pile-Up
The 1998 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa was one of the worst first-lap pileups in Formula 1. The race began in extremely treacherous conditions thanks to the rain that had fallen and continued to fall.
The drivers negotiated the start without any mishaps, but David Coulthard’s McLaren plowed into the barriers at the first corner. His car bounced across the track and scattered debris all over the place. The debris and Coulthard’s stricken car combined with the slippery conditions were a recipe for disaster.
The result was a dramatic first lap pileup involving thirteen drivers, which commentator Murray Walker described as “The worst start to a Grand Prix I have seen in my whole life.” The race was stopped for over an hour to allow all the debris on the track to be cleared. The race eventually restarted, albeit without four of the drivers involved in the first-lap incident. Remember that this was when Formula 1 teams had spare cars that could be used during races.
If you think that the race was free of controversy after this, you would be wrong. The rest of the race was filled with extremely dramatic moments, with many more crashes, including the one discussed in the next section.
You can watch a replay of the shocking first lap pile up during the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix:
Schumacher & Coulthard’s Spa 1998 Crash
The treacherous weather conditions that caused the first lap pileup at the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix mentioned above did not let up as the race progressed. After the race resumed, McLaren driver and championship Mika Hakkinen spun at the first corner and hit Johnny Herbert’s Sauber. This forced both of them to retire from the race.
Damon Hill took the lead with Hakkinen out of the race, but Michael Schumacher passed him on lap eight. Schumacher began to build up a considerable lead in his Ferrari over Hill, and by lap 24, he had increased the gap between him and Hill to 30 seconds. It was during lap 24 where he attempted to lap David Coulthard.
Coulthard slowed down to let Schumacher past, but he stayed on the racing line. Unfortunately for Schumacher, Coulthard’s McLaren was spraying up a lot of water behind the car due to the rainy conditions. This significantly impaired the Ferrari driver’s visibility, and it was during this period, he was unsighted where he hit the back of Coulthard’s car. The damage was terminal, and Schumacher was forced to retire from the race.
Michael Schumacher was less than impressed with David Coulthard. After nursing his damaged Ferrari back to the pits, he stormed off to Coulthard’s garage to confront the McLaren driver. Schumacher shouted to him, “Are you trying to ******* kill me?” Schumacher was eventually restrained by his mechanics and escorted back to the Ferrari garage.
Damon Hill emerged out of the chaos, who re-inherited the lead that Schumacher took from him on lap 8 of the race. Hill would win that race, where he would be joined on the podium by his Jordan teammate Ralf Schumacher (Michael Schumacher’s younger brother). This was Jordan’s first Formula 1 victory, and it also turned out to be Hill’s 22nd and final F1 win and the last podium of his Formula 1 career.
You can watch a video of the Schumacher and Coulthard incident, as well as some of the other major talking points from the race below:
Charles Leclerc’s 2020 Monza Crash
Unlike most crashes in Formula 1, this one has a bit of a feel-good factor attached to it. While this isn’t something you’d generally relate to crashes in F1, in this case, it was (albeit not for Leclerc).
Charles Leclerc ‘lost’ the rear of his Ferrari on lap 23 at the famous Parabollica, which caused him to crash into the barriers. Thankfully Leclerc was uninjured and was able to walk away from the accident. This race summed up Ferrari’s dreadful 2020 season. After winning this race in front of their home fans in 2019, both Ferraris had to retire during the 2020 race. Vettel’s brakes failed, and Leclerc slammed into the barriers, making this one of Ferrari’s worst races in ages.
The race was red-flagged to allow his car to be removed from the barriers and for the barriers to be repaired. Before exploring why this incident led to a feel-good moment, we need to go back in time to earlier in the race.
Kevin Magnussen had had issues with Haas only a few laps before Leclerc landed up in the barriers. Magnussen brought his car to a stop at the entrance to the pitlane. This bought a safety car out and closed the pitlane. However, Mercedes were unaware of this and called Lewis Hamilton in for a pit stop. As a result, he was given a 10-second time penalty.
Eventually, Magnussen’s car was removed from the track, and most drivers opted to pit for fresh tires under the safety car. However, Pierre Gasly had already made a pit stop before Magnussen retired from the race, so he was left in 3rd place as the rest of the drivers ahead of him, barring Hamilton (who had already pitted) and Stroll (who opted not to pit) decided to make a pit stop.
On the first lap of the restart, Charles Leclerc slammed into the barriers after the safety car ended, which brought out the red flags. At the restart, Hamilton was; first, Stroll was second, and Gasly was third. However, Gasly immediately overtook Stroll at the first corner, which took him into second. Hamilton went into the pitlane to serve his 10-second stop-go penalty in the second lap following the restart, leaving Gasly in the lead.
All of this left Gasly in a prime position after the restart, following the red flags. Gasly overtook Lance Stroll at the restart, and after Lewis Hamilton pitted to serve his time penalty, Gasly was left with nobody in front of him and P1, with around 30 laps to go.
While he was pushed very hard by Carlos Sainz in his McLaren, Gasly managed to hold on and claim his first win in Formula 1. It was also Alpha Tauri’s first win since Sebastian Vettel won his first F1 race at the same track in 2008 when Alpha Tauri was still Toro Rosso.
Gasly’s win was a lovely story after he suffered a horrible 2019 where he was dropped from Red Bull and lost his close friend Anthoine Hubert, who sadly passed away due to a collision during an F2 race. This was Gasly’s redemption and a message to all his doubters.
Here is a video showing the highlights from the dramatic 2020 Italian Grand Prix:
Nelson Piquet Jr’s 2008 Singapore Crash (Crashgate)
Nelson Piquet’s crash at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix is one of the most controversial moments in recent Formula 1 history. The incident became known as ‘crashgate,’ named after the infamous Watergate scandal involving US President Richard Nixon in 1972.
At the time, Renault had not won a race since 2006, when Fernando Alonso won the World Drivers’ Championship. During the Singapore Grand Prix, Alonso started 15th, and Piquet started 16th. Alonso started the race on low fuel to pass the cars ahead of him more easily.
He then pitted on lap 12, and he dropped to the back of the field after re-joining the race. Three laps later, his teammate Nelson Piquet Jr crashed into the barriers on the pit straight. As the debris was covering the track, a safety car was bought out. A lot of the race leaders pitted, while others who had more fuel decided to stay out. This put Alonso in an advantageous position, which he made the most of, and after taking the lead in the last part of the race, he went on to win the race.
However, in July 2009, Nelson Piquet Jnr was fired by Renault. In incensed by this decision, Piquet claimed that the team ordered him to crash during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. The FIA investigated the incident and subsequently suspended Renault from the sport for two years. Team principal Flavio Briatore was also banned indefinitely from all FIA-sanctioned events, and Pat Symonds, the executive director of engineering, was banned from F1 for five years.
A French court later overturned their punishment in 2010, but both men agreed to not work in Formula 1 or any other FIA events as part of a settlement agreement with the FIA.
Here is a video of Piquet’s infamous crash:
Some crashes in Formula 1 have decided championships, fractured relationships, been shrouded in controversy, and produced fantastic moments. From Schumacher’s controversial antics to Gasly’s incredible win following a massive shunt into the barriers by Charles Leclerc, there have been some spectacular crashes in Formula 1.