Michael Schumacher’s Most Controversial F1 Crashes

Max Verstappen receives Michael Schumacher comparisons, but not because of speed.

Following the 2024 Austrian Grand Prix, reminisces of Michael Schumacher emerged.

Max Verstappen and Lando Norris both retired from the race, after a very controversial defensive drive from Max Verstappen. The Red Bull driver and the McLaren driver were fighting for the win of the race.

Multiple times during the race, Verstappen had moved under braking, which is against the regulations. The two eventually made contact, both with punctures. They both limped back to the pits where Verstappen changed his tyres and went on to finish the race in P5. However, McLaren retired Norris from the race.

The Dutchman has been known for always having his elbows out since he joined F1 back in 2015. He has had many controversial collisions on track, with most coming when he’s fighting for the Drivers’ Championship. From incidents with his former teammate Daniel Ricciardo to incidents with 2021 title rival Lewis Hamilton, to fights for race wins in 2022 with Charles Leclerc, and now to scrambles with Lando Norris in 2024.

“It is the side of Max that has always been [part of his armoury. We haven’t seen it for a while, because he has been so dominant. It is interesting to see how he reacts under pressure.

“It is good that he is under pressure for the first time in a long time. Lando and McLaren have been chipping away at it and now you start seeing those little cracks starting to appear. Max had to go back to his hard self which sometimes just goes over the top and gets himself into trouble.

“It is deliberate which is why I use the word intimidation where he goes to the very limits without getting himself in trouble. But he has always had this in his history.

“I like competition because I think it is a very important part of racing. But I sometimes don’t like it when he gets to the point that you are actually forcing a car off the circuit. That is not what it is all about. It is about placing the car. He does place the car very well, but he just has that tendency to put everyone else in a position which goes beyond the drivers’ unwritten code. That is what we saw in Austria.” – Johnny Herbert,  F1 legend and steward for the Austrian Grand Prix speaking to Coin Poker.

A pattern is seemingly emerging, with Verstappen often resorting to ‘dirty’ tactics whenever facing competition. For the collision at the 2024 Austrian GP, Verstappen received a 10-second penalty, a verdict that McLaren have stated they believe is not harsh enough. The under-braking rule was introduced in 2016 because of Max Verstappen, however, the FIA have been rather inconsistent in punishing the Red Bull driver for dangerous driving throughout his F1 career. McLaren too believe that the FIA are to blame for allowing Verstappen’s erratic driving over the years.

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In the past, it was Michael Schumacher who was known for dirty tactics whenever a title or a race win was on the line. Verstappen, who has shown sheer speed in the recent seasons has not received comparisons to former F1 legends just because of that, but because of his ‘yield or crash’ mentality. This was a mentality often seen in Michael Schumacher.

“Verstappen will think he did no wrong. Will it change his mindset? Probably not. It will not change the way he goes racing. No driver before, like Michael Schumacher, never changed their approach.

“Look at Michael’s incidents with Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve for instance. He would do anything he could to benefit from a certain situation. Jos, his father, drove with Michael at Benetton and he would have seen first-hand those incidents how Michael operated. I can imagine him saying to Max in his younger days: ‘I want you to drive and intimidate everyone off the circuit effectively. You make sure that you win the race by being the toughest driver.’

“The way Max drives will have been shaped a lot by Jos’s input and his own experiences of driving with Michael Schumacher. It will never change. It is ingrained in him.” – Johnny Herbert,  F1 legend and steward for the Austrian Grand Prix speaking to Coin Poker.

Here, we will look at Schumacher’s most controversial crashes in Formula One.

Michael Schumacher & Jacques Villeneuve in Europe in 1997

Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve were fighting for the title all season long in 1997. Going into the final race of the season – the European Grand Prix at the Jerez circuit – Schumacher was ahead of Villeneuve by 1 point.

The Williams secured P1 during qualifying, whilst the Ferrari was on the front row in P2. However, it was Schumacher who had the better launch from the starting line, taking the lead before they got to Turn 1. Hainz-Harold Frentzen also got a better start than Villeneuve and slotted into P2 at the start. Frentzen let his teammate Villeneuve pass on lap 8 following orders from Williams.

The collision

Schumacher led for most of the race, leading 40 of the first 47 laps. With 22 laps to go, is when the infamous incident would happen. Close behind Schumacher, the Canadian attempted a move on the inside of Turn 6. Villeneuve’s overtake attempt would have been successful as he was ahead at the apex.

However, Schumacher deliberately turned into the Williams. The German’s right front wheel hit Villeneuve’s sidepod, and it was at that moment that commentator and ex-F1 driver Martin Brundle said on the broadcast, “I don’t think… That didn’t work. That didn’t work, Michael. You hit the wrong part of him my friend. I don’t think that will cause Villeneuve a problem.” These words rang true, as the Williams driver was able to go on to finish the race. The Ferrari of Michael Schumacher on the other hand was beached in the gravel, unable to continue on.

Villeneuve did carry damage from the incident though. In his words, “The car felt very strange. The hit was very hard. It was not a small thing.” With a damaged battery, the Canadian was slower than the cars behind him. The two McLarens of Mikka Hakkinen and David Coulthard went on to pass Villeneuve for the two top steps of the podium. That was Hakkinen’s first-ever race win.

Having finished P3, whilst Schumacher retired from the race, Villeneuve secured enough points to win his first and only Drivers’ championship title.

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The verdict

The aftermath of the incident dragged on. This was not the first time Schumacher had attempted to win the title by being aggressive against his title, as he had attempted the same thing against Damon Hill at the 1994 Australian Grand Prix.

This time, at the 1997 European Grand Prix, the race stewards had determined that it was “a racing incident” and took no further action against Schumacher. Eventually, Schumacher was summoned to a disciplinary hearing by the FIA. On 11 November 1997, it was announced that Schumacher would be disqualified from the 1997 World Championship. As a result, he lost his second place in the overall standings to Frentzen. Although, he retained his race results including the wins, and would not carry any punishment into the following season. FIA president Max Mosley stated that the panel “concluded that although the actions were deliberate they were not premeditated.”

Ferrari remained unpunished, keeping their P2 in the championship.

Michael Schumacher & Damon Hill in Australia in 1994

As mentioned earlier, 1997 was not the first time Michael Schumacher attempted to win the Drivers’ Championship with dirty tactics. A similar incident was at the 1994 Australian Grand Prix.

Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher were fighting for the 1994 title, with it going down to the wire, to the final race of the season. This was the 1994 Australian Grand Prix at the Adelaide Street Circuit.

The German was racing for Benetton, whilst Hill was a Williams driver. Going into the final race, Williams led the Constructors’ Championship with 108 points, while Benetton had 103. And as for the drivers, Schumacher was ahead by 1 point. Both titles were at stake down under.

Nigel Mansell, the other Williams driver started on pole, with Schumacher and Hill behind him respectively. However, Schumacher took the lead at the start, with Hill taking P2.

The collision

For 36 of the 81 laps, the order at the front remained unchanged. That was until Schumacher’s Benetton went off the track and hit a wall. He got back onto the track, but Hill had gotten closer to him. Attempting to overtake his rival, Hill went down the inside of the next corner, but Schumacher turned into him.

The impact led the German into the tyre barrier, and out of the race. Hill was able to continue on and make his way into the pits. At the pits, the mechanics declared the damage too paramount for the Brit to complete the rest of the race. With Hill’s retirement, Schumacher won the Drivers’ Championship title by 1 point, his first ever, in a rather controversial manner.

Nigel Mansell retook the lead of the race and went on to win. That marks the last time a Formula One driver won a race whilst over the age of 40. His win secured Williams the Constructors’ Championship.

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The verdict

To this day, many blame Schumacher for the incident. The race stewards investigated it, but ruled it as a “racing incident”, taking no action against the German. Schumacher too claimed that the collision was a racing incident, never once changing his stance throughout his career. However, when he repeated a similar action at the 1997 European Grand Prix against Jacques Villeneuve and admitted that it was intentional, it brought the spotlight back to his 1994 incident, making it look intentional too.

A member of the Williams team, Patrick Head spoke to F1 Racing magazine in 1994. He stated that “Williams were already 100% certain that Michael was guilty of foul play.” However, they did not appeal against Schumacher’s title win because the team were still dealing with the death of Ayrton Senna, which had happened at the San Marino Grand Prix earlier that year.


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