Top ten… Most notorious backmarkers

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Kazuki Nakajima makes his Grand Prix debut this weekend.

Long time Grand Prix fans will remember the one occasion his father made a decisive move at the front of the field – by taking Ayrton Senna’s front wing off during the Brazilian Grand Prix while Senna was lapping him.

But that’s by no means the worst backmarker horror story. Here’s ten of the most infamous. Jean-Denis Deletraz fans will not be disappointed…

Satoru Nakajima

The symmetry is eerie. It was at Interlagos, where the young Nakajima makes his F1 debut this weekend, were his father Satoru achieved notoriety by colliding with Ayrton Senna while he was being lapped.

In Satoru’s defence, Senna did lunge at him while trying to put the Japanese (his former team mate) a lap down. But it cost the Brazilian what would have been his first victory at home.

Let’s home Kazuki doesn’t repeat his father’s mistake of 1990…

Jos Verstappen

Another backmarker who achieved notoriety in Brazil. Verstappen drove into the back of Juan Pablo Montoya while the Columbian was leading in his third Grand Prix.

Montoya kindly refrained from killing Verstappen, and later made amends by winning the race twice in 2004 and 2005.

Olivier Grouillard

Many a race leader in the late eighties/early nineties became familiar with the back of Frenchman Grouillard’s car.

I began watching F1 in 1989, and one of the first drivers’ names I learned was Grouillard’s because of how regularly the commentators would curse him for delaying the leaders.

Norberto Fontana

Conspiracy theory alert! It didn’t go unnoticed when, during the 1997 European Grand Prix, race leader Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari cruised past the Ferrari-engined Sauber of Norberto Fontana with ease, yet the pursuing Jacques Villeneuve in a Williams lost several seconds behind the Argentinian.

Years later Fontana alleged:

Two or three hours before the race started Jean Todt entered [the motorhome] and went straight to the point: by strict order of Ferrari, Villeneuve must be held up if you come across him on the track. To whoever this applies.

Peter Sauber denied the allegation. You can judge for yourself:

Jean-Denis Deletraz

Deletraz was so appallingly slow on his debut at Adelaide in 1994 he was passed by the leaders on lap ten – losing 80s in nine laps. Somehow he got another drive the following year…

Jean Pierre Jarier

A favourite target of James Hunt in his commentating years, who blasted Jarier as, “a French wally – always has been, always will be.”

Jarier certainly earned the criticism at the Osterreichring in 1983 when he baulked leader Patrick Tambay so badly it let the other Ferrari driver Rene Arnoux into the lead. Even as they crested the daunting swoops of the Austrian track Tambay had one hand off the wheel, shaking his fist in rage at Jarier.

What was particularly sad was that Jarier had been a front runner in his day, but fell out of favour with the top teams and his careless driving at the back of the field often smacked of bitterness.

Rene Arnoux

Much the same could be said of Rene Arnoux. A multiple Grand Prix winner earlier in the 1980s, by the end of the decade he was repeatedly criticised for failing to let leaders pass and holding people up on qualifying laps.

Jean Louis Schlesser

There must be a shrine to Schlesser somewhere near Monza. For at that track in 1988 while substituting for Nigel Mansell at Williams he blundered into the path of Ayrton Senna, knocking the Brazilian out of the race.

It let through the Ferrari duo of Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto claim an emotional one-two at home, mere weeks after the death of Enzo Ferrari, and the only non-Mclaren victory that year.

Jochen Mass

It’s one thing to take one of the leaders out of the race – it’s quite another when it’s your team mate.

That’s exactly what Mass did at Mosport in 1977 – taking James Hunt out of the running. Mass kept going and for several laps Hunt shook his fist at the German as he went by, before using it to thump a marshal.

Keke Rosberg

Rosberg’s driving manners were usually sound but what he did to Ayrton Senna in a rage during the 1985 European Grand Prix would surely earn a lengthy ban today.

Having spun out in a clash with Senna early into the race Rosberg ducked into the pits, emerging just metres in front of Senna, who had Rosberg’s team mate Nigel Mansell close behind.

Rosberg proceeded to carefully block Senna, allowing Mansell past, before turning up the turbo boost and scampering free of the pair of them. Mansell cruised home to take his first Grand Prix win…

Photo: LAT Photographic / Glenn Dunbar

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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23 comments on “Top ten… Most notorious backmarkers”

  1. The Rosberg story made me smile, Keith :)

  2. Everything Keke did, he did with style. If you’re going to display your displeasure, what better way than to openly screw their race as Keke did? Much better than just waving your fist at someone. :D

  3. Poor Senna… three out of ten…

  4. Had to have been David Coulthard in Spa 1998. Braketesting MS in the WET!!!

    1. Mussolini's Pet Cat
      4th September 2009, 15:10

      I think you’ll find it was a lift not braking (which in an F1 car almost amounts to the same thing) that caught the German out.

  5. He didn’t brake, he lifted off the accelerator, although he later agreed it was a mistake. Another I considered including but didn’t was Andrea de Cesaris who took his team mate Alex Caffi out at Phoenix in ’89 when Caffi was lapping him…

  6. And we musn’t forget about Eliseo Salazar, who famously didn’t give way to Nelson Piquet while being lapped at Hockenheim!

    1. Oh boy – that one is vintage stuff! I laughed my *** off, even though I was rooting for Piquet.

  7. Now there’s one I probably should’ve included…

    Ah well, here’s a good video of it with the original Murray Walker commentary. Enjoy!.

    1. @keithcollantine Oops! “This video is no longer available because the YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated.”

      Shame I would have liked to see that again. I remember watching it live on BBC and the incident did much to colour my future opinion of Piquet despite the fact that he was a talented driver…

      1. Oh well, haha make sure you check the dates before pounding the keyboard. D’oh!

        1. @baron Hahaha, yes, I see the problem. Caught me out as well.

  8. “And take that!” lol!

    Murray is a genius.

  9. The Fontana makes me miss Murray and Martin… :(

  10. The Fontana VIDEO, that is!

  11. What about Enrique Bernoldi, who held up DC for 35 laps at the Monaco Grand Prix a few years ago?

  12. He wasn’t being lapped! It was for position…

  13. that was fun… thanks for putting this list together.

  14. Keith SURELY De Cesaris and Caffi must be on the list! The man was driving a Dallara and would have taken a podium!!!

  15. Didn’t Gouillard get a ticket on his way to Silverstone one year…or was he just late?

    Ah, the days when drivers used to do more than just throw their helmets on the ground and say “aw, shucks”.

    Maybe that’s why they changed the rules so the drivers have to put the steering wheel back in the car within x seconds. It gives them time to think before they make asses of themselves on live tv.

  16. I have vague recollections of being a kid watching Murray and James lay into Andrea De Cesaris for getting in the way and crashing a lot…I quote from San Marino 1990;
    “To say De Cesaris is incident prone is a mastery of understatement!”

    I have a hazy memory from 1991 (?) of ADC weaving crazily down the straight to prevent someone passing him. I am yet to find this on the internet but Id love to see it again.

  17. Mussolini's Pet Cat
    4th September 2009, 15:12

    Yes, De Cesaris should be on the list…

  18. What about Al Pease, who was disqualified from the 1969 Canadian Grand Prix for being too slow?

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