Every sports league has its scandals, and they are shocking or sometimes entertaining. From death by rogue tire to kinky billionaire bosses, Formula 1 is no stranger to controversy of any kind; so let’s start with a story about a man who is still very much the face of Formula 1.
Current Chief Executive of Formula 1 Group Bernie Ecclestone, who is also a former racer, managed to draw plenty of negative attention to himself after unfortunate bribery allegations made it to the press. This is the same man who, in 2009, praised Hitler for being a man who could “get things done” and was also caught on record supporting Russian president Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay political stance.
Strangely enough, Ecclestone wasn’t the only top manager in the racing biz to publicly admire Hitler’s ways. In 2008, the president of Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) at the time Max Mosley paid a more intimate tribute to the WWII tyrant. That year the president of Formula 1’s governing body was caught on tape in a Nazi-themed bondage orgy according to the Daily Mail. The side he sexually identified with, worst of all, was made clear by him intermittently shouting German commands while dishing out lashes to the uniformed prostitutes he paid £2,500 to humiliate. Mosley took the case to court and sued the newspaper over the Nazi allegation, saying that the uniforms of the “victims” were not specifically marked and that the German commands were in no way related to Nazism. The judge agreed with him and while he received $92,000 in damages and did not need to resign from FIA, the smear on his name might never be removed.
Moving beyond questionable bedroom acts, Formula 1 has also made some bizarre choices in tracks. One of the worst examples was the Caesar’s Grand Prix which operated between 1981 and 1982. And while the gambling industry in Nevada experienced a rough few years in terms of revenue, this ploy was a pretty desperate way to reel in new players. The track was set up in, believe it or not, Caesars Casino’s parking lot on the infamous Las Vegas Strip. Rather than drawing the attention Caesar’s wanted, the track instead became notorious for giving drivers neck pains thanks to the multitude of sharp turns and even made it to this list of short-lived Formula 1 circuits.
Whiplash isn’t the only health hazard of the sport, but back in 1961 at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, German racer Alexander von Trips was on his way to the finish line when he crashed into Jim Clark’s Lotus. The impact sent him and his car flying into the audience where he died along with 15 members of the crowd. This was neither the first nor last time the Italian Grand Prix would experience tragedy. Italian volunteer firefighter and youth coach Paolo Gislimberti was killed in a bizarre accident 49 years later where he was hit by a loose wheel from driver Heinz-Harad Frentzen’s car at the 2000 Italian Grand Prix.
Fatal accidents are just one form of unintentional blunders that are outside the league’s control. At the Spanish Grand Prix in 2009 several spectators came adorned in blackface in a racist statement against black British racer Lewis Hamilton, who experienced the same situation the year before. Ecclestone dismissed the taunts from the racist fans as a joke.
Despite the indiscretions of some too-rich-to-care managers, unsavory fans, and tragic accidents on the track, none of these scandals can ruin the beauty of the sport of racing. All one can hope for is that, in time, we see a decline in various obscene happenings and ridiculous racetracks in Formula 1 news.