Six of the best – Unusual podium ceremonies
As occasions go, they don’t get much more special than a Formula One podium ceremony. The top three drivers take to the rostrum, the national anthem of the winning driver rings out, the crowd cheers, trophies are raised and champagne is sprayed – at least that’s what’s supposed to happen…
So convinced was Nigel Mansell that his Ferrari 640 wouldn’t last the distance in Brazil in 1989 that he booked himself an early flight home from Rio. In the end, not only did the Englishman reach the chequered flag, he did so in first place. Such a result – the first in F1 racing for a car using a semi-automatic gearbox – should have led to scenes of unbridled joy on the podium, but the jovial mood quickly subsided when Mansell, no stranger to melodrama, sliced his hand open whilst attempting to lift his large winner’s trophy in celebration. Clearly in agony, the moustachioed racer staggered off the top step in pain, blood running liberally down his fingers.
It wasn’t the first time Mansell had spent a podium ceremony in agony – less than two years earlier in Austria he’d grimaced from the top step after banging his head on a low bridge in the pit lane whilst being transported to the rostrum on the back of a truck.
No winner’s anthem, no problem, Austria 1977
For many sportspeople there’s no prouder or more emotional moment than standing atop the podium and hearing their national anthem played in celebration. For first-time winners the experience is said to be even more spine tingling, so spare a thought for Shadow’s Alan Jones whose surprise victory at the 1977 Austrian Grand Prix caused one or two, how shall we put it, administrative issues…
“Well, certainly the organisers obviously didn’t expect it to happen because they didn’t have the Australian national anthem,” remembers Jones. “So [instead] a drunk played ‘Happy Birthday’ on a trumpet – of which there were plenty in Austria…”
For the record the race, which Jones won from 14th on the grid after inheriting the lead from James Hunt 11 laps from home, took place in August. Jones was born in November.
De Angelis celebrates fifth place on podium, Monaco 1982
To say the conclusion of the 1982 Monaco Grand Prix was chaotic would be an understatement. The drama began two laps from home when long-time leader Alain Prost crashed his Renault after light rain had turned the already slick circuit into something of an ice rink. That promoted Ricciardo Patrese to P1, however the Brabham driver then spun, gifting the lead to Ferrari’s Didier Pironi who looked set to take victory until running out of fuel on the last lap.
That should have lifted Andrea de Cesaris to first, but at almost exactly the same time the Italian’s Alfa Romeo had given in, allowing a recovering Patrese through for an unlikely maiden win.
The Italian could scarcely believe his luck, and neither could countryman Elio de Angelis when he was told that amid the late mayhem he’d finished on the podium. The Lotus driver duly took his place on the royal platform alongside Patrese, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace, but it wasn’t long before he realised something was amiss.
Midway through the ceremony De Cesaris arrived back in parc ferme and was hurriedly ushered up to the rostrum, then Pironi appeared in a similar fashion, lifting the number of drivers on the podium to four. Clearly, someone was there in error – and sadly for De Angelis, it was him. The unlucky Italian had in fact finished fifth…
McLaren row over the family silver, Italy 1989
Years of success have ensured that the trophy cabinets in McLaren’s pristine Technology Centre are fit to burst, but one cup you won’t find amongst the impressive array of shiny baubles (at least in original form) is that hoisted by Alain Prost following his victory at the 1989 Italian Grand Prix. That’s because the Frenchman, fresh from inking a deal to join Ferrari the following season, decided to earn himself instant hero status with the tifosi by dropping his trophy down from the rostrum to Monza’s assembled masses. The only problem was, he did it right in front of McLaren team principal Ron Dennis…
“They [the crowd] were calling out, ‘Coppa, Coppa’,” recalled former McLaren team co-ordinator Jo Ramirez. “Alain thought ‘this is my public from next year’, so he came over and just let the cup go. As soon as it hit the crowd it was ripped into a million pieces – one took one handle, someone took the base, someone took the middle bit…”
As a man who had long held the belief that trophies were a tangible reward for the team’s efforts, Dennis was left incandescent with rage at Prost’s actions, and duly dropped the constructors’ prize at the Frenchman’s feet in disgust as he left the podium.
Several years later, once the furore had died down, Prost presented Dennis with a replica cup at the squad’s Christmas party, but it’s safe to say his transgression was not forgotten. To this day McLaren’s drivers are contractually obliged to hand all trophies over to the team…
Villeneuve gets the beers in, Canada 1978
Ever since American racer Dan Gurney decided he’d rather spray his celebratory champagne than drink it following victory at the 1967 Le Mans 24 hours, showering onlookers with bubbly has been the go-to celebration for Grand Prix winners.
Of course, champagne isn’t the only fizz that’s been used on F1 podiums – in Bahrain the top three spray non-alcoholic sparkling rosewater, while back in the late Seventies and early Eighties Williams’ drivers used to spray orange juice in deference to their Middle Eastern backers.
But perhaps the most unusual bottle ever uncorked in celebration was that given to Gilles Villeneuve following his breakthrough win on home soil in 1978. At the behest of the race sponsors the Canadian was handed an oversized bottle of the local beer and dutifully sprayed the gassy liquid over his adoring public. The whole scene was made even more surreal by the fact that a chilly Villeneuve had donned a large coat for the occasion – well, it was October!
Hunt and Reutemann’s podium no-show, Japan 1977
Most drivers, even very successful ones, would give anything to stand on the top step of an F1 rostrum – not so James Hunt. After claiming victory at the final event of the 1977 season in Fuji – the Japanese circuit where he had clinched world championship glory a year earlier – the famously unconventional Englishman opted to forgo the usual post-race festivities and instead made a beeline to a waiting car to catch a lift to the airport.
Unsurprisingly the red-faced organisers were deeply unimpressed – even more so when second-place finisher Carlos Reutemann also beat a hasty retreat out of the circuit. That left Patrick Depailler, who’d finished a distant third for Tyrrell, to take part in what must go down as F1 racing’s most bizarre podium ceremony ever, the Frenchman readily collecting his trophy and spraying the champagne whilst flanked by an unusually attired Magneti Marelli trade representative. Odd doesn’t begin to describe it…