Methods of retiring from Formula One races are many and varied. Most commonly, a driver will suffer some sort of mechanical, electronic or hydraulic failure on a highly-stressed part of the car, or will be involved in a collision. Sometimes both happen, or one causes the other. But occasionally, there are bizarre incidents that cause drivers to exit F1 races prematurely. One such incident happened to Johnny Herbert in the 1998 Italian Grand Prix.
Herbert was driving for Sauber in 1998. He wasn’t having a particularly competitive Italian Grand Prix weekend when he spun off and into retirement. He had qualified 15th for the race and was running 14th after a reasonable start. But on lap 13, he lost the back end of his Sauber and spun off at the second Lesmo corner, ending up stuck in the gravel trap.
The spin did not appear particularly unusual. At first glance it looked like Herbert had simply made an error. But the cause of the spin turned out to be rather strange. A Sauber mechanic had left a spanner in Herbert’s Sauber before the start of the race – which in itself is odd, considering the usual precision of Formula One mechanics – and on lap 13 the spanner worked its way to the foot well of the Sauber and became lodged behind the pedals. As a result, when Herbert tried to brake for the second Lesmo corner, his pedals did not move as they were supposed to and he lost control of the car.
In the other Sauber, Jean Alesi finished fifth, which provides an indication of the pace that was available in the Sauber during that race. A silly error by a Sauber mechanic cost Johnny Herbert the chance to finish the Italian Grand Prix and perhaps score points as well.