What Happened On This Day May 17 In F1 History?

From Mansell and Senna's bust-up at Spa Francorchamps in 1987 to a bizarre outburst where Ralf Schumacher attacked Rubens Barrichello in 2000.


By Ben Bush
Updated on May 16, 2024

1992 San Marino GP – Mansell writes history and wins first five races
1992 San Marino GP – Mansell writes history and wins first five races.

What happened on this day, May 17 in Formula 1 history? Find out interesting facts and stories about Formula 1 on this day.


On May 17, Rudolf Caracciola won the 1936 Tunis Grand Prix driving a Mercedes, capitalising on the misfortunes of the Auto Union team. Achille Varzi, one of Auto Union’s drivers, lost control of his car when a strong gust of wind hit him at around 150mph, causing his car to roll and disintegrate before stopping in a wooded area; remarkably, he emerged unscathed. Meanwhile, Varzi’s teammate, Bernard Rosemeyer, faced a fire in his car, and Hans Stuck’s engine failed, further hindering the team’s performance.


Williams‘ Carlos Reutemann secured his second win of the season at the 1981 Belgian Grand Prix in Zolder on May 17, on a weekend that highlighted the dangers of F1’s crowded pit lane. Thirty-six cars entered the weekend, with 31 making qualifying and 24 competing in the race. Tragedy struck during Friday practice when an Osella team mechanic fell off the pit wall and was fatally struck by Reutemann’s Williams. Drivers threatened to strike due to the poor safety conditions, but the race continued regardless. At the start, Riccardo Patrese stalled on the grid, prompting a Lotus mechanic to jump over the pit wall to restart the car. As the field took off, the mechanic remained at the car’s rear. While most drivers avoided the stationary Arrows, Patrese’s teammate Siegfried Stohr, unable to see clearly, collided with it. Fortunately, the mechanic sustained only minor injuries. The drivers, concerned for safety, stopped the race on their next lap.


In 1987, May 17, Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna got into a pit-lane scuffle at Spa Francorchamps after Mansell attempted a bold overtake around the outside of Senna at the Campus Chicane. The two tangled, leaving Senna out of the race, and Mansell retiring a few laps later. Furious, Mansell stormed to the Lotus garage to confront Senna.”I went over to him, grabbed him by the overalls and pushed him up against the wall,” Mansell recalled. “He wore loose overalls in those days and I pulled the zip up beyond his chin to just below his nose. ‘Next time you do that,’ I said, ‘you’re going to have to do a much better job’.” Meanwhile, Alain Prost won the race, with his McLaren teammate Stefan Johansson being the only other driver to finish on the same lap.


In 1992, Nigel Mansell set a new record for consecutive wins at the start of the season by securing his fifth victory at the 1992 San Marino Grand Prix on May 17. While it appeared to be an easy win over his teammate Riccardo Patrese, Mansell revealed it was far from straightforward. “It was very tough and I finished the race with cramp and muscle spasms on my right side,” he explained. “It was 32 degrees and I think I must have lost eight pounds in weight. It was not a simple race – we had several ‘alarm calls’ with oil and water, then Gerhard [Berger]’s accident and a marshal out on the track when we were doing 200 mph.”


In a bizarre outburst in 2000, Ralf Schumacher criticised Rubens Barrichello for attempting to compete with his brother Michael at Ferrari. “Rubens should stop trying to beat my brother and putting pressure on himself,” Ralf said. “[He should] concentrate instead on helping Michael win the championship”. Barrichello put Ralf’s behaviour down to an overtaking manoeuvre he had executed on him in the previous race.


In 2002, in response to Ferrari’s use of team orders at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix to ensure Michael Schumacher’s victory over Rubens Barrichello, a group of Brazilian hackers altered the headline on Ferrari’s official website. The site temporarily displayed the message: “Sorry Ferrari, but your site has been disordered.” The altered headline was corrected within minutes.

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About The Author

Chief Editor

Ben Bush

Ben is our chief editor specialising in F1 from the 1990s to the modern era. Ben has been following Formula 1 since 1986 and is an avid researcher who loves understanding the technology that makes it one of the most exciting motorsport on the planet. He listens to podcasts about F1 on a daily basis, and enjoys reading books from the inspirational Adrian Newey to former F1 drivers.

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