Where does Hamilton and Verstappen sit in sport's great controversies?

Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’, Lance Armstrong’s drugs shame and Sandpaper-gate, which brought Australian cricket to its knees… where does Hamilton and Verstappen’s contentious F1 finale rank in the history of sport’s great controversies?

  • Max Verstappen controversially beat Lewis Hamilton to win the F1 world title
  • Sunday’s race in Abu Dhabi ended in disarray after a late-race safety car period
  • Verstappen was able to pit and then had a free run on Hamilton with fresh tyres
  • But how does it compare to some of sport’s other most controversial stories? 

Sporting history is littered with controversy and the latest high-profile dispute came in Abu Dhabi on Sunday when Max Verstappen edged Lewis Hamilton to be crowned Formula One world champion.

Hamilton – the Mercedes driver – appeared to be charging to a record eighth world title, easily holding Verstappen at bay only for a crash for the Williams of Nicholas Latifi to change the course of events in the closing laps.

Confusion reigned as under-fire race director Michael Masi changed his mind to allow lapped cars to pass the safety car – meaning Verstappen had a clear run at Hamilton in the final lap and, on much faster fresh tyres, made his move to claim a first F1 title.

Max Verstappen controversially beat Lewis Hamilton to be crowned F1 world champion

Verstappen had a clear run at Hamilton in the final lap and managed to overtake his rival

Mercedes immediately launched two appeals against the result, one against Verstappen for allegedly overtaking under a safety car and a second claiming a breach of rules regarding race restarts following a safety car period. 

Both were dismissed after the two teams spent hours in the stewards’ office, Verstappen able to toast his title over four hours after crossing the finish line – albeit with Mercedes lodging an intention to appeal the call.

But how do the events in Abu Dhabi compare to some of sport’s most controversial events? Sportsmail has picked out a number of high-profile incidents that can match the Formula One for drama…

The Hand of God

There is no better place to start than Diego Maradona scoring probably the most controversial goal in the history of football.

England played Argentina in the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico just four years after The Falklands War with tensions still running high.

Three minutes after scoring the opening goal – one of the best pieces of magic to be seen on a football pitch – Maradona wrote himself into football history with a moment of madness.  

Maradona, who died last year, jumped up to challenge England goalkeeper Peter Shilton for the ball but, rather than head it towards goal, the Argentine punched it into the back of the net.

It was such a blatant handball that Maradona’s team-mates initially didn’t really celebrate with him. 

But, with VAR still around 35 years away, he managed to get away with it and dump England out of the tournament.

Diego Maradona scored with his hand to knock England out of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico

Tonya Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (R) hired somebody to attack Nancy Kerrigan in a bid to remove her from the Olympic picture

Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan

Controversy doesn’t immediately come to mind when you think of figure skating but the rivalry between two of America’s most talented skaters turned ugly in 1994. 

Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan were at the peak of their powers and fierce rivals to win the US National Championships and Olympic gold that year.

Kerrigan was the better of the two and had a strong chance of winning gold at Lillehammer 1994 – that was until she was attacked by a man on the eve of the national championships in Detroit who was trying to shatter her knee and force her out of the sport.

Harding went on to win the US title while Kerrigan sat out injured but both were selected to compete at the Olympics later that year. Harding – the subject of a 2017 film starring Margot Robbie – came eighth in Lillehammer while Kerrigan recovered to claim the silver medal.

It later emerged that Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly and his friend Shawn Eckdardt hired somebody to attack Kerrigan in a bid to remove her from the Olympic picture. 

Gillooly was sentenced to two years in prison while Harding was stripped of her gold from the 1994 US Championships and was banned from competing in the US for life.

Harding and Kerrigan were at the peak of their powers and fierce rivals at the 1994 Olympics


Blood is often spilled in a sport as brutal as rugby but Harlequins winger Tom Williams purposely bit into a fake blood capsule so he could be withdrawn late in the game.

It was the defining moments of the 2009 Heineken Cup quarter-final against Leinster and Quins’ usual fly-half, Nick Evans, had earlier been substituted because of a thigh injury.

His replacement – Chris Malone – also tore his hamstring 20 minutes later and had to be replaced by Williams with Mike Brown taking over the kicking duties.

However, rules stated Evans could only return to the game as a ‘blood replacement’ so Williams bit into the capsule to make it look as though he had been cut with just eight minutes remaining.

Harlequins’ Tom Williams bit into a fake blood capsule so he could be replaced against Leinster

Nick Evans came back on after being withdrawn but missed a decisive drop kick as his side lost

On ran Evans for the decisive final few minutes and it looked like the plan had worked when he had a drop goal attempt in the last minute to win the game. He missed, however, as Leinster ran out 6-5 winners.  

Investigations later proved Harlequins had pulled off the trick four times before the Leinster game. 

Williams was given a 12-month ban – later reduced to four months – while Quins director of rugby Dean Richards was slapped with a three-year ban and there was also a two-year ban for physio Steph Brennan.

Hansie Cronje

Cronje was a beloved figure in South African cricket at the turn of the century but, just four months later, his reputation was irredeemably shattered because of his role in a match-fixing scandal.  

In April 2000, New Delhi police said they had phone recordings of him and an Indian bookmaker discussing predetermined performances during South Africa’s tour of India the previous month.

An outraged Cronje strenuously rebuffed the allegations at first but soon afterwards he was stripped of the South Africa captaincy, a position he had held without challenge for six years. 

That came after Dr Ali Bacher – chairman of the United Cricket Board, the precursor to Cricket South Africa – revealed Cronje had not been ‘entirely honest’ in his denials. 

Cronje later confessed to a number of allegations at a Government-appointed King Commission.

Former South Africa captain Hansie Cronje played a crucial role in a match-fixing scandal

The hearing heard Cronje attempted to coerce Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams with bribes to underperform in an ODI against India.

Cronje himself admitted to accepting around $130,000 (£100,000) over a number of years from bookmakers to prearrange a number of conditions. 

Cronje was found to have been paid around £5,000 and a leather jacket for his wife to make sure there was a positive result in a Test match against England that looked to be heading for a washout after four days of rain. 

The United Cricket Board banned Cronje from playing or coaching in the sport for life in October 2000. He challenged the ruling the following year, saying he had no desire to return to playing, only that he would like to coach one day but his appeal was dismissed.

On June 1, 2002, Cronje died aged 32 following a private plane accident.

2000 Paralympic Spanish Basketball Team

Spain’s Paralympic basketball team claimed gold at Sydney 2000 but not all was as it seemed.

Soon after their victory a member of their team, Carlos Ribagorda, revealed 10 of the 12-strong squad that beat Russia in the final of the intellectual disability tournament actually had no handicap.

Ribargorda said he had played for the Spanish Paralympic basketball team for over two years but had no mental handicap.

He said the only test he had been asked to complete at his first training session was six press-ups, after which his blood pressure was taken, nor did he face an intelligence test when he was in Australia.

The final team did comprise two players with IQs below 70 as required, but the other ten posed as mentally disabled players with the help of fake medical certificates they were provided with. 

At one point during the first game of the tournament, when they were leading China by 30 points, Ribagorda claimed the coach told the players: ‘Lads, move down a gear or they’ll figure out you’re not disabled.’ 

Following an investigation the team was disqualified, their gold medals were handed back and president of the Spanish Federation for Mentally Handicapped Sports, Fernando Martin Vicente, resigned.  


Tom Brady was handed a four-game suspension and the New England Patriots were fined $1million (£755,000) back in 2015 over the Deflategate scandal that rocked the NFL.

The NFL found Brady was ‘at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities’ relating to under-inflated balls in the Patriots’ AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts. 

The furore surrounding the seven-time Super Bowl winner dated back to the play-off clash when the Patriots were accused of using deflated balls in cold conditions, a factor that is believed can make it easier for quarterbacks to operate.

Tom Brady was handed a four-game ban and the Patriots were fined $1million for Deflategate

The damning report included details of text messages between two former Patriots staff members, but Brady refuted the claim he had purposely destroyed his phone to prevent the investigator from accessing his own conversations, insisting he was instead replacing a broken phone.

Patriots officials locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski were also indefinitely suspended without pay by the club.

The independent report found it was ‘more probable than not’ that they ‘participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referee’.

Lance Armstrong

Years of cover-ups and denials finally caught up with American cyclist Lance Armstrong in 2012 when a United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) investigation found Armstrong had used performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career. 

He was stripped of all of his achievements from August 1998 onwards, including his record seven Tour de France titles, and handed a lifetime ban from the sport.

The 40-year-old elected not to contest doping charges brought against him, dismissing proceedings as a ‘witch hunt’ and claiming he did not feel the process was a fair one. 

Armstrong returned from cancer to dominate the Tour between 1999 and 2005 but fiercely denied allegations of doping until coming clean in an interview with Oprah Winfrey in January 2013.

A doping investigation found Lance Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs in career

Armstrong denied allegations of doping until coming clean in an interview with Oprah Winfrey

During that interview, Armstrong admitted taking banned substances – including EPO – to help win the Tour de France.  

He latter admitted he ‘wouldn’t change a thing’ about the episode, adding: ‘We did what we had to do to win.

‘It wasn’t legal, but I wouldn’t change a thing – whether it’s losing a bunch of money, or going from hero to zero.

‘It was a mistake, it led to a lot of other mistakes. It led to the most colossal meltdown in the history of sport. But I learned a lot.’ 


Australia’s Test cricket team was brought to its knees in 2018 by the ball-tampering scandal which led to long bans for captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and batsman Cameron Bancroft. 

Bancroft was caught attempting to tamper with the ball with what was later revealed to be sandpaper during the third Test in South Africa. 

After being caught on camera, Bancroft was shown on the screens around the ground and on television. The umpires approached the opener but decided the ball had not been altered in a noticeable way.

At the end of the day Smith and Bancroft faced the press and conceded they had cheated in trying to tamper with the ball. The plan had been drawn up during the lunch break by the ‘leadership group’ in an attempt to help Australia regain some control of a Test which they would lose by 322 runs.

Cameron Bancroft was caught attempting to tamper with the ball in a match in South Africa

Captain Steve Smith was banned for 12 months and broke down in tears in a press conference

The immediate decision made by Cricket Australia was for Smith and Warner to step down from their roles as captain and vice-captain respectively with Tim Paine taking over. 

In addition to the Australian Prime Minister at the time, Malcolm Turnbull, expressing his shock, an investigation was opened and Smith, Warner and Bancroft were sent home before the fourth Test.

Soon after the three players were sanctioned by Cricket Australia with Warner and Smith banned for 12 months and Bancroft suspended for nine months, with each unable to play international or domestic cricket during those periods. 

They would all take part in individual press conferences, apologising for their actions with Smith and Warner in tears. Head coach Darren Lehmann was cleared of any wrongdoing in the investigation, but chose to resign from his position. 

The episode reared its head again recently when Bancroft suggested the bowlers were also aware of the plan. It forced Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon to once again deny any complicity.

Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson’s victory over nemesis Carl Lewis to win 100 metres gold at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 in a time of 9.79 seconds was one of sport’s genuine jaw-dropping moments.

But the Jamaica-born sprinter produced another three days later when he was disqualified.

Johnson’s urine sample had contained traces of stanozolol and he later admitted he had been doping when setting a new world record in 1987.

The disgraced athlete was banned for life after failing another drugs test in 1993. 

Ben Johnson (second left) won 100m gold at Seoul 1988 but days later admitted to doping


The Italian football scandal, or Calciopoli as it became known, ended with the relegation of Serie A champions Juventus – who were also stripped of their title – to Serie B. 

Investigations by Italian authorities into the GEA World player agency ran by Alessandro Moggi, son of former Juventus general manager Luciano, led to transcripts of wire-tapped phone calls which brought Italian football into disrepute.

Luciano Moggi, along with ally Antonio Giraudo, was accused of trying to influence Juventus’ results by pressuring delegators into allocating certain referees for their matches.

Thousands of hours of calls and unearthed via wire-taps across the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons were leaked in transcript form to Italian newspapers and the scandal dominated Italian football.

Former Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi (pictured) was found guilty of being a leading figure in the Calciopoli scandal, which is the most damaging in Italian football history

Investigators pursued two allegations which concerned Moggi and his son Alessandro. 

In one example, following a 2-1 defeat to Reggina in November 2004, Moggi and Giraudo are alleged to have accosted referee Gianluca Paparesta in the dressing room, along with his two assistants, and questioned why they did not favour Juventus. Those allegations have been strongly denied by Moggi and Giraudo since.

Newspapers also continued to release evidence that Moggi allegedly held talks with Serie A administrators regarding refereeing appointments. As well as Juventus, Lazio, Fiorentina and AC Milan also found themselves under the microscope.

On July 4, 2006, just five days before Italy’s triumphant 2006 World Cup final win against France in Germany, Italian prosecutor Stefano Palazzi called for the four accused clubs to be kicked out of the top flight.  

Juventus, Lazio and Fiorentina were all initially demoted to Serie B but it was only Juventus that remained in the second tier on appeal.

Juventus were relegated and had their Serie A titles of 2005 and 2006 stripped from them

Moggi, despite maintaining his innocence, and Giraudo were found guilty of pressuring referees and procuring favourable officials through delegators.

As a result, Juventus saw their league titles of 2004-05 and 2005-06, the latter wrapped up with 91 points, stripped.

The 2004-05 title was left unassigned but Inter Milan were later awarded the 2005-06 title, fuelling the animosity between the two sides.

Juventus were originally sent to Serie B – for the first time in their history – and docked 30 points for the following season, having had the 91 points of 2005-06 expunged. It was later reduced to nine points and they spent just one season outside the top flight.

Luciano Moggi was initially banned from football for five years but was later barred from Italian football for life for his involvement. 

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