Richard Hammond's 320mph crash in jet-powered dragster, diplomatic quarrels and Jeremy Clarkson's 'unprovoked attack' on producer in row over a steak: How Top Gear was hit by a string of controversies after being revived by the BBC in 2002

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Since the revival of Top Gear in 2002, the motoring show has made a name for itself as highly entertaining and controversial. 

The revamped BBC series has hit the headlines due to crashes, diplomatic incidents and criticisms of the line-up.

A previous iteration of the show, which ran from the 1970s until the 2000s and was also called Top Gear, had been more a mix of road safety and consumer advice.

In 2002, Clarkson presented the new show alongside Richard Hammond and Jason Dawe - who was replaced by James May - which featured stunts, celebrities and challenges in a new studio at an old aircraft hangar.

After the BBC announced the series would be 'paused' a year after a crash that nearly killed Freddie Flintoff, we revisit its most controversial moments. 

Richard Hammond's 320mph crash

Richard Hammond nearly lost his life when he was involved in a 320mph crash while filming a Top Gear stunt at York's Elvington airfield back in 2006

The presenter was in a coma for two weeks and the incident left him with serious head injuries. Pictured is the mangled car 

In 2006, Hammond was driving a Vampire jet car at 320mph when one of the tyres blew, causing it to spin out of control and crash, flipping upside down and leaving him in a coma. 

The presenter was in a coma for two weeks and the incident left him with serious head injuries.

Hammond recovered and returned to the show in early 2007 but revealed in February this year that he fears he has memory loss as a result. 

Talking on the Diary Of A CEO podcast, Hammond admitted he fears he could have early onset dementia as a result of the frontal lobe brain injury he endured.

'I worry about my memory because it's not brilliant. I can still read a script and deliver it but my long-term memory is not brilliant,' he said. 

'I have to write things down and work hard to remember them sometimes. It might be the age, it might be the onset of something else, I worry about that. I do, I do. I should probably have a look and find out, because I do.'

Host Steven Bartlett asked him: 'Are you scared of finding out?' 

Talking on the Diary Of A CEO podcast, Hammond admitted he fears he could have early onset dementia as a result of the frontal lobe brain injury he endured 

Hammond said: 'I am because it was a bleed on the front. It could mean there is an increased risk. I need to find out. I've been too scared to do it. I need to do it.'

In 2017, Hammond was involved in a second crash and was airlifted to hospital in Switzerland while filming Amazon's The Grand Tour.

The accident took place in the town of St Gallen in north-east Switzerland. Richard had to be pulled from the wreckage of a Rimac supercar worth £2m that later burst into flames. 

Cultural controversies

In 2011, the Mexican ambassador criticised the show after his people were branded 'lazy', 'feckless' and 'flatulent'.

The episode was cleared by Ofcom and the BBC apologised for comments made directly about the ambassador.

Hammond was discussing a Mexican sports car and suggested that vehicles reflect the national characteristics of the country they are from.

Top Gear was criticised by the Mexican ambassador after his people were branded 'lazy, feckless and flatulent' 

He added: 'Mexican cars are just going to be lazy, feckless, flatulent, leaning against a fence asleep looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat.'

He also referred to Mexican food as 'refried sick' while May said it was 'like sick with cheese on it'.

That same year, an episode in India featured a car fitted with a toilet in the boot and was described by Clarkson as 'perfect for India because everyone who comes here gets the trots'.

The BBC defended the episode, which had been criticised by the Indian High Commissioner in London.

The presenters of Top Gear were hounded out of Argentina in 2014 over this numberplate 

In 2014, the Top Gear presenters - including Hammond, May and Clarkson - were forced out of Argentina in a row over a number plate used while filming the series. Officials claimed that H982 FKL on a Porche - which was registered in May 1991 - was a reference to the 1982 Falklands War.

That same year, Ofcom ruled that there had been a breach of the broadcasting code by including an offensive racial term during the programme's Burma Special.

Programme makers 'did not apply generally accepted standards so as to provide adequate protection for members of the public from offensive material' according to the media regulator.

Jeremy Clarkson's 'unprovoked attack'

In 2015, Clarkson was dropped from Top Gear over what the BBC called an 'unprovoked physical and verbal attack' on producer Oisin Tymon.

Clarkson told the Irishman he fancied a 8oz sirloin steak with fondant potatoes, pan-fried wild mushrooms, grilled cherry tomatoes and peppercorn sauce after a day of filming.

Clarkson was dropped from Top Gear in 2015 over what the BBC called an 'unprovoked physical and verbal attack' on producer Oisin Tymon (who he is pictured with) 

The presenter was said to have been livid when he was told by Tymon, upon arriving back at Simonstone Hall at 10pm, that he could only have a cold meats platter because the kitchen at the North Yorkshire establishment was closed.

A general manager was apparently left with little option but to reopen the kitchen and cook the £21.95 steak for the presenter after the chefs had long gone home, according to witness testimonies. 

His co-presenters, Hammond and May, quickly followed the departure and more than one million people signed a petition for Clarkson to be re-instated after his exit.

However, the trio did not return to Top Gear, and they went on to launch rival motoring show The Grand Tour on Amazon Prime Video.

Doing doughnuts near the Cenotaph

Following the exit of Clarkson, Hammond and May, the BBC announced that radio DJ Chris Evans and Friends star Matt LeBlanc were among the new hosts in 2016.

Soon after, bosses apologised after photos showed LeBlanc doing doughnuts near the Cenotaph

The corporation said that 'the Cenotaph at no point intended to feature in the programme and therefore will not appear in the final film.'

Friends star Matt LeBlanc doing doughnuts near the Cenotaph on March 13, 2016

'We are acutely aware of how some of the images in the press look today via the angle and distance they were taken and for which, as Chris Evans has already said, we sincerely apologise,' the statement also said.

The scenes, which required a council and police-approved road closure and took a large film crew hours to shoot, but were never featured in the show.  

LeBlanc and Evans depart as ratings fall

Evans and LeBlanc made their debut on screens in May 2016 and their first episode saw 4.4 million viewers, according to overnight ratings.

This was a drop of more than one million compared to the final episode of Clarkson, Hammond and May's previous series, which scored 5.8 million.

The second episode suffered a drop in the overnight ratings, drawing just 2.8 million viewers, and the season finale had an average of just 1.9 million viewers.

Top Gear's previous presenting lineup, from left to right: Rory Reid, Chris Evans, Matt LeBlanc, Sabine Schmitz and Chris Harris

Evans announced he was quitting the show the day after the series ended, saying that stepping down was 'the single best thing' he could do to 'help the cause'.

LeBlanc later signed a new two-series deal with the BBC to continue presenting Top Gear.

LeBlanc's first series without Evans opened with an average overnight audience of 2.8 million and its finale had 1.9 million.

The actor then announced he was stepping down from the motoring programme, saying his 'experience on Top Gear has been great fun', but that it is too demanding a job and keeps him away from family and friends.

LeBlanc's last episode had an overnight average of 1.9 million viewers, according to the broadcaster's figures.

Flintoff and McGuinness have several crashes

Take Me Out star Paddy McGuinness and England cricketer Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff were then announced in 2018 as presenters of Top Gear.

Motoring journalist and racing driver Chris Harris also presented the show alongside them.

Ratings improved to an average overnight audience of 2.5 million viewers in the first episode, which aired in June 2019 with the new presenting line-up.

Freddie Flintoff, pictured in September, scraped his face 'horrifically' after he rolled a three-wheel Morgan Super 3 while on the Top Gear test track

The Morgan Super 3, pictured, has three wheels and is open topped. Flintoff was travelling at 22mph when he flipped it

In February 2019, Flintoff was involved in a minor incident when he crashed into a market stall in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire.

In September of the same year, he crashed again while driving a three-wheel vehicle at a reported speed of 124mph during filming for Top Gear at Elvington Airfield in Yorkshire, but walked away from the incident unharmed.

The next year, McGuinness crashed after skidding on oil and the moment was shown on the show.

In December 2022, Flintoff was taken to hospital after he was hurt while filming for Top Gear at its test track at Dunsfold Aerodrome.

He appeared with facial injuries in public for the first time in September, and in October the BBC reached a financial settlement with Flintoff.

In 2021, Paddy McGuinness crashed after skidding on oil and the moment was shown on the show

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