by clicking the arrows at the side of the page, or by using the toolbar.
by clicking anywhere on the page.
by dragging the page around when zoomed in.
by clicking anywhere on the page when zoomed in.
web sites or send emails by clicking on hyperlinks.
Email this page to a friend
Search this issue
Index - jump to page or section
Archive - view past issues
GP Week : Issue 231
OPINION miKE DooDSon Wow! Just when F1 needed it most, it got the best boost it could possibly have had, with a us Grand Prix that yielded the most frantic race from start to finish I can remember. And I've been present at almost 600 of them. Adding to the joy was that this pearler of a contest was played out right under the noses of picky American fans who don't hesitate to accuse F1 of being tedious, elitist and processional. Not that they've always been ser ved so well by the F1 circus... Ten years ago, at Indianapolis, our sporting masters handled a threat to the prestige of the US Grand Prix so badly that race fans in their thousands resorted to throwing bottles on to the track in protest at being short-changed. So damaging was the 2005 event that Formula 1 looked to be as good as dead in America. It only sur vived at Indy because there were still two more years on the contract: after 2007 it was forced to quit the USA altogether, at least until Texas revived it in 2012. You could argue, I suppose, that our sport has always had an uneasy relationship with the USA, and that Indianapolis was not the right place for it. Circuit boss Tony George did a reasonable job of constructing a road course, and he calculated (correctly) that there would only be enough paying customers to fill the grandstands overlooking the sections of Turns 1 and 2 on the traditional oval course that were to be incorporated into the F1 layout. If Indianapolis wasn't the right place for Formula 1, it quickly became apparent in 2005 that Michelin's latest tyres were not suited to the course. On Friday there were two high-speed accidents, one of which involved Toyota driver Ralf Schumacher. He was able to walk away but after a medical check he was not allowed to race. It happened that he had also crashed heavily at the same circuit the previous year while driving for Williams, also as a consequence of a (Michelin) failure. This time, the TV playback indicated that the Schumacher Jr's left-rear tyre had failed. When his Toyota team reported finding stress marks in the left-rear tyre of their other car (Jarno Trulli's), Michelin engineers started urgent investigations. At first they thought the cause might have been under-inflation on the Toyota cars, but other teams using the French tyres also reported finding suspicious marks. There were 14 cars using Michelin tyres and just six on the rival Bridgestones, all of which were running without any signs of undue tyre stress. The Michelin factory in France was alerted, and destruction tests were carried out there overnight. It proved impossible to replicate the exceptional stresses imposed through Turn 13 on the road course (Turn 1 on the Oval, though the F1s ran in the opposite direction). When practice resumed on Saturday, all the Michelin teams were advised to use higher pressures and to run only short distances. Qualifying took place as usual, running light fuel loads, and it was in fact Trulli who set the fastest time. By now, it was evident that there was a serious problem with the Michelin tyres and that Turn 13 was where the damage was being done. On Saturday morning Michelin recognised that its tyres were not safe to run through that corner, under any circumstances. The seven teams affected were discreetly informed that unless Turn 13 was bypassed, then the French manufacturer would not permit its tyres to be used for the following day's race. Only a limited number of solutions presented themselves. The logical one would have been to enforce reduced speeds through that corner, and there was talk of constructing an artificial chicane, using bundles of tyres. By now, though, FIA President Max Mosley had become involved, and he made it clear by phone from his apartment in Monaco that a chicane was not acceptable because it would automatically invalidate the circuit's licence. At this late stage, a full re-inspection was not possible, and Mosley made it clear that a chicane was out of the question. As Whiting put it, "what if a car hits the chicane and a wheel goes over the fence? There was absolutely no way that was happening." Meanwhile, Bernie Ecclestone - who was faced with a possible cancellation of the race and potential difficulties over the payment of the race fee - had taken it into his own hands at some stage to install a chicane. There were reports that he had even authorised work to start on its construction. Having put a stop to that scheme, FIA track inspector Charlie Whiting, who had consulted Mosley, outlined what he saw as the only way out of the catastrophe. This was to run the race using the designated full circuit, on which the Bridgestone cars could run safely, but to divert the Michelin runners around Turn 13. Two proposals were on the table. One was to divert the Michelin traffic through the (extremely wide) pit lane, at a speed controlled by their pit-lane limiters; the other was to paint a line in the middle of Turn 13 which would allow the Bridgestone users to run at racing speed in the outside lane while the Michelin folk would traipse along on the inside, at a yet to be decided maximum speed which would be checked by radar gun. Because this would probably put them a full lap behind even the slowest of the Bridgestone runners, it was no surprise that the Michelin teams, and their tyre supplier, did not like any of this. Whiting's proposals were rejected out of hand. Disgracefully, neither the teams nor Michelin paid any heed to the fans, who had come to see a full-blooded race and had been given no hint of what would follow. Apparently nobody had thought about the millions of TV spectators either. In a farcical display, all 20 cars were lined up on the pre-grid in qualifying order and duly set off on the formation lap, only for 14 of them to peel off and head for the pits, where they parked. Watching on TV, I had learned by phone that there would only be six cars at the start. I immediately concluded that the most logical solution would have been to put all 20 cars on Bridgestone tyres. All that was required to adapt the Michelin cars to Bridgestone would have been a small increase in ride height, to allow for the smaller rolling diameter of the French equipment. Indeed, I subsequently discovered from a senior figure at Bridgestone that the Japanese manufacturer had sufficient rubber to supply the rival teams and would have been willing to do so. The fans reacted with fully justified fury which would later cost Michelin millions in compensation. It must go down in history as one of the most distasteful scandals in the history of Formula 1. Making things worse, had it not been for the French company's misplaced pride, it would have been entirely unnecessary. If that was the lowest point of F1's on-off love affair with the USA, it is good to know that on Sunday it reached its peak. With a bit of help from the weather, well done, F1. 12 GPWEEK.com // 12 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: OPINION 10 yEARS ON:THE INDy TyRE FIAScO