Monza marked the umpteenth time that the 2005 F1 race regulations (pertaining to engine-change grid penalties and a single set of qualifying/race tyres) ruined an intriguing grand prix.

By Mike Fourie, News Ed.

Monza marked the umpteenth time that the 2005 F1 race regulations (pertaining to engine-change grid penalties and a single set of qualifying/race tyres) ruined an intriguing grand prix.

Let me say at the onset that I do not apologise for McLaren-Mercedes’ ham-handed attempts to win this year’s driver- and constructor’s world championships. Juan-Pablo Montoya’s drive in the Italian Grand Prix was faultless - and brave, considering that a delaminating rear tyre almost cost him his second victory of the year.

In truth, either Montoya or team-mate Kimi Raikkonen could have romped to the 2005 F1 driver’s title had McLaren performed to the level anyone would expect from a world championship-winning team… Montoya took a while to adapt to the Woking-based team and only got his act together after recovering from the mysterious shoulder injury he sustained earlier this year. Following his heroics at Silverstone, however, Montoya fluffed his qualifying lap at Hockenheim and lost a likely second-place finish to championship leader Fernando Alonso at the inaugural Turkish Grand Prix.

Raikkonen, by contrast, has not made many mistakes this year. In fact, apart from his spin at Monza on Sunday (and the ill-fated decision to defend the lead of the European Grand Prix despite a knackered left-front tyre on his MP4-20), mechanical troubles have forced Raikkonen to play catch-up to Alonso. The Finn easily won the on-track skirmish with his Spanish rival on Sunday and F1 fans all over the world were grateful to see the championship contenders go wheel to wheel. However, Raikkonen (hampered by a grid slot penalty due to yet another engine failure on Saturday) only finished fourth.

Raikkonen had the pace to win the grand prix, and Montoya should have streaked to victory by the proverbial country mile. Instead, there were two plucky Renault drivers on the podium, Raikkonen lost ground to Alonso, and McLaren failed to make a meaningful dent in the Regié’s constructor’s championship lead.

The rapid, but ultimately inconsistent, McLarens don't deserve to win either championship titles. Renault and Alonso have not been particularly flashy, they’ve benefited from McLaren’s bungles and maintained momentum after a good start to the year. Rules are rules, sure! But although many F1 purists have moaned and groaned about the “one engine for two grands prix” rule, the trivial and mostly inexplicable series of tyre failures seen in F1 this year have really ruined the spectacle of grand prix racing.

Firstly, Ferrari was relegated to also-rans in the first half of the season (Bridgestone was blamed), Raikkonen was lucky to escape unscathed from his accident at the Nurburgring (his crash was caused by a ruined tyre and subsequent suspension failure). Then, F1’s image was dealt a body blow by the whole Indianapolis debacle (the rear Michelin tyre fitted to Ralf Schumacher’s Toyota failed, which caused the German to have a massive accident - and the French manufacturer to instruct its customer teams to withdraw from the race). Two weeks ago, both Williams-BMWs suffered multiple tyre failures at Istanbul.

At Monza, both McLaren-Mercedes cars struggled with delaminated left-rear Michelins, and Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello was forced to replace his left-rear Bridgestone, which had deflated.

Could all these tyre failures be a coincidence? Michelin motorsport director Pierre Dupasquier has deflected questions about recurrent failures to his company’s F1 tyres by saying that not all teams have suffered the same problems. That may be true, but if the world championship was to be decided by a strip of rubber, it would be a sad indictment of Formula One. Renault, for example, haven’t struggled with failing tyres yet, but that could change soon…

Has the “single set of qualifying/race tyres” rule forced F1 tyre manufacturers to sacrifice reliability for improved performance? Has there been a breakdown of communication between tyre manufacturers and the teams with which they test and co-develop race rubber? Are 2005-specification Formula One cars simply too hard on tyres? Are kerbed grand prix circuits too abrasive on F1 tyres?

Whatever the reason for the recent spate of tyre failures, I suggest it is a problem that F1’s stakeholders need to sort out as soon as possible… Perhaps the alternative is to reinstate tyre stops. Must a F1 tyre failure cause a fatal accident before something is done?

Italian Grand Prix results:

1 Juan Pablo Montoya (Col) McLaren-Mercedes 1h14:28,659

2 Fernando Alonso (Spa) Renault at 2,479sec

3 Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Renault 17,975

4 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 22,775

5 Jarno Trulli (Ita) Toyota 33,786

6 Ralf Schumacher (Ger) Toyota 43,925

7 Antonio Pizzonia (Brz) Williams-BMW 44,643

8 Jenson Button (GB) BAR-Honda 1:03,635

9 Felipe Massa (Brz) Sauber-Petronas 1:15,413

10 Michael Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1:26,070

11 Jacques Villeneuve (Can) Sauber-Petronas one lap behind