Although it was ultimately the right decision for Michelin teams not to race under unsafe circumstances, Bridgestone, Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi should not be blamed for a tyre manufacturer’s bungle and the sea of red tape that engulfs F1.

By Mike Fourie, News Ed.


Although it was ultimately the right decision for Michelin teams not to race under unsafe circumstances, Bridgestone, Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi should not be blamed for a tyre manufacturer’s bungle and the sea of red tape that engulfs F1.


I’ve been following grand prix racing eagerly for 16 years and I have never felt as much disappointment or disenchantment with the sport has I did while watching the 2005 United States “Grand Prix” on Sunday. And that says a lot, considering that I remember Ayrton Senna being awarded the 1990 World Championship after deliberately driving Alain Prost off the road in the first corner of the Japanese Grand Prix and almost killing both of them in the process. Then there was Ferrari’s shameless manipulation of the results of the 2002 United States and 2002 Austrian Grands Prix . . . there were other low points too, few of which I can remember at 2am on a Monday morning . . .


But the United States Grand Prix takes the proverbial cake. I feel sorry for the 130 000 fans who paid good money to sit through that farce . . . We at least had the option of switching off our TV sets.


After 1991, the United States Grand Prix disappeared from the F1 calendar for nine years. It was argued that American motorsport fans, brought up on CART, NASCAR etc just didn’t like the nature of European-based Formula One. Nevertheless, F1 returned to the States at a specially-built circuit (integrated with the Indy oval)in 2000 and, thanks to much marketing, the fans flocked.


The Yanks love putting on a show - just watch any installment of the Indy Racing League. By contrast, 20 cars took part in Sunday’s F1 parade lap, meaning that Bernie Ecclestone’s company had fulfilled its contractual obligations to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Then 14 cars disappeared into the ether, and that was the end of the show. If sponsors felt robbed, US-based Formula One fans were just blatantly ripped off.


An American commentator wrote last night: “There is no reason why there will be a race in the United States in 2006. And no reason why any other promoter in the United States will go near Formula 1 in the future. What was needed on Sunday in Indianapolis was good governance and what we saw was completely the opposite. Michelin made a mistake. They admitted as much and offered solutions to the problem which they had unwittingly created.


“The FIA and Ferrari could have accepted a change of tyres or a makeshift chicane. The right thing to do would have been to accept a solution that did not leave the sport damaged as it is now. For whatever reasons they chose to sacrifice the sport rather than adopt a practical solution to minimise the damage,” he added.


I agree with my American peer... to a point. Michelin was simply not adequately prepared for Indy and Messrs Ecclestone and Mosley wanted to make a statement that a lone tyre manufacturer should not compromise the regulations of F1 because of its own incompetence. Bridgestone did its homework on the new track surface at Indianapolis and its tyres’ sidewalls were strong enough to withstand the high demands of the banking on the high-speed Indiana circuit.


Whatever the alternative solution could have been, Bridgestone teams should have been allowed to race for points at Indianapolis. Telling Alonso, Raikkonen and others to lift off the throttle on the banking would have been a stupid and dangerous idea. And allowing Michelin-backed teams to make tyre stops or the construction of a chicane would not only have been unfair to Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi, but also set an unworkable precedent… Bridgestone’s tyres wore excessively at the Manama circuit during the Bahrain Grand Prix earlier this year (Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello had to drop out of the race because his tyres were threadbare, as you might recall), but, at the time, the Japanese manufacturer did not suggest beforehand that the race be shortened, for example.


I think that the Michelin teams could have been allowed to race with the replacement batch “Barcelona-spec” tyres (Michelin should really have flown them in before qualifying on Saturday!) with the provision that the drivers would be ineligible to score individual championship points. That might have satisfied Ferrari, which would have been happy that Michael Schumacher and Barrichello could pocket 10 and 8 points and the rest of the frontrunners nothing at all.


Evidence of a Michelin problem was known from Friday, but the French manufacturer and, to a lesser degree, its teams, took too long to come up with a workable solution and table it to the Bridgestone squads and the FIA. I’m not surprised that Ferrari was against the idea of a chicane, to be honest, and I don’t blame them.


However, Ferrari (which already has unnaturally close ties with the sport’s governing body and ringmaster Bernie) propped the head of its Prancing Horse in the sand and deferred the decision to the unimaginative and traditionally draconian FIA with unsurprising results. Jean Todt was clearly in no mood for a creative alternative.


Thus the F1 bureaucracy led to the downfall of the US Grand Prix, perhaps inflicting permanent damage to a fledgling event. Following the BAR Honda fuel tank debacle at San Marino, which raised questions as to why the Brackley-based team had been singled out and punished so harshly, manufacturers now have even more reasons to start a rival championship. And, will this farce result in the demise of Mosley’s presidency of the FIA? It’s another nail in the coffin, folks.


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