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June 20, 2005

Michelin's Farce

Left: Michelin-shod cars coming in after the formation lap, Right: Six-car field of the USGP


To say I would have been miffed had I taken the time, money, and energy to attend the United States Grand Prix would be an understatement. Of the twenty cars that were on the formation lap, only six started, raced -and finished*. Why did seven teams not race? One word: Michelin.


Due to high vertical loads, particularly on the shoulder (red spot), on the left rear tyre on the Michelin-shod cars, the tread could potentially separate from the sidewall. Therefore, Michelin made an announcement that deemed the tyres they brought to Indy were unsafe.

The French tyremaker then had the gall to request that a chicane be placed in Turn 13 to slow the cars down to "safer" speeds. Tony George and the Indianapolis Speedway team were prepared to install said chicane or do whatever necessary to proceed with a race. Bridgestone's major team, Ferrari, objected to the chicane. The FIA objected to the chicane. And rightly so. Why should the teams that came properly prepared be penalized for Michelin's inferior tyres?

Blame seemed to be shuffled around but the teams running Michelins never once blamed themselves for the outcome of the race. Only two drivers tested at Indy. It was not Tony George's fault. It was not Bridgestone's fault. It was not Ferrari's fault. It was not Bernie Ecclestone's fault. It was not the FIA's fault. Michelin did not provide their teams with a competitive product and fans worldwide fell victim. This turn has been there since 1909 and this is the sixth time the USGP has been held at Indianapolis.

I can understand the position of the teams for wanting to protect the lives of their drivers, but this is entertainment, and they did not fulfill their obligation to the fans. There were some ideas thrown out that would have had the cars on Michelins simply run slower through turn 13, go through the pits each lap, change tyres more often, or install a chicane and dock all Michelin-shod cars championship points. But alas, only Ferrari, Jordan, and Minardi competed in the USGP. I am honestly suprised to see that the majority of fans stuck around for the "race" and the relative civility of the crowd.

As a result of the debacle, Toyota's first pole position was for naught and Schumacher went on to his first victory of 2005. He and Barrichello have moved into third and fourth in the drivers standings while Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes are tied at 63 points in the Constructors Championship, 13 behind Renault.

As of this writing, the FIA has summoned the seven Michelin teams to appear at a hearing of its World Motor Sport Council on Wednesday June 29 following their controversial withdrawal from the US Grand Prix. Stay tuned and visit formula1.com for the latest USGP developments.

*Not since the 1961 Hungarian GP has an entire F1 field started and finished a race. As an aside, I think the current FIA tire rule is ridiculous and should be revaluated for future seasons, especially in light of what has happened recently to Kimi and Ralf. There is real potential for bodily harm, not to mention the millions of dollars of race car lost because teams are reluctant to change tyres due to fear of moving to the back of the pack.

Posted by hungwin at June 20, 2005 02:38 PM

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