Posted on Sun, Jun. 19, 2005
Only six cars compete in United States GP over tire flap
By JENNA FRYER
The Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS - Formula One's bid to capture the American audience was crippled Sunday when only six cars participated in the United States Grand Prix. The other 14 drivers boycotted the event amid safety concerns with their Michelin tires.
The race was in jeopardy all the way up to the start after Michelin informed the seven teams it supplies that its tires were not safe in the final banked corner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Michael Schumacher went on to win his first event of the season. It was his third consecutive victory in the U.S. Grand Prix and fourth in the six years it has been held at Indy.
"Bit of a strange Grand Prix," Schumacher said. "Not the right way to win my first one this year."
The FIA, the series governing body, refused a request to allow the teams using Michelins to change to a fresh set of tires, and wouldn't even consider placing a chicane in the final turn to slow the speeds.
After a lengthy morning meeting, nine of the 10 F-1 teams said they would only compete if the chicane was put in place. Ferrari, which fields cars for Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, was the only team to refuse the chicane.
All 20 cars lined up on the starting grid even without the chicane in place. But, after the warmup lap, the 14 cars on Michelin tires all pulled into the garage and parked in protest.
"It was very clear that we were unsafe today and we couldn't race," pole sitter Jarno Trulli said. "I'm really sorry for the USA fans."
Among those refusing to race were world championship points leader Fernado Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, who trails him in the standings.
It left just six cars on the track _ all of which use Bridgestone tires.
Barrichello finished second, as the race was really only between him and teammate Schumacher. Tiago Monteiro was third in a Jordan for the first podium finish of his career.
All three drivers were booed as they headed to the podium, the traditional champagne celebration was scrapped, and the PA announcer repeatedly implored the remaining fans in attendance not to throw debris on the track.
It matched the reaction the crowd had since the start, when they were bewildered and left pointing and gawking as they tried to figure out why the majority of the field was climbing out of their cars.
Fans booed and some threw water bottles on the track in disgust. After just 10 laps, many spectators began heading for the exits. There were reports of thousands of fans showing up at the ticket office demanding refunds, and that police had been called to keep the peace.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway boss Tony George didn't immediately respond to an interview request by The Associated Press.
This event already draws just a fraction of what other races here do. Less than 100,000 come to this race, compared to a crowd in excess of 300,000 for the Indianapolis 500.
Sunday's debacle will do nothing to improve that.
"Quite frankly, the fans got cheated," Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone said.
Scott Brombacher, a fan from California, said he was disgusted as he left.
"I love Formula One ... it just aggravates me," Brombacher said. "I spent a lot of money and took a week off from work to come out here. To have all this happen at the last minute is just disgusting."
Even before the cars pulled out, several team bosses expressed frustration over the setback the series would suffer in its coveted U.S. market.
The U.S. is the rare country that has not embraced the world's top racing series.
"We want to be big here, we want the Americans to love us," Renault boss Flavio Briatore said. "This is not going to help us with this market at all."
Still, Briatore pulled his cars off the track, including Alonso, who is F-1's biggest threat to end Schumacher's five-year reign as world champion.
Alonso began the race with a 22-point lead over Raikkonen in the standings. With both out of the event, it opened the door for seven-time world champion Schumacher to climb back into the race.
Schumacher entered the event 35 points behind Alonso, but cut the deficit to 25 with the victory _ well within striking distance with 10 events left this season.
The tire problems began on Friday when Ralf Schumacher crashed in the final turn at Indy after one of his Michelin's failed on his Toyota. Although he wasn't seriously injured, medical personnel refused to clear him to race.
Ricardo Zonta, his teammate, also wrecked because of a tire failure.
Michelin said it was unable to determine why its tires weren't sturdy, and asked the FIA if it could ship in a new batch of rubber from its France warehouse.
The FIA said no, that teams are permitted just one set of tires per weekend.
So Michelin, the world's largest tiremaker, advised the seven teams _ 14 drivers in all _ not to participate in the race.
The Michelin teams argued all of Sunday morning for either a break in the tire rule, or that a chicane be placed in the 13th turn to slow the speeds. The turn has been a concern since last season, when Ralf Schumacher was seriously injured in an accident in the same spot.
The FIA refused the use of a chicane, and after a two-hour meeting that could be seen through glass doors growing heated at times, nine teams emerged adamant that they would not race without the obstacle on the course.
Still, as the start time approached, it appeared all 10 teams would race as they lined up on the starting grid.
Instead, the Michelin cars pulled off the track after their warmup lap.
"The long and short of it is we're not prepared to do the race, from a safety point of view," said Mark Webber of BMW-Williams. "The drivers, we want to go."