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JUNE 22, 2004

The FIA explains Indianapolis timing glitch

The FIA has explained how the timing screens at Indianapolis recorded that Michael Schumacher crossed the line ahead of Rubens Barrichello at the end of the first Safety Car period, at the end of the fifth lap of the United States Grand Prix. Within half a second the monitors switched back to show that Barrichello had been ahead when the two cars crossed the line. The official timing data after the race showed that Schumacher was 0.013 sec behind Barrichello when they crossed the line and was thus still behind. If he had been ahead he would have been subject to a drive-through penalty which might have changed the outcome of the race.

The FIA says that "the timing page did briefly display Michael as being ahead of Rubens but then automatically corrected itself to the accurate timing for the lap. The timekeepers contacted Race Control to confirm that the system had adjusted to the correct timing".

The gap of 0.013s translates into something in the region of a metre at the speeds that the cars were then travelling. A lot of people had the impression that Schumacher was ahead before the two cars crossed the line but TV cameras do distort what one sees unless the camera is directly above or directly across from the cars. There is added confusion at Indianapolis because there is a line of bricks across the track just a few metres in front of the start-finish line and the view of the track is slightly obscured by an overhead gantry.

The mystery has thus been explained.

There is however some controversy going on about various aspects of the race management in Indianapolis, notably the speed at which the emergency teams got to Ralf Schumacher and why it took so long to disqualify Juan Pablo Montoya. Having looked at the situation we have concluded that the timings involved were acceptable in the circumstances: Schumacher's car was a long way around the lap for the medical car and the first doctors did not venture near the car because of the danger of other cars arriving on the scene at high speed. The first help arrived at the car in around 90 seconds and the medical car arrived after three minutes.

The question of Montoya is understandable given the fact that the penalty was extreme and that both race control and the FIA Stewards had to look in detail at the incident and time the action because it was very close (being just a matter of a second or two) between Montoya getting to the spare car in time and the Colombian being too late to switch cars.

What was perhaps more worrying was the fact that the track at Turn 1 was probably not cleaned sufficiently after the first corner accident and so two cars (Fernando Alonso and Ralf Schumacher) had accidents resulting from punctures caused by debris, presumably small shards of carbonfibre, which they had picked up there.