A tyre crisis in Formula 1

Ralf Schumacher's tyre, United States GP 2005

Ralf Schumacher's tyre, United States GP 2005 

 © The Cahier Archive

The problems of tyres in F1 have been bubbling away for some months in Formula 1 and the crash on Friday afternoon which put Ralf Schumacher into the wall at Indianapolis has precipitated a crisis as there are fears that the Michelin tyres may be a problem.

"Despite all the checks that we've done, both here and in our test facilities at Clermont-Ferrand, we have not been able to understand or reproduce the problem of yesterday," Michelin said in a statement. "We have explained the situation to our partners and to the FIA and we have advised on the conditions for tests, qualifying and for the race tomorrow. These decisions have been taken in the interest of the safety of the drivers. We've been working with our people in Clermont-Ferrand in order to identify a product that we know is capable of running at Indianapolis and we are in a process of discussing this possibility with the FIA and are actively pursuing the dispatch of these tyres to Indianapolis."

In the first practice session on Saturday morning only two Michelin cars went out: Juan Pablo Montoya's McLaren and David Coulthard's Red Bull. In the second session most of the cars were running.

To fly the tyres to Indianapolis would take around six to seven hours and realistically they cannot be in Indiana before the morning. Thus if the Michelin teams were to run the tyres on race day, they would be breaking the rules and it would be up to the stewards of the meeting to decide on whether or not to impose a penalty. But penalising teams for doing something in the interests of safety is a situation in which the FIA will not want to put itself. However, one can see a situation in which the Bridgestone teams, namely Ferrari, will try to gain an advantage to pick up World Championship points. Responding to that, voices in the paddock say that if there is a protest from Ferrari, the other teams will simply not run on Sunday and so the United States Grand Prix would feature six cars: two Ferraris, two Jordans and two Minardis. That would be disastrous from a marketing point of view and the only obvious solution to the problem is to invoke force majeure rules and allow the new tyres to be run and a full field to be seen in action. Bridgestone would still be at an advantage because of the late arrival of tyres but there may then be questions about whether it is safe for the teams to go into a race on tyres that have not been used at all. Thus it might be necessary to have a short session on Sunday morning. But if that happens it is not clear how it could be handled under the parc ferme regulations that exist.

If the teams do not qualify this afternoon the six Bridgestone cars will line up at the front of the grid and the Michelin cars will be lined up in numerical order behind them with BAR on the fourth row, Renault on the fifth, Williams on the sixth and McLaren on the seventh and so on.

The option is for teams to run with the existing tyres and follow Michelin instructions to run the tyres at higher pressures than normal. This will affect performance but Michelin believes that the tyres will be safe. The real problem in this case is with Toyota which had two failures on Friday.

The negotiations are developing.

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