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JUNE 23, 2005

The fans respond, Part 5

We asked F1 fans for their opinions about what happened at Indianapolis. Here is what they think:

I became a fan of F1 around the time the USGP started back in 1999 in Indy. I spent all the time I could reading up on the teams and history and politics of the sport to better understand what I was seeing. Since that time I have tried to get many of my buddies (all of whom are into racing of one type or another) into watching and following F1 but the problem I had seen even before this latest debacle is that when trying to explain F1 to the new fan is 90% explaining politics and things unrelated to racing itself and about 10% actually explaining the racing itself. I had gotten to go to the 2002 and 2003 US GPs and went this year with three friends who I had gotten interested in the sport (they were mostly sportscar racing fans of one level or another). They arrived on Saturday and got to watch qualifying but were definitely psyched about getting to see more of the cars on Sunday as they had missed practice. That night I tried to explain what I understood about the tire situation (including as much as I knew about the control tire fight in the off-season) but we all still believed that logic would prevail and really didn't think much about it on race day. As the cars and drivers came around on their parade laps my friends were very excited and I was very proud to have gotten them interested in the greatest racing on earth. Then as they left on their warm up lap and came in front of us we cheered for our favorites and boo-ed those who were rivals. Everything was good and I could sense the excitement. Then I heard the track announcer say "The Michelin runners are pulling into the pits" then a minute later "only six cars are on the grid". I thought surely this is a chance for them to change the tires and just shuffle the Bridgestone runners to the front by starting the rest from the pits. When they started the race and announced the pitted cars had all pulled into the garage I was in shock. I could not believe that anyone could so ruin the sport I loved. Even worse at that moment of my shock and heartbreak all of my friends turned to me for explanation. I had none. This was inexcuseable. They had just torn down any goodwill that had built up in the wake of Danica at Indy and Scott Speed this weekend. They had flushed it all down the toilet. When I say they I include everyone involved, Michelin first because they are responsible to deliver tires within the rules. The FIA for not understanding or not caring about the obvious slap in the face of the US fans (and fans all over the world), but most of all I lay the blame for this squarely on Ferrari. They are the ones who voted against a control tire in the off-season then complained when they didn't have as many testing miles as the Michelin runners (though they had far more than any given team). They, from what I understand, refused to allow any compromises in this situation tying the FIA's hands to some extent. Ferrari needs to realize that it may be true that Formula 1 will suffer if they were not involved but will there be a Formula 1 at all if you have no fans. The entire drive back home Sunday night I was a so angry I couldn't think straight but after thinking it through all day today and also having to explain the situation over and over to people today (nice that F1 gets on the front sports page, bad that it takes this debacle) I have come back down to just a general feeling of sadness. I question how arguably very intelligent businessmen can come to such a stupid decision especially when it involves the country they so covet as an area for growth. I would be very surprised if the US GP survives this in its current form. I would completely back Tony George in any action he takes against the FIA as even if he can keep from refunding this years ticket sales what percentage of sales for next year are already lost? 50%? more? I hope I haven't rambled on too long and made some sense out of my muddled thoughts. I will continue to follow F1 to the bitter end but I have doubts that my friends will follow it with any interest anymore and those who don't know the sport and read of this in the paper can't help but think what a ridiculous sport that must be.

Charles McKnight, USA

Is it best that the teams pack up and leave or that Mosley moves on? In this F1 lifer's opinion, the answer to this question is: neither. I've been an F1 fan for nearly 20 years. I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable about the sport and I still don't know which of the above is the wiser course of action. I don't know that anybody outside of the industry can really answer this without knowing all the facts about what happened at the US Grand Prix this past weekend.

What I do know is that neither option is necessarily a solution to the critical problem: F1 is a business first and a sport second, and the events of Sunday were F1's way of telling all of us fans precisely that. I've read a great deal of high praise for the safety-related decisions at Indy and equally high praise for F1A standing by it's established rules. But after Sunday's farce, I refuse to dignify what happened at Indianapolis with a discussion about who is to blame. Moreover, for the dignity of the fans, I refuse to carry the topic of blame into a discussion about how to fix F1. Whether Mosley moves on or Michelin and the teams do, it is sportsmanship and the spirit of racing that are primary casualties of the US Grand Prix. This is a mortal wound to F1 and, whatever they do, everybody involved had better stop pointing fingers and start talking about responsibility and ethics. That is, if anybody cares. And perhaps the best thing for F1 would be to experience competitive pressure from one or more rival motorsport series. Right now, F1 has a richness of history and a legacy fanbase that is unparalleled. Although with new investors and an international target audience, things can change more easily if F1 continues to choose a political chessboard over compromise and fairplay.

The F1A and the manufacturers are, simply-phrased, in a marriage which isn't working: they can either go into marriage counseling or file a divorce. It doesn't matter which of these they choose to pursue unless everybody has the welfare of international motorsports and their target audience at heart. Otherwise, the fans will continue to be punished.

Martin Anton, Ontario, Canada

Regardless of who is to blame for the fiasco on Sunday, I believe all parties will agree that the real losers on the day were the fans who paid money to come to the race. An emphatic gesture is needed - and now - by the F1 community to say "Sorry" to the USA fans. I suggest the immediate formation of a fund of about $25 million, with donations from FOM, Michelin and the Michelin teams. The fund would then pay out $210 to all those that can prove they paid the $105 price for the Sunday ticket. This is easy to do for credit card purchases. Others would need to mail in their tickets, for a refund my check. A $25m fund syndicated to all these parties would not be a major financial burden for any one of them. This at least would demonstrate that F1 has some interest in keeping its fan base. It needs to make an immediate effort to do so. If it does nothing, then F1 will suffer even more than it inevitably will. We all know that NASCAR is massive here. IRL is on a crest too, leveraging the Danica Patrick effect. F1 needs to get its act together and fast unless Sunday may be the last "race" we'll see in the USA for some time to come.

Pete Harris, USA

Michelin made a mistake either through incompetence or just sheer bad luck. So, either way the teams they supplied must be penalised according to the rules. However, as the saying goes, the show must go on. And we should have had a race, even if it meant the Michelin teams could not score points (because they had changed tyres). And even if it meant the Bridgestone runners started up front. I would be sceptical about everything Ferrari says, even though on the face of it they sound as if they're leaving the decision up to the FIA. F1 is about self interest, and Ferrari, to be fair, went out and did what the other teams would have probably done. Not that that is the right thing to do. If you are a truly sportingly competitive organisation, then one would assume you'd feel wrong about racing against, well no one. It was, after all, just a procession. Michelin: made a mistake. The FIA made a hugely unforgivable mistake.

Ranjit Singh Josen

I have been a long time fan of F1 since hearing Murray Walker's commentary on a long forgotten race in the early 1980's. I do not follow any other motor sport but always stay up for the usual midnight broadcast of the F1 race starts. I actually watched the Indy 500 a week before to get a feel for the atmosphere in readiness for the upcoming F1 race. What a contrast. I watched in awe as I witnessed Indy race cars actually racing. Passing each other and vying for position side by side. I could not believe racing around a circle could be so entertaining and an adrenalin rush. Now fast forward to the sport I love a week later at the same venue. Take your stupid blinkers off and see what I and millions of others saw. Disgraceful is the only word I will use. On behalf of millions of race fans around the world: Goodbye, forever. I strongly urge Williams, BMW, McLaren, Mercedes Benz, Jordan, Minardi etc to kiss the F1 circus goodbye and join the oval racers. What saddens me is the culprits have made their billions out of this sport and can laugh all the way to the bank.

Wayne Steel, New Zealand

I might be one of the absolute minority here but in my opinion the FIA acted correctly but has failed in getting the Michelin teams to comply with the rules and put on the show they signed on to deliver. In my opinion the idea of putting up a new chicane and thus changing the whole character of the circuit in only 30 minutes because a part of the teams had brought inferior and maybe faulty equipment to the race was absurd. This would neither have served the need for safety nor fairness. If you bring inferior equipment, then you lose and have to deal with it. Saying the tires were dangerous and could not be raced without a chicane is really looking at the whole issue with a very narrow mind. There were a couple of options under which the teams could have put on a show albeit not score maximum points so easily and be severely handicapped. But that's racing and the fans would have loved the show. So let's not put all the blame on the FIA. In my opinion Michelin failed to produce a good tire and bring a save backup tire to the race. But more severely the Michelin teams failed to put on a show. After all Formula 1 never was all about safety it always was about speed, racing and let's not forget a little bit of danger, excitement and adrenalin (and for me the issues of politics and technology). Just look at the American racing series. Therefore the teams have to be reminded of their obligations. Maybe we need new people in the FIA who have a better connection to the teams and can get the point across in a more efficient manner.

Andreas Metzmann, Germany

Let the FIM take over! The entire FIM series of motorcycle racing has been nothing but excellent. Even with the serious number of restrictions in the top MotoGP class, you only have to look at the race in Mugello where three different bikes with three different engine designs landed on the podium. The old clich? of apples and oranges is probably ringing loudly and annoyingly in your ear right now, but perhaps they should at least look into it. I don't think they could do any worse.

Sal Khan

In my view it is the seven Michelin teams and Michelin who have to take responsibililty for the farce at Indianapolis. The FIA cannot be held responsible for teams who turn up to an event with inferior equipment and they cannot be expected to reconfigure circuits and/or amend the regulations to help teams overcome performance issues. Michelin should have been better prepared and should have had a back-up tyre available. The seven affected teams should have ensured Michelin had a back-up type available and, in its absence, they should have raced with reduced performance or used multiple pit stops to replace dangerously worn tyres, and suffered the consequences in terms of championship points lost. The FIA gave them every opportunity to compete by using the mechanisms allowed within the current regulations i.e. pitstops to change tyres on grounds of safety; using different tyres with an appropriate penalty (and the FIA stated that it was unlikely that the penalty would be exclusion from the event); or running at reduced speed (which the FIA offered to monitor and penalise those who transgressed). Had the problem been with Bridgestone tyres, I cannot imagine the Michelin teams would have had any sympathy for the three Bridgestone teams. The FIA should impose very heavy fines on Michelin and the seven teams. In an ideal world, these fines would be used to reimburse and compensate the fans who had their time and money wasted. BAR Honda should consider themselves lucky if they are not disqualified for the rest of the season. Minardi and Jordan should be censured for their part in the "gang-of-nine". This was no more than an outrageous attempt at blackmailing the FIA into complying with the Michelin wishes. Paul Stoddard may be happy to proclaim, on TV, to the world, that he has no interest in the Indianapolis GP - maybe someone should remind him that over 100,000 people at the event, and millions around the world, were interested in it. The only groups to emerge with unblemished reputations are the FIA, for upholding the regulations, and Ferrari, for a game attempt at providing some excitement for the fans.

Alan Peacock

Just when it looked like things couldn't get any worse for open wheeler racing F1 plumbs new depths. As an F1 fan for over 20 years I have now question why I get up in the middle of the night in the middle of an Australian winter to watch such rubbish. I only watched the entire US GP in the hope that the paying public would riot and cause something or someone to give the mandarins of F1 (the FIA, Max Mosley, the teams, the tyre companies etc) some sort of reality check. They are all guilty for the mess that culminated in the farce we witnessed on the weekend. Mind-numbing stupidity, intransigence, pride and callous disregard for the fabric, substance and history of our sport culminated in such a miserable display. Some of the teams issued a group apology, others, such as driver Jenson Button, publicly apologised. Saying sorry doesn't fix the cancer that afflicts our sport. Action does. There must now be a wholesale clean-out of the festering sore that is F1, top to bottom. If ever motorsport needed a Bill France it is now, an autocrat with an iron fist to sort the vested interests out and put them in their place. Grand-standing self-interested power crazy individuals (and we all know who they are) must be weeded out of the FIA, the teams, and associated businesses and the sport returned to those who view it as a sport, with all the passion that it brings. Those who see F1 as a business to be bled white for as long as they can get away with it have to sent on their way, hopefully with a empty pockets and very sore behinds. That's what I hope for, but I am not holding my breath waiting for it.

Mark Robinson, Brisbane, Australia

The main thing to remember is, that for what ever reason, Michelin got it wrong! In the current case they supply 70% of the grid. What if it had been Bridgestone? How many teams would have been delighted if Ferrari had had to withdraw on safety reasons and avoid potentially expensive and damaging suits if an accident had occurred after ignoring the tyre suppliers advice? What if only 30% of the grid failed to start? I'm sure this fuss would not be so great.The teams were in a no win situation. Surely someone would realise the problems caused by not supplying the worldwide fans with a race? As I understand it, some compromises were made by Charlie Whiting such as tyre changes during the race or penalties. These were rejected for what ever reason by the teams. It seems that they wanted to race, but on their terms! I feel it is wrong to cast the blame solely into one sector. Michelin seldom seems to get the finger pointed solely to them.Is this a case to two uncomprimising parties? Never mind- I'm overjoyed that my favourite team, Minardi, have scored points, which will be a great financial boon for next year - assuming there is a next year for F1.

John Griffin, England

What's curiously missing from most of the discussions I've encountered is any questioning the lack of compromise from the Michelin teams. By compromise I'm not talking about some screwball arrangement where all the points are given to the Bridgestone runners while the Michelin teams run for "honor". The Michelin teams came out with an ultimatum on Sunday morning :"add a chicane or we don't race". They never budged from this position. It was left for the FIA to accept or else. In fact some of the FIA's proposals held a lot of merit. Asking the driver's to slow down in Turn 13 has been dismissed as unenforceable since in would difficult for the drivers to self govern their speed in the midst of completion. The team however could call the drivers into the pit at any time to inspect/replace a suspect tire. I could have envisioned a team principal telling his driver: Look, if you go through Turn 13 flat out we will call you into the pits at 5-7 lap intervals for tire inspection/replacement. If on the other hand you average 180 kph through 13 you should be able to complete the race with your original tires. Any thing faster will proportionally increase the number of required pit stops". Had the Michelin teams agreed to this type of arrangement it may mot have changed the Ferrari 1-2 but it would have provided a very interesting race amongst the Michelin cars, we would have had a proper Fiat-sanctioned race void of any point distribution manipulations and the fans would have left the event happy. How your editorial staff can implicate Ferrari in this whole mess truly underscores how partial your staff has become in reporting on F1 news. If this whole issue involves political undertones as your article suggests I say the GPWC is guilty and the sooner they are ridded from the sport the better.

Alex d'Oelsnitz, New York

Last Sunday's pseudo-race in Indianapolis is the by-product of a very clear situation. A struggle over the control of Formula 1 has been going on for quite a while. In the right corner: Mr. Ecclestone, current FOM/FOA director, former Brabbham team owner; Mr. Max Mosley, current FIA president, former Brabbham team legal council and attorney; Mr. Charlie Whiting, current FIA technical director, former Brabham team chief mechanic. Having just recently joined (officially) this tag team, Jean Todt and Scuderia Ferrari after being the only team which has signed what some are calling the next Concorde agreement. In the left corner: the manufacturers. Gradually unhappy with the revenue sharing schemes of Mr. Ecclestone and with the late-in-the-season rule amendments of Mr. Max Mosley, they have formed a united front (initially called the GPWC) in order to best represent their interest and voice their concerns. Honda recently decided to join the manufaturers' side. BAR-Honda then gets hit with a two race suspension for a fuel tank set-up which is, according to its supplier, used by three other teams. A coincidence? The main event: Round 1: Michelin makes a mistake in the manufacture of their Indianapolis-spec tyres. These things happen. Bridgestone has not been doing all that well either, both Ferrari drivers having recently retired from non-puncture related tyre failures since the beginning of this season. But faced with the increased danger of the high banking angle of the Brickyard, Michelin has acted both sensibly and responsibly by putting a premium over the drivers' lives. Safety first. So Michelin-shod teams cannot compete, what then? The show must go on. That's what. Round 2: In order to offer the paying public their highly deserved show, the seven non-Bridgestone teams suggest running with different tyres and not collect any points. The FIA refuses. Round 3: A consensus among all teams except except Ferrari is reached to install a chicane in order to reduce cornering speeds and preserve safety, allowing all cars to run (with no points for the Michelin teams), which is precisely what the paying public has come to witness. Ferrari, washes its hands and turns over to the FIA. What a surprise, the FIA refuses. Recent history has shown that whenever Mr. Todt finds himself with the opportunity of a "technical knock-out victory" (his post-race words), he certainly will lunge at it. The greater the humiliation, the better. Only six cars end up competing? Who cares. The greater interests of the sport and the paying public have never been his top priority. Ferrari first, at all and any costs. The verdict: The FOM/FOA/FIA/Ferrari tag team wins this match. The struggle over Formula 1 will continue for as long as everyone involved keeps forgetting who has, through their loyal support, made this sport so gigantic. Please let me know how it turns out, for I know I am done watching.

Mario Janelle, Montreal, Canada

I've been an F1 fan since 1962 and was physcially nauseated that supposed intelligent adults, in position of resposibility, could not find compromise. So from here? Racing like many sports has become big business, advertising and revenue. Fans? Who needs 'em? For the racing aspect, tires in particular, it has become a financial and technological firestorm. Does it really make the street car better? In how many years? Is it a test bed? Or a money black hole? Give me racing! Speed is not the issue. Tires for every track? No! Mandate a racing tire that is used for the entire season. Clearance? Why does the most sophisticated form of motor racing have a wood plank on its underside? Mandate a minimum ride height of 3 or 4 inches. No wood. Side benefit the cars will be Slower! Oh? Isnt that what new engines are supposed to do? Downforce? These are cars not airplanes. Reduce wings and eliminate winglets. All that aero stuff is lost on the average fan, and only widens the gap of those fans that would like to relate but instead are only mystified. Tires for all tracks, little or no wings, normal aspirated engines. And all the other stuff is taken care of. You will get closer racing and more passing. If this is easy for the fan to see, why can't the sanctioning bodies see it?

Bo Bruce, Indiana, USA

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