JUNE 20, 2005
UNITED STATES GP - SUNDAY - RACE REPORT
Thumbs down for Formula 1
The thumbs of the fans in the grandstands at Indianapolis were all pointing downwards at the end of a ridiculous United States Grand Prix. Fingers in the paddock will be pointing in other directions as the parties involved try to throw mud at one another about who is responsible for this debacle.
The problems were not insurmountable and a little compromise and understanding would have saved the day for the race fans of America and the TV fans around the world. But for whatever reason that chance was wasted by inflexible views and a total disregard for the fans. The fact that the 20 cars took part in the parade lap meant that F1 did manage to fulfil its contractual obligations to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - but it does not mean that the sport fulfilled its moral obligation to the crowd. With an average ticket price of $100 and a crowd of 130,000 crowd (up around 10,000 on last year) this amounted to little more than a $13m heist. It left Indianapolis owner Tony George with no real choice but the agree to give the fans their money back or at least offer them free tickets for 2006. Except that there is no reason why there will be a race in the United States in 2006. And no reason why any other promoter in the United States will go near Formula 1 in the future. What was needed on Sunday in Indianapolis was good governance and what we saw was completely the opposite. Michelin made a mistake. They admitted as much and offered solutions to the problem which they had unwittingly created. The FIA and Ferrari could have compromised, could have accepted a change of tyres or a makeshift chicane. Of course, one can argue that the rules are clear and that they should be followed. But that is not the point. The right thing to do would have been to have accepted a solution which did not leave the sport damaged as it now is. For whatever reasons they chose to sacrifice the sport rather than adopt a practical solution and muddle through to minimise the damage.
Perhaps they did not think that the Michelin runners would do what they said that they would do and withdraw from the race, but the point was made on several occasions in the hours leading up to the Grand Prix and it was clear that when one looked at the problem of legal liabilities in the United States of America, the teams really had no choice but to park the cars. Michelin would not - could not - guarantee the safety of the tyres. The FIA said that Michelin runners would have to stop every 10 laps or drive at half speed through the troublesome Turn 13. Ferrari and the FIA both refused to have a chicane. If it was all a big poker game, the FIA and Ferrari bet the farm and they lost.
Everyone had elements in their arguments which had merit but as the clock ticked on towards the start time, no-one had the interests of the fans foremost in their minds.
And that is the charge that lies on the doormat in Maranello and at 8 Place de la Concorde in Paris.
Even the great deal maker Bernie Ecclestone was impotent to solve this one and he must now go back to the shareholders in his company and explain himself. The FIA President Max Mosley has charmed the FIA delegates for more than 10 years but if no-one asks questions after this, the federation's credibility will disappear as quickly as did the fans at Indy. We need explanations as to why this was allowed to happen.
But there is nothing new under the sun. In 1926 the Grand Prix de l'ACF was run at Miramas for three cars. The sports governing body at the time, the AIACR, decreed that there would be another new formula, brought about by the alarming advances in speed made by the manufacturers but the new rule drove the manufacturers away. The organisers were forced to run the race and there were three cars. Two failed and Jules Goux was the only classified finisher.
It was the nadir of Grand Prix racing in the 1920s.
Indianapolis 2005 is the nadir of modern F1.
"My general feeling is what Bill France Jr of NASCAR would have done in the same situation," said Mike Mulhern, a reporter from the Winston Salem Journal. "He has been in this type of crisis three or four times in the past when drivers have been injured when tyres blew. He has always had a back-up plan. The race has always gone ahead with a full field. If Bill France was here today the 14 drivers who parked their cars would be history.
"This could kill Formula 1 in America. It has been on the ropes for a long time. It has a credibility problem. This was stupid, really stupid. There is no excuse for not having a Plan B, for not putting on a show and running the race. It is arrogance and stupidity that has caused this. It shows no respect for the people watching in the grandstands and on TV. It is slap in the face for the US public."
Michael Schumacher won the race but this was so hollow a victory that even the Grand Canyon could not have created such booming echoes.