Mixed feelings remain over Indianapolis

SEPTEMBER 17, 2001

Mixed feelings remain over Indianapolis

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA grinned broadly as he sat in the media conference after his maiden formula one victory in the Italian grand prix and said he was looking forward to the US grand prix at Indianapolis in two weeks time.

The last time he was at the famous American speedway, he pointed out, was when he completely dominated last year's Indianapolis 500 - six months before the formula one circus rolled into town for the first time. Small wonder Montoya was upbeat, fizzing with enthusiasm and fuelled with a great sense of expectancy.

Alongside him, his team-mate Ralf Schumacher, third in Sunday's race, looked washed-out and preoccupied. The last thing he seemed interested in was reiterating his reservations about going to the penultimate round of the world championship.

Stripping the emotion out of the debate as to whether or not formula one should strut its stuff in the home of the brave, land of the free while rescue workers are still clawing bodies from the wreckage of Manhattan preoccupied many minds in the paddock.

There were two firm viewpoints. Inevitably, the macho brigade believed it should be business as usual and to hell with the consequences, while more moderate souls advanced more practical reservations about the whole business.

"Personally, I don't think we should go," said Jaguar team principal Niki Lauda, "but it's not my decision. We have a contractual commitment to Indianapolis and the race could only be cancelled if the organizers there wanted to do so. But, as I say, I'm not the ring master in this business, just one of the acrobats."

Lauda's experience of the aviation business with his own airline means that he is alert to potential logistical problems. "All the cars and equipment cannot be flown directly from the UK," he explained. "They are having to be taken to Amsterdam where there is a giant X-ray machine through which all the cargo pallets have to pass. Any problems there could produce a huge delay.

"There is also the problem of what happens if the cars and personnel should be stranded in America for any reason. That would have knock-on problems for the Japanese grand prix a fortnight later. It is very difficult to strike the correct balance."

Officially, formula one is putting on a united public front. The cars will roll out onto the track at Indianapolis to practice next Friday week. Yet everybody inwardly knows that a hint of military action, or further terrorist outrages over the next few days, will reinforce the reservations of car makers such as Honda and Ford, and tyre makers Bridgestone, that they would really rather give the US race a miss. It is that finely balanced.

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