JUNE 22, 2005

Stoddart explains what happened at Indianapolis

The words complete transparency are often used in F1 these days and Paul Stoddart has just issued an account of what happened to him at Indianapolis. It makes interesting reading as the colourful Minardi boss has (as usual) not held back.

"Much has been said about the farce that occurred on Sunday, June 19, in Indianapolis, and I feel that in the interests of transparency, it would be worthwhile for someone who was actually present, and participated in the discussions leading up to the start of the Grand Prix, to provide a truthful account of what took place, both for the 100,000-plus fans who were present, and for the hundreds of millions of people watching on television around the world," Stoddart said. "While this is a genuine attempt to provide a factual timeline of the relevant events that took place, should any minor detail or sequence be disputed, it will not, in my opinion, affect in any way this account of events that led up to arguably the most damaging spectacle in the recent history of Formula 1.

"For those who have not followed the recent political developments in Formula 1, it is fair to say that, for over a year now, the majority of teams have felt at odds with the actions of the FIA and its president, Max Mosley, concerning the regulations, and the way in which those regulations have been introduced, or are proposed to be introduced. Not a weekend has gone by where some, or all, of the teams are not discussing or disputing these regulations. This is so much the case that it is common knowledge the manufacturers have proposed their own series commencing January 1, 2008, and this is supported by at least two of the independent teams. The general perception is that, in many instances, these issues have become personal, and it is my opinion that was a serious contributory factor to the failure to find a solution that would have allowed all 20 cars to compete in Sunday's United States Grand Prix."

Stoddart them went through what happened with the Michelin tyre problem on Friday and Saturday. He revealed that the team principals meeting on Saturday barely discussed the tyre issue as the talk was mainly about the 2006 calendar.

Stoddart's story of Sunday is as follows:

"I arrived at the circuit at 0815 hrs, only to find the paddock was buzzing with stories suggesting the Michelin teams would be unable to take part in the Grand Prix. I was then handed a copy of correspondence between Michelin, the FIA, and the Michelin teams that revealed the true extent of the problem. By now, journalists were asking if Minardi would agree to a variation of the regulations to allow the Michelin teams to compete, and what penalties I felt would be appropriate.

"A planned Minardi press briefing took place at 0930 hrs, and as it was ending, I was summoned to an urgent meeting, along with Jordan, with Bernie Ecclestone, the two most senior Michelin representatives present at the circuit, IMS President Tony George, team principals, and technical representatives from the Michelin teams. At this meeting, Michelin, to its credit, admitted that the tyres available were unable to complete a race distance around the Indianapolis circuit without a change to the track configuration, so as to reduce the speed coming out of the last turn onto the banking. Much background information was provided as to the enormous efforts that Michelin, with support from its teams, had undertaken in the preceding 48 hours to try and resolve the problem, but it was clear that all those efforts had failed to produce a suitable solution that wouldn't involve support from the non-Michelin teams, and ultimately, the FIA.

"What was requested of the Bridgestone teams was to allow a chicane to be constructed at Turn 13, which would then allow Michelin to advise their teams that, in their opinion, the tyres would be able to complete the race distance. It was made very clear that this was the only viable option available, as previous suggestions from the FIA, such as speed-limiting the Michelin cars through Turn 13, could, and probably would, give rise to a monumental accident. This idea, as well as one concerning the possibility of pit stops every 10 laps, were dismissed, and discussion returned to the only sensible solution - a chicane. During this discussion, a technical representative with specific knowledge of the Indianapolis circuit, together with representatives from IMS, were tasked with preparing the design of a chicane, and Bernie Ecclestone agreed to speak with the one team principal not present, Mr Todt, and to inform the FIA President, Max Mosley, who was not present at Indianapolis, of the planned solution to allow the successful running of the US Grand Prix. With only a few hours now remaining to the start of the race, we agreed to reconvene as soon as Bernie had responses from Messrs Todt and Mosley.

"At approximately 1055 hrs, Bernie informed us that not only would Mr Todt not agree, stating that it was not a Ferrari problem, but an FIA and a Michelin problem, but also Mr Mosley had stated that if any attempts were made to alter the circuit, he would cancel the Grand Prix forthwith."

"By this time, the nine teams had discussed running a non-championship race, or a race in which the Michelin teams could not score points, and even a race whereby only the Michelin teams used the new chicane, and indeed, every other possible option that would allow 20 cars to participate and put on a show, thereby not causing the enormous damage to Formula 1 that all those present knew would otherwise occur. By now, most present felt the only option was to install the chicane and race, if necessary, without Ferrari, but with 18 cars, in what would undoubtedly be a non-championship race. We discussed with Bernie the effects of the FIA withdrawing its staff, and agreed among ourselves a race director, a safety car driver, and other essential positions, and all agreed that, under the circumstances, what was of paramount importance was that the race must go ahead. All further agreed that since we would most likely be denied FIA facilities, such as scales and post-race scrutineering, every competitor would instruct his team and drivers to conduct themselves in the spirit of providing an entertaining race for the good of F1."

The matter was then put to the drivers.

"I feel it is important to stress that, at this stage, and mindful of the total impossibility - call it force majeure if you wish - of 14 cars being able to compete in the race, the nine teams represented agreed they would not take part in the race unless a solution was found in the interests of Formula 1 as a global sport, as it was clear to all present that the sport, and not the politics, had to prevail if we were to avoid an impending disaster," Stoddart went on.

Stoddart claimed that later he learned that Burdette Martin, the FIA's most senior representative in the USA, had been told by Mosley that if any kind of non-championship race was run, or any alteration made to the circuit, the US Grand Prix, and indeed, all FIA-regulated motorsport in the US, would be under threat.

We have asked the FIA to confirm that this occurred and are currently waiting for a reply.

Stoddart went on to give details about why the Michelin cars went to the grid.

"After discussion with Bernie Ecclestone, it was agreed the Michelin teams would go to the grid," Stoddart said. "We then proceeded to the grid, at which point I asked Jordan's Colin Kolles if he intended to stand by the other teams or participate in the race," Stoddart said. "I was told Jordan would be racing. I was also approached by a Bridgestone representative, who informed me that Bridgestone wished us to race. This left me with one of the most difficult decisions I have had to take during my time in F1, as I did not want to race, but given my current relationship with Mr Mosley, felt certain heavy sanctions would follow if I did not."

Stoddart said he informed Ecclestone and several team principals that if the Jordans went off or retired, he would withdraw the Minardis from the race.

"Much discussion and debate will undoubtedly take place over the coming weeks and months," Stoddart concluded, "but I believe this is a truthful and honest account of the facts."