No-one died when the US Grand Prix was run at the famous Indianapolis
Motor Speedway earlier this morning, but it might well be the darkest
day in the history of the sport. Just six drivers competed in a race
that saw Michael Schumacher greeted on the winner’s podium by a
cacophony of boos from the few fans who hadn’t already left in disgust.
It all went pear shaped after one of the two officially supplied brand
of tyres – Michelin – proved to be unsafe. When officials ruled out a
compromise solution involving a new chicane to slow entry speed at the
high banked final turn, 14 drivers refused to take part in the race.
Those on the rival Bridgestone tyres didn’t have the same problem so a
six-car grid finally agreed to race.
Urgent meetings throughout the weekend failed to reach compromise and
there are several villains here, including a tyre manufacturer that’s
renowned for pushing the envelope and the “win at all costs” team,
Ferrari. Nine teams are believed to have voted not to race without the
chicane, but Ferrari insisted the regulations should not be bent to fix
what it argued was essentially a technological defect.
Ultimately when FIA and F1 officials sided with Ferrari and all 14
Michelin “shod” cars withdrew, it left a race that was a complete
farce. It’s also one that is sure to see tens of thousands of racing
fans demanding refunds and all kinds of legal challenges. The more than
200,000 fans who attended, many of whom flew long distances to see the
race, booed and threw objects on to the track.
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In absolute PR terms this is an unmitigated disaster. It seems no-one
is more to blame than the
Ferrari team which saw it could gain an advantage by sticking to the
letter of the law, rather than looking at what its intransigence would
mean for the sport in the longer term.
There was no shortage of condemnation from those in F1 including team
bosses and the drivers. “I feel terrible. I have a sick feeling in my
stomach,” David Coulthard said. “I am embarrassed to be a part of this.
The reality is that mature adults were not able to come to a resolution
that would have allowed us to put on the show that everybody wants to
see in Formula One. It is a very sad day for this sport. I am so, so
sorry for what we’ve done.”
But Michael Schumacher fooled no-one when he saw fit to observe: “Bit
of a strange Grand Prix. Not the right way to win my first one this