Indygate five years on: Why F1′s American farce could happen again

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The Michelin runners disappeared into their garages as the race started

The Michelin runners disappeared into their garages as the race started

On this day in 2005 F1 plunged itself into controversy as only six cars took the start for the United States Grand Prix.

Fourteen cars withdrew on the formation lap after tyre supplier Michelin discovered a problem with its product, and attempts to find a compromise solution failed.

Five years on it’s hard to see how F1 has learned from that shameful day in Indianapolis and what could prevent a similar fiasco.

Friday morning at Indianapolis on June 17th, 2005: Ralf Schumacher’s Toyota hits the wall at turn 13 and skids to a halt opposite the pit lane. Schumacher, who’d suffered back injuries in a similar accident at the track 12 months earlier, climbed from the cockpit and dealt his TF105 a hefty kick.

But he should have aimed his boot at the car’s left-rear Michelin tyre. That was what had let him down and was about to spark one of F1′s most notorious and disgraceful episodes.

From the moment Schumacher hit the wall the embarrassing six-car spectacle F1 served up two days later was not inevitable. That an opportunity to prevent it was squandered makes the memory of that day even more bitter.

What went wrong

After Friday practice Michelin found faults with six tyres tyres and flew them to its headquarters in Clermont-Ferrand, France for analysis.

While their investigations went on the seven teams using its tyres – Toyota, McLaren, Renault, Sauber, Williams, BAR and Red Bull – were instructed to keep their running to a minimum. The tyre company also flew in another batch of tyres of a different specification.

But Michelin’s worst fears were realised when the headquarters reported back that their tyres’ sidewalls were failing due to the unusual combination of lateral and vertical loads experienced at maximum speed through the banked turn 13 – a corner unlike any other on the F1 calendar.

Michelin instructed its seven teams accordingly. By now it was the early hours of Sunday morning. The ten team owners met and together nine of them – including Bridgestone-shod Jordan and Minardi – agreed on a solution: installing a chicane before final corner. The only dissenters were Ferrari, under the leadership of Jean Todt.

The Michelin teams went further. Offers were made that they would not score championship points and all the Bridgestone teams could start in front of them on the grid.

Taken together, here were the elements of a compromise solution in which F1 could have saved face by putting on something that at least resembled a real race, while allowing the Bridgestone teams to enjoy the benefit of the superiority they had demonstrated in bringing suitable tyres.

Instead, 14 cars entered the pit lane at the end of the formation lap and only six participated in the race. Why did this happen?

Why no solution was found

Fernando Alonso on the notorious banking

Fernando Alonso on the notorious banking

Fingers pointed in all directions in the aftermath. While there is no doubting the original failure on Michelin’s part to supply suitable tyres for the race, pinning down exactly who was at fault for turning their crisis into a catastrophe for Formula 1 is difficult.

It’s normal for the FIA president not to travel to every race and on this occasion Max Mosley was at home in Monte-Carlo. But he was in close contact with events unfolding at Indianapolis and had his own thoughts for how the race could go ahead.

His proposed solutions were manifestly flawed and would have produced a sham race every bit as unsatisfactory as the six-car farce that followed.

The suggestion that the Michelin drivers could slow down for the banking – even if given a separate lane on the track in which to do so – would have resulted in the highly unsafe sight of some cars charging into the corner flat-out and others braking to minimum speeds, with the difference between the two likely to be around 250kph.

The absurdity of the speed limit proposal was confirmed when the seven teams were charged by the World Motor Sport Council of “wrongfully [refusing] to allow their cars to race, subject to a speed restriction on one corner which was safe for such tyres as they found available”, and found not guilty.

Another suggestion, that every Michelin car could drive down the pit lane every lap, would scarcely have been any more satisfactory than seeing them all pull in and retire on the formation lap. Not to mention the temptation for drivers to abuse the arrangement knowing their tyres would hold up to an occasional flat-out blast around the banking.

It’s not hard to see why many viewed these proposals not as a serious attempt to find a solution, but engineered to maximise Michelin’s humiliation.

Some have sought to lay blame at Todt’s feet for failing to support the calls for a chicane to be built. But given that Mosley never so much as asked Todt whether he would be happy with a chicane, it’s doubtful Todt could have made a difference.

The aftermath

Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello and Tiago Monteiro on the podium

Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello and Tiago Monteiro on the podium

Michelin offered to refund tickets for everyone who attended the race, and bought 20,000 tickets for the following year’s event to give to people who’d attended in 2005.

Ferrari won the joyless six-car ‘race’ that ensued, but Michelin-shod cars won every other round of the championship.

Both titles went to Renault, using Michelins, in 2006 as well. After that the French tyre manufacturer quit the sport as the FIA moved to introduce a single tyre supplier.

That tyre supplier contract is up for renewal once again and it’s striking that, only five years on from Indianapolis, there has been no talk of Michelin’s mistake at Indianapolis bring an argument against allowing them to return to F1. Todt, now in charge of the FIA, is believed to prefer a Michelin deal.

Mosley shrugged off calls for him to resign in the wake of the fiasco and won re-election to the FIA presidency later in 2005.

The United States Grand Prix was only held twice more at Indianapolis. There was no repeat of the tyre failures for Michelin in 2006.

Lessons for the future

There would be no point in re-opening these old wounds and not learn anything from them. The stark warning of the Indy fiasco is this: it could happen again.

It may be tempting to think that the end of the tyre war in F1 makes such a problem unlikely to happen again. But NASCAR had tyre trouble of its own at the same circuit in 2008 despite all its competitors using Goodyears.

Earlier pre-event testing at the venue might have illuminated Michelin’s problem, but that is even more tightly restricted now than it was five years ago.

Bridgestone are lately being encouraged to bring more marginal tyres in the name of exciting racing. And next year’s tyre supplier could be one that has been out of the sport for the best part of two decades.

It took more than just the technical problem with Michelin’s tyres to cause the fiasco. The poisonous political atmosphere of the day was the catalyst and those circumstances, too, could be repeated in future.

The backdrop to Indygate was the ongoing argument between the FIA and the teams over the Concorde Agreement, the document that defines how the sport is run. While Ferrari had reached an agreement with the governing body, the others were holding out for better terms.

F1′s political rows have a nasty habit of spilling onto the track. It happened at Jarama in 1980, at Kyalami in 1981 and at Imola in 1982, all of which either saw several major teams missing from the race or events being stripped of world championship status.

Indianapolis 2005 was another occasion when the governing body allowed politics to intrude on racing.

The political climate is much improved this year compared to five years or even one year ago. With the teams now united under the the Formula One Teams’ Association, it’s possible that if a similar crisis broke out a solution could be found without having to rely on the governing body.

Let’s hope the team’s organisation in its current guise holds together longer than it has in the past, because it’s the best chance we have at the moment of preventing a similar situation in the future spiralling out of control.

But the political situation in F1 waxes and wanes – who’s to say things won’t become turbulent once more in the next year or five?

Allowing Indygate to happen in the first place was a terrible failure of the powers-that-be in Formula 1. Allowing it to happen again would be an even worse mistake.

Were you at the United States Grand Prix in 2005? Who do you blame for no compromise being found? Have your say in the comments.

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118 comments on Indygate five years on: Why F1′s American farce could happen again

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  1. slr said on 19th June 2010, 16:23

    I would blame the FIA for not doing anything. They just blamed Michelin and acted as if it wasn’t their problem.

    As for if it could happen again. It would be as much of an issue because tyre changing is allowed again. Though it could cause problems for the top 10 qualifiers.

    • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 20th June 2010, 1:25

      It was Michelin’s problem. They failed to supply a safe tyre. The FIA may not have reacted properly to the situation, but without Michelin, there was no situation.

      • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 20th June 2010, 2:01

        Also, from memory, I believe the only reason why the FIA took action was because the teams failed to agree on anything. Michelin came up with a dozen proposals – add a chicane to the final corner, have the Michelin drivers go through the pits every lap, have the Michelin drivers all pit regularly on the same pre-determined lap, have the Michelin drivers start behind the Bridgestones – and yet each and every single one was blocked by none other than Ferrari.

        • PeriSoft said on 20th June 2010, 5:13

          Why should Ferrari do any differently? They chose the supplier who did the right job. They worked with them and invested to make sure the tires worked right.

          So, their competitors pick the (as it turns out) wrong option, and are not only slow but can’t race at all.

          Why should Ferrari cut them slack anymore than they would if Michelin was, say, 8 seconds off the pace rather than at risk of failure? It’s not some gentlemens’ league where you say, “Jolly good, old chap, keep it even, what what!”. You’re there to win.

          It’s not Ferrari’s fault that Michelin ****** the duck, so why should they be expected to, essentially, let them catch up? Modifying the track to suit the Michelins would have been just as much a travesty for competition as imposing speed limits.

          And even if the Michelin teams scored no points, there’s a good change they would have nerfed off one of the Bridgestone cars.

          Artificially helping some teams at the expense of others, because they screwed up, would be the very antithesis of competition. Sorry, guys, but F1 is brutal. I would have done exactly the same thing: Chorus of boos or not, I’m not there to please the crowd; I’m there to win the damn race. If I want to please the crowd, I’ll start a reality TV show or go drifting.

          If the other teams can’t supply cars and tires that will finish the race, well, tough ****. I made the right choices and you didn’t: Sucks to be you.

          • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 20th June 2010, 10:20

            Why should Ferrari do any differently? They chose the supplier who did the right job. They worked with them and invested to make sure the tires worked right.

            Yes, and they are to be applauded for that. But at the same time, they blocked each and every proposal that Michelin came up with. A full grid could have raced in Indianapolis were it not for Ferrari’s actions. They caused a situation where it was too late for any solution to be found in time, forcing the FIA to step in. We all know how that ended. I’m not saying the FIA are free of any wrong-doing, but that Ferrari’s attitude of watching out for Ferrari, even at the expense of another team, contributed directly to the situation.

          • PeriSoft said on 20th June 2010, 22:39

            Sure, it contributed – I’m not arguing that. I’m arguing that Ferrari shouldn’t be denigrated because of it; it was their job to block situations which would have helped their competition or hurt them. And any scenario resulting in a full grid would have hurt them.

          • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 20th June 2010, 22:48

            And any scenario resulting in a full grid would have hurt them.

            And any scenario resulting in a reduced grid would have hurt the sport, which it did. But Ferrari didn’t care so long as they were set.

          • Mike said on 21st June 2010, 4:13

            I think the point of what Keith wrote is that, Mosley was MUCH more responsible for what happened than Ferrari.

          • PJA said on 21st June 2010, 14:19

            A team might be there to win and not to please the crowd, but with no audience the sport would eventually wither and die.

          • MikeT said on 23rd June 2010, 1:22

            “Chorus of boos or not, I’m not there to please the crowd; I’m there to win the damn race.”

            Yes, but there won’t be races if the crowds aren’t pleased. F1, as well as other spectator sports are competing for consumer’s entertainment spending. This is no high-minded pure competition – it is commerce – We put on a good show and you are willing to pay to see it or buy sponsors products.

            I almost went to some length to go to that race – so glad I didn’t. They should told Ferrari to hold their noses and put in the chicane to have a real race.

  2. Neil said on 19th June 2010, 16:27

    Why do they have to complicate things so much?

    F1 needs a dry tyre and a wet tyre. There is NO NEED whatsoever for there to be different “compounds” of tyres.

    • Timi said on 19th June 2010, 16:48

      Neil, the two compounds force to styles of racing and add extra strategy for each race.
      softer tyres usually mean faster lap times, harder tyres usually mean slower lap times but last a hell of a lot longer.

      if you wanted one compound, the canadian grand prix would have been awful and you know it..

      • xtophe (@xtophe) said on 20th June 2010, 13:50

        But that’s one GP. What other GPs have been exciting because of the prime-option choices? Apart from the quickly deteriorating tyres in Montreal, it didn’t add anything to the strategy. The mere unpredictableness made any tactic other than don’t-run-the-options-too-long obsolete.

        The standard tactic on most tracks has been to qualify on options, run a short first stint, then go in for primes and manage them to finish the race.

  3. sato113 (@sato113) said on 19th June 2010, 16:41

    ‘waces and wanes’ should be waxes and wanes i think.

    i don’t see any tyre problems in the near future as we don’t race at indy anymore. and any poor tyre performances from Pirelli will mean great racing once again.

    • Scribe (@scribe) said on 19th June 2010, 18:34

      Luckily the unique corner and lateral forces arn’t on any other tracks either, well I say luckily.

      Who do I blame for the lack of compromise? Well two workable solutions were found, 9 teams or so agree’d. One didn’t seems one team is to blame, as well as Max Mosley, he could have ordered the chicane built and saved the race, but did he?

      Don’t know what would happen these days, obviously without a tyre war an without the likleyhood of a tyre war, if tyres started failing the teams would find a solution, an hopefully FOTA would be able to work things through.

      In my opinion it should be FOTA that put out the tender for the tyres, FOTA should require a certain amount of the TV budgets to be spent on spec items for all the teams.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 19th June 2010, 23:26

      Fixed it, thanks Sato.

  4. miguelF! said on 19th June 2010, 16:44

    a bit harsh on michelin they could just silenced the situation putting in risk all michelin drivers and the race could have happened but they made the right choice and they were badly punished because of that as a ferrari fan i was very dissapoited although wining ferrari looked bad on the picture they didnt break any rule but they dont need the money as bad as the other teams that participated ferrari were very unpolite

  5. Franton said on 19th June 2010, 16:50

    Well there are pictures all over the wikipedia article for the 2005 Indianapolis GP that shows the fans were in no doubt it was Max Mosley’s fault.

    Paul Stoddart, head of Minardi at the time is also in no doubt that it was Max Mosley’s fault too. See http://motorsport.com/news/article.asp?ID=189438&FS=F1 .

    As I recall, Martin Brundle was pretty vocal about the whole thing too and it was pretty much the start of his “disgust” with Max Mosley.

    I personally find it hard to believe it was anyone else.

    • Scribe (@scribe) said on 19th June 2010, 21:00

      I’ve never read this before but frankly I’m amazed, it’s amazing an independent series hadn’t been established years in advance. Max Mosley really was something special, hell bent on destroying the sport. Maybe because he sucked at it when he had his go.

    • Hamish said on 20th June 2010, 1:25

      For those that want Stoddarts non-diplomatic take on the matter:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bY7IdWpqYXI

      • Franton said on 20th June 2010, 9:27

        That’s priceless! Nice find!

      • BasCB said on 20th June 2010, 10:00

        This surely is amongst the most damaging episodes to F1 in all its history.

        We can probably all be glad, that Ferrari went with the FOTA last year, otherwise we would now be having a very satisfied Luca feeling good his 3 cars are winning from Williams, HRT, Virgin, Lotus, StepanGP, USF1 and Durango in the FIA Formula 1 world championship.

        While at the same time most fans would be following a FOTA world series with McLaren, Mercedes, Toyota, Red Bull, STR, Renault, maybe Force India and BMW-Sauber.

        Strange also, that a small bushfire conflict of power is going on right at the moment about tyres and Michelin again, with the teams, Bernie and Todt all in shifted positions.

  6. newnhamlea1 (@newnhamlea1) said on 19th June 2010, 17:01

    Yeah I dont blame michelin, at all. The tyre failures were their fault, but that was where it stopped. The Fia used this as an excuse to further their point that a single tyre supplier was needed, and did their utmost to ruin what could have been a perfectly good race.

  7. Alan said on 19th June 2010, 17:24

    The main reason this happened is the teams weren’t allowed to change tires. Unless they re-instated that rule, I don’t see it happening again.

    The biggest FU from that day was the fact that there was no indication that the teams were going to pull off after the formation lap. As a fan in the stands who had driven hundreds of miles and spent hundreds of dollars it left a really sour taste in our mouths (which we tried to erase with lots of beer).

    Overall I was very impressed by the behavior of the fans at the track that day, yes there were a few that threw beers on the track, but for the most part people were just utterly disappointed, heck we all love F1 and wanted to see a race. And I’ll never put Michelin tires on my car again. ;-)

    • Rob said on 21st June 2010, 10:29

      I seem to remember hearing that the teams wouldn’t race beforehand from TV, so if you and other fans in the stands weren’t told then you have to partly blame the FIA and/or the circuit operators for witholding information from you.

      Michelin tried to come up with a solution but Ferrari were totally committed to winning at all costs and found the perfect way by creating a race between themselves and the two slowest teams. If all the other teams were aware of the various solutions they put forward I somehow doubt that Jean Todt wouldn’t know about them just because Max didn’t personally inform him…

  8. Matt said on 19th June 2010, 17:27

    Would have been no problem to just put a chicane in on the banking and make all teams go through it. Instead, proposals to have some teams taking a drive through penalty every lap is ridiculous, as Keith rightly says, it would have as much advantage as pulling into the pits for good after the formation lap.

    No, instead of a nice chicane a slightly compromised circuit we get a farce of a race because the FIA, particularly at that time, were holding Ferrari’s pocket and doing their bidding and whatever could create the best result from then, instead of the fans.

    Hopefully things have changed and lessons have been learnt, but it’s possible that a new tyre manufacturer will have teething issues, especially as time is ticking for them to get the development rolling. F1 need to make a tyre decision, and now.

    • Franton said on 19th June 2010, 17:29

      Well they finally got rid of Max Mosley so that’s was a good start.

    • Spud said on 19th June 2010, 21:51

      because the FIA, particularly at that time, were holding Ferrari’s pocket and doing their bidding

      And what good did it do them. Sure they might have won the race but Renault still won both titles so it was a pointless exercise.

  9. Ryan said on 19th June 2010, 17:31

    I was there on that weekend. What a lot of people didn’t realize was that it was Father’s day weekend and a lot of people drove down cross country to see something which was unfamiliar to them, only to be greeted by a race that only had a third of the cars on the grid. It was a total joke and to think that as a business or society, they could have come up with a compromise.

  10. I fondly remember seeing clips of various chanels around the world reporting on it at the time, one reporter, from Finland I believe, asked the head of Bridgestone two questions, do you have enough tyres for every car on the grid – he answered yes, and would you supply eveyr car with your tyres for this one race, and he answered yes.

    So the reporter asked a third question, why isn’t that happening?

    His answer? Max Mosley won’t let us. I’ve never seen a camera pan away so quick in my life…

    • David BR said on 19th June 2010, 19:29

      Brilliant! There’s your answer to who was to blame. It would have been the obvious and simplest solution.

      If that’s true, that Bridgestone could and were willing to supply for the race, case closed for me.

      • Lachie said on 20th June 2010, 2:27

        I wonder though would it have been safe for the Michelin runners to use Bridgestones? We keep hearing this year that they kinda need to know the what the tyres will be asap as the cars are usually designed quite heavily around them. I don’t know a lot about it but is it possible that the Michelin cars could adversely affect the Bridgestone tyres?

        • BasCB said on 20th June 2010, 10:11

          I suppose, that this would have been a solution. Sure those cars would never have been able to get the most speed out of the tyres, but it would have been safe enough.

          It goes to show, how dirty the politics were. Mosley barred Bridgestone from helping, threatened the IMS management and indeed the whole of the American racing industry (and the teams as well), to block them having a go at doing some sort of race like thing with a chicane added to the circuit. An utter disgrace.

          We can only hope, that Todt is more skilled a politician (using tricks instead of bullying), the FOTA has more power and is really united and Bernie has not lost his touch and finds a good replacement for himself in years to come.

          • David BR said on 20th June 2010, 14:41

            I think in Mosley’s case it’s not so much a question of political skill as political objective: was his ever the interests of F1? Or simply to maintain power over the sport, because that’s really what he enjoyed, not – say – ensuring F1 didn’t enter into farce and disrepute with this kind of event at Indianapolis?

  11. poshus said on 19th June 2010, 17:43

    If this was an isolated incident of politics affecting the sport, it would be easy for those who run the show to make an excuse.
    But it isn’t an isolated case, and politics has reared its ugly head more and more every season. When will F1 be run by someone who has the sport at heart, instead of being run by those with their own personal power and financial standing being foremost in their minds.
    It reached the point last year where all I did was watch the races, and then ignore F1 news for 2 weeks until the next race. FOTA/FIA standoff, budget cap, Renaultgate, Hamiltons lies, and the Mclaren spy saga, just to name a few.

    Who can be bothered anymore?

    • Scribe (@scribe) said on 19th June 2010, 23:31

      Dude, start listening to the news again, it’s got so much better this year. Although tyres is back on the agenda, an provides a relavant backdrop to Keiths aniversary article, the controversy has capitulated to the racing brilliantly well.

  12. wasiF1 said on 19th June 2010, 17:48

    I still remember those pictures that only six cars were warming up their tyres in the last corner & the rest 14 were in the pit lane.I was so shocked that I screamed & called my mom & aunt so that they can see what I am seeing ( I thought that may be my eyes were playing tricks with me).

    It was a day full of shame for F1.I think that Michelin made a mistake OK human being can but Ferrari should have supported the idea of installing a chicane in the last corner which even team like Jordan & Minardi agreed dispite the fact that they were weaker team & they needed points more than anyone else.Ferrari founded an opportunity to win a race in a season when they shouldn’t have & they grabbed it with their both hands.

    Can anyone tell me when is the last time that Ferrari haven’t won a race in an entire season?

  13. poshus said on 19th June 2010, 18:02

    Yep, 1993. They didn’t win in 91 or 92 either.

  14. Bleu said on 19th June 2010, 18:04

    What I can recall there was a talk about that they can’t build chicane even if everyone would agree since teams would have needed practicing. Since the qualifying-fuel was in place it was little problematic. I could have understood if there had been two 15-minute sessions in spare cars – first for number one drivers and then for number twos.

    I agree with newnmanlea1 that Michelin was the one who was initially to blame, but what happened after that, the blame goes to elsewhere.

    Also, I think that USA was really the worst place for that kind of incident to happen.

    • BasCB said on 20th June 2010, 10:15

      Have a look at those interviews with Stoddard posted by Franton (and Hamish), all teams bar Ferrari (Todt did not join any meetings on the subject and tried to steer clear of being involved) had agreed on doing a race of a kind. Even to the extent of running a non championship race without Ferrari if needed.

  15. BBQ2 said on 19th June 2010, 18:11

    But given that Mosley never so much as asked Todt whether he would be happy with a chicane, it’s doubtful Todt could have made a difference.

    I would totally lay the blame on JT’s doorsteps :-( . He used his Veto right on Max and so he could do nothing. Max was just a lame duck in this case IMO.

    • bosyber said on 19th June 2010, 20:48

      Max was a lame duck that day by choice. He wanted it to be “out of his power” so that he could then install a single tire manufacturer, and to show teams they needed him to cooperate and sign the new Concorde agreement.

      SMF also made a big mistake, and I wonder if, had they called headquarters about it, Ferrari would not have rather held on to the important US market than win that race.

      The tires were faulty, but the public who payed a lot and drove from all over the country to come and see the race should have been given a race, somehow. It was possible, but not important enough for Mosley and the Ferrari team.

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