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

  1. Andrew said on 19th June 2010, 18:47

    I was at the race. It was one of the most appalling letdowns of my life. The worst part was that those of us who were in the infield and couldn’t see the pit lane had no idea what was going on. The formation lap came by, then someone nearby with a radio said cars had gone into the pit lanes, and a little bit later the Ferraris, Jordans and Minardis came by. We were all in total shock. Obviously we knew the tires had been having problems, but we had no idea this was a possibility. My friends and I stood there in shock for a couple laps, before one of them said, “do you have any interest in this crap?” I said no, and we immediately left and drove ten hours back to North Carolina. We had gone to the Canadian GP the week before, which was great so overall it was still a good trip. But I’ll never forget the feeling when those six cars came by.

  2. David A said on 19th June 2010, 18:53

    Somehow I had a feeling that Ferrari would be blamed by most people here, as always…

    • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 19th June 2010, 19:14

      Out of interest, what events from 1999 (arbitrarily picking the Malaysian Grand Prix for the spoiler tactics, as much as I shamefully supported them as a 13-year-old) on would you say weren’t Ferrari’s fault?

    • Scribe (@scribe) said on 19th June 2010, 21:23

      Most people here are blaming Max Mosley, correctly, an yet why do you think might people blame Ferrari?

      Because they tried their hardest to ensure the race was a succsess? Because they were happy to accept the many compromises and solutions offered by the Michelin teams? It’s no good complaining about people who find Ferrari’s actions distasteful when there is great reason to belive Ferrari let what happen, happen for the points and third place.

  3. I don’t know exacly who to blame, but I know who to not blame: Ferrari. Although they rejected the chicane idea, Mosley was right when he said that if someone crashed and died on that chicane, an american judge would not listen to “the teams wanted a chicane”.
    However it was also true that in 1994 after Senna’s death a lot of temporary chicanes were placed, which were actually quite dangerous…

    • Scribe (@scribe) said on 19th June 2010, 21:24

      The GPDA was going to help build the chicane to ensure it’s saftey, it wouldn’t have been perfect but do you think it would have been lethal?

    • F1Yankee said on 19th June 2010, 21:41

      max was absolutely correct in not allowing an suddenly improvised, untested and uninsured chicane. max was absolutely incorrect in banning tire changes, and later for forcing tire changes.

      ultimately, i blame michelin alone for the failure of the event. to quote eddie jordan, of all people: “that turn has been there for 80 years.”

      • F1Yankee said on 19th June 2010, 21:43

        errr, 99 years, but you get the idea

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

          The turn had been there, but the tarmac was new. I remember other cars (for Indy 500?) had problems on the same tarmac that year as well, only avoided because they have training a couple of weeks before the race, thus allowing Firestone (a Bridgestone subsidiary) to bring different tyres to the race.

  4. Please bring F1 back to the Glen….http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvObnDflW7A&NR=1

    • MikeT said on 23rd June 2010, 1:48

      ABSOLUTELY!!! There was nothing like going to the Glen in the early fall in upstate NY!!

  5. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 19th June 2010, 19:22

    I blame Mosley first, Ferrari second, and Michelin last.

    It wasn’t as if Michelin intentionally brought rubbish tyres. And once the problem was discovered, they pushed for solutions no matter how detrimental to their own advantage.

    Ferrari have to bear some of the blame. Being the only team not to agree to a compromise despite even the minnows of Jordan and Minardi sacrificing a once-in-an-age opportunity, for the sake of saving face (and they couldn’t even do that right in the race) and not threatening their special relationship with the FIA at the time – these actions speak volumes.

    And then there was Mosley, who did nothing except engineer a situation to try and push his own agenda. As usual.

    • rampante (@rampante) said on 19th June 2010, 19:41

      What did Ferrari have to do with Michelin tyres? There was a battle between the two companies and Michelin got it wrong. What would have been said if they told their teams that it was safe to drive? If it was the other way round people would have been laughing at the Bridgestone teams and tyres. The only people to mess up the US GP for viewers and most importantly the fans were Michelin. If you went to a race and after paying whatever were told that cars will not be driving at full pace you would want your money back. Just imagine a 100 metre sprint and Bolt forgets his shoes, do you tell the rest to slow down?
      Go to Spa and find out that cars are not allowed to drive through eau rouge because another team can’t. It’s like saying in Turkey RBR are not to drive through turn 8 flat out because the rest can’t.

      • mvi said on 19th June 2010, 20:09

        Yes, Michelin got it wrong and they took responsibility. Fortunately they did not mislead the teams by claiming it was safe to drive while knowing otherwise. That would have been criminal.

        But the FIA had a chance to save the GP by saying yes to the solutions of putting in a chicane, or permitting the race to be a non-championship one. Mosley put his vanity ahead of the fans and said no to everything proposed. (He did have a few unworkable ideas of his own however.)

      • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 20th June 2010, 1:36

        I don’t even know where to begin with the false analogies.

        • wasiF1 said on 20th June 2010, 2:37

          One thing which the FIA could have done is to force all the Michelin runners to drive on Bridgestone tyres for that race only.

      • BasCB said on 20th June 2010, 10:26

        Rampante, i understand you are an avid Ferrari fan. Please read the account of events by Stoddard posted in the comments here and have a think about your stance on this.

        For the fans the best solution would have been to do the chicane (or maybe have all race on Bridgestones as someone comments Bridgestone would have had enough tyres for that).

        The Michelin teams would not have had any advantage from those solutions as they would not have been elegible for points. Only the Fans would have had a race of sorts instead of a farce.

        Ferrari’s win at all cost mentality under Todt and Schumi was part of the reason why it came to this debacle and what lost Ferrari fans and potential customers.

      • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 20th June 2010, 10:35

        Isn’t that a Mosley analogy you’ve borrowed there, Rampante?

  6. Xanathos said on 19th June 2010, 19:22

    Great article once again, Keith.

    But please, “Indygate”???
    The whole F1 press has developed the annoying habit of calling every little (or not-so-little) scandal whatever-gate, something I find absolutely ridiculous and annoying and I bet I’m not the only one.
    Please don’t jump on that particular bandwagon.

    If it was already called Indygate back in 2005, then ignore this comment, I wasn’t able to folow F1 that closely back then.

    • HounslowBusGarage (@hounslowbusgarage) said on 19th June 2010, 20:30

      Yes Keith. I thought you hated anything-gate, so why the volte face here?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 19th June 2010, 23:25

      Appropriately enough I’ve just enjoyed a quiet evening watching “All the President’s Men”.

      Actually I’d say it’s more than just the F1 press that has the habit of calling every scandal ‘something-gate’. Here in Britain (I’m not sure where you are!) we had ‘bigot-gate’ during our recent elections.

      And yes, I do try to steer clear of it but I dropped one in this time. Must try harder in future – thanks for keeping me honest!

      And yes, I think it was widely referred to as ‘Indygate’ at the time.

  7. newnhamlea1 (@newnhamlea1) said on 19th June 2010, 19:24

    does anybody know where i could watch the itv coverage of this race from 2005, i wasnt really that much of an f1 fan at that time and have for a few years now been interested to see how it played out on british tv.

  8. A terrible day for F1, can remember looking forward to this race especially with it being in the evening. Read about the tyre issues on the Saturday but thought it was probably an over reaction. The build up on ITV was strangely fascinating, i think it’s on youtube, as the rumours about what would happen circulated. The race itself was of course free of incident apart from the Ferrari’s nearly crashing! Tiago Monteiro celebrating on the podium was a funny moment as well

    • BasCB said on 20th June 2010, 10:30

      I remember it as well, i was sitting there nailbiting all morning and hoping / begging they would agree to some sort of solution.

      After the start i just sat in front of the TV feeling deflated and not wanting to watch any more. I spent the whole race explaining why i am so upset to my family.

      I was sure F1 would brake down after this, but to my amazement, Max was able to keep his bullying politics working for another 3 years before finally being ousted.

  9. Pedro Andrade said on 19th June 2010, 20:23

    I remember at the time I was angry at Ferrari for being the only team to say no to the alternatives, but now I think they did the right thing. Like rampante said, if the other teams screw up (or their tyre provider, whatever), why should Ferrari be penalised for that? The only reason Jordan and Minardi agreed to the chicane solution was because at that time F1 was very politically charged around the whole breakaway series, with only Ferrari by the FIA’s side.

    The pitlane drive-through solution is not as bad as you paint. Obviously it’s not as good as a normal race, and it would result in the Bridgestone cars in the top 6 as well (as they deserved), but at least it would provide a spectacle between the other drivers. At least there would be a race.

    Another solution would be to force all Michelin drivers to go for the pits every 10 laps or so. But the chicane would penalise the teams whose tyre suplier did a proper job preparing for the race.

    • David A said on 20th June 2010, 0:20

      “Like rampante said, if the other teams screw up (or their tyre provider, whatever), why should Ferrari be penalised for that?”

      Thank you Pedro and rampante.

    • Lachie said on 20th June 2010, 2:45

      I’m going to go out on a limb and blame American Motorsport for it’s incessant ovals and banked corners. ;)

      In all seriousness I can’t stand all the people who say it was unfair for Ferrari to put in a chicane or comply with any of the compromises.

      I think once the Michelin runners knew they couldnt race they pretty much sacrificed any opportunity to score points. With that understood it is then everyones responsibility to work out a solution that allows all cars to be on the track and fighting. The chicane allowed that, Mosely, Todt and Ferrari didn’t. A chicane would have still let McLaren, Renault and Ferrari duke it out with the understanding that only Ferrari would score. It’s as simple as that but egos and desperation for a Pyrrhic win in a winless season ruined it.

      Michelin is only as guilty for everything that happened as Gavrilo Princip is for every single death in WW1 (ok I wasn’t expecting my analogy to be THAT epic).

      • Lachie said on 20th June 2010, 2:46

        sigh, my comment was supposed to be in the main body of replies not at you specifically Pedro :(

  10. Alex Cooper said on 19th June 2010, 21:09

    I was at Le Mans that weekend, having just experienced one of the most tremendous weekends of motor racing I’ve watched. The contrast to what happened in the USF1 race was stark.

    Max Mosley played the teams that weekend to the cost of the sport. It never occured to him that the spectators and fans lost out more than anyone else.

  11. Robert McKay said on 19th June 2010, 21:12

    There was a sort of morbid fascination in the whole thing, though. From pretty much Friday we all knew there was a big, deep problem but with the politics of the day everyone was really locked into their own paths and noone could (or wanted to, in some cases) be the one to broker the solution.

    I take the point about NASCAR having problems all on Goodyears but I still think that not having a tyre war significantly reduces the potential for problems – simply by dint of removing the element of different factions.

    Having said that, the worrying thing is that the tyre situation for 2011 is taking FAR too long to sort out. The teams are pretty much sitting waiting to know who is getting the contract and what they will be producing and trying to build that into their designs for next seasons cars.

    Couple a late decision with limited testing and, yeah, you could easily have some sort of farce situations, especially if it’s Pirelli who get the gig (not because they’re not a capable company, simply that their F1 experience is not nearly as recent as Michelins).

  12. Jake Butler said on 19th June 2010, 22:31

    keith i noticed you missed one of the obvious comprimisies put forward by Paul Stoddart if my memory serves me right. He said ”Allow the Michelin teams to pit as often as needed, every 10 laps or so” 2005 was of course the season where tyre changing was prohibited unless a tyre was regarded ‘unfit to race’ such as a deflation or puncture etc. An example of other tyre problems in 05 would be Kimi Raikkonens last lap crash in Nurburgring , with the flat spotted tyre he recieved lapping Jacques Villeneuve’s Sauber that eventually blew. It was a shoddy rule and was rightly changed at the end of the year.

    So initially the problem was with the rules that strained the tyres….then a secondary issue developed: the Michelin Tyre deflating under load at T13 Indianapolis. It was an issue that needed dealing with and that weekend NOBODY should have been blamed there and then. The F1 world should have come to a compromise and i blame Jean Todt for not allowing that compromise. Its a painfully simple as that.

    • David A said on 20th June 2010, 0:17

      No, its as painfully simple as asking, why does Jean Todt and his team need to compromise just because two backmarker teams chose to? And why should his team suffer becuase of the mistakes of others?

      • Daniel said on 20th June 2010, 1:42

        I’m with you David, but actually Jake brings up possibly the only valid solution.

        The rules allowed tyres to be changed if they were ‘unfit to race’. The tyres were good for at least 10 laps or so. If Michelin were to be allowed to pit their cars as often as they needed to, technically the rules would be satisfied, the Bridgestone teams would have still come out on top. No problem.

        Ok, small problem that the manufacturers could have started making softer compounds all the time, and claimed that their stop for tyres half way through the race was because the softer tyre was ‘unfit to race’ after that distance. But all than needed to happen was for the FIA to issue a rules clarification that any tyre not designed with a full race distance in mind would not be permitted.

        • BasCB said on 20th June 2010, 10:36

          Problem with that is, Mosley did not want them to do that.
          Also as a Fan i am not sure i would have had more pleasure watching a lot of cars stopping every ten laps or so (and theres the risk, what if one of them tried to do a little bit longer on the tyres?).

          About the compromise for Ferrari. What kind of compromise are you implying. The same 3 Bridgestone teams would have been the only ones getting points anyway, even if the Michelin cars would have finished first -6th on track they would not have scored any points.

          • bosyber said on 20th June 2010, 12:01

            The only difference is that then Ferrari would maybe not have won in the race, their only win of the season, right?

            But wanting to win this race as it was done is, or should be, much worse. Now the history books will always say that the only reason Ferrari won that race is because there was no competition. Hence a Pyhrric victory. So yes, what did Ferrari really have to lose with a compromise? Nothing reasonable.

      • Joey-Poey said on 21st June 2010, 8:45

        Because perhaps giving 100,000+ fans and countless TV viewers a proper race is less selfish (and more important) than ensuring you get a few points and leaving your customers disgusted, deflated and upset. Their compromise would have meant a LOT more people could have been happy.

  13. chaostheory said on 19th June 2010, 22:49

    “Oh, its not todt, its Mosley” :P

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

  14. Jake Butler said on 19th June 2010, 23:09

    Todt could have stood by the other teams. at least that way, if 10 teams choose not to race then the FIA have to do something. Todt didnt care enough to even enter the room to talk to the FIA with the other 9 bosses…

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