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

Comment

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.

Comment


Browse all comment articles

Advert | Go Ad-free

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

  1. SoLiDG (@solidg) said on 19th June 2010, 23:24

    That was just incredible.
    That they couldn’t find a way to race (well max’s fault).

    I must say I just loved Paul Stoddart, he loved F1 and did everything for the good of the sport.

    I do remember when he sold Minardi, he needed to be sure it was in good hands.. and so he sold it to red bull.
    A good sale wich was good for the team!

  2. newnhamlea1 said on 19th June 2010, 23:58

    after trawling through the internet for hours now, i have managed to find a full video of the race, will upload it onto megaupload later if anybody here is interested.

  3. The ferrari’s suck that year so they probably so no because they knew they would get a free win.

  4. Ultimately, the buck stopped with S&Max. The others were all just bit players in this saga. But isn’t it interesting to speculate what Todt will do as FIA pres if faced with something similar in the future?

    • BasCB said on 20th June 2010, 10:41

      Well he is messing up a little bit in the current tyre situation.
      After (reported by Joe Saward and Adam Cooper) agreeing with Michelin without even asking Bernie and the teams, Bernie brought in Cooper/Avon then the teams started talking to Bridgestone again and got offers from both Michelin and Pirelli. Now Todt is struggling to accept his only position now is to accept what the FOTA and FOM agreed.

      Seems the FIA president lost a lot of power, maybe now the FOTA and Bernie would call his bluff and go ahead with a non championship race if needed.

  5. Daniel said on 20th June 2010, 1:32

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

    Strongly disagree. This was one of the few occasions when modern F1 preserved the sanctity of motor racing. The course is known in advance, the competitors fashion all facets of their vehicles to meet the requirements of the course. That is motor racing.

    Changing the course without the agreement of everyone would have been a farce. Ferrari were right to refuse to change anything as a change would have negated their advantage. The team that has built their car to the specifications of the course deserves the glory as well as the points. So the solution for no championship points for the majority of the teams doesn’t fly either.

    If the situation had occurred in reverse, with Bridgestone bringing the bad tyres, nobody would have complained anywhere near as much if those 3 teams had not raced.

    If a control part fails then it is right to find an alternate solution, but the two tyre manufacturers were competitors, it isn’t right to change the rules to suit one of them mid-event.

    • BasCB said on 20th June 2010, 10:43

      But even Bridgestone was willing to help (supply tyres to the Michelin teams for this event) but Mosley forbade them.

      Hardly sanity.

      Have a look at the comments from all people posting here who were present in Indy 2005. Can you really and honestly feel this was the right solution?

    • bosyber said on 20th June 2010, 12:10

      Negated their advantage? The Michelin teams were agreed that they would not be able to get points for this race if a way was found to allow them to take part without savety risks, and without making it silly.

      As for solutions: Bridgestone was willing to supply tires if the chicane was not agreed upon, but they were not allowed to by FIA.

      Were you watching that race? I saw only a few races that season, but that one I wish I could forget.

      • Daniel said on 20th June 2010, 12:39

        I’d have been fine with Bridgestone supplying tyres to the other teams.

        As far as the spectators go, that’s the risk with paying to watch sport. It is sport and not entertainment you are paying to see. And in sport things can’t be neatly scripted, the rule book must be respected first.

  6. There are some incredibly smart people in Formula One so it’s disgraceful that no sensible solution was found at Indy in ’05. Having said that, I don’t think a chicane was necessarily the best option. The FIA spends a lot of time on circuit safety, and their inspection and accreditation process is highly detailed. It’s not just a case of saying “that looks safe, so it must be OK”. Building a chicane with a wall of tyres at the very last minute without any of the regular due diligence taking place was not ideal on safety grounds.

    I know that a ‘quick fix’ chicane was implemented at Barcelona in 1994, but the sport’s safety standards had improved a lot since then. I think the FIA could have done a lot more at Indy, but I can understand why they were hesitant to add a new corner to the circuit just hours before the race when they had gone to so much effort to make the venue safe in the first place.

    It’s no excuse for the F1 community failing to find a compromise though.

    • Tom M in Australia said on 21st June 2010, 2:45

      I agree, a tire chicane was not a viable option. The FIA would have undermined all the (excellent) work they had done on safety up to that point if they allowed a chicane to be build. Mosley was right not to permit any track changes.

      The best option, in my opinion, was to allow Bridgestone to supply all teams. The Michelin teams would have been at a disadvantage being on unfamiliar rubber, but they would have been safe. Ferrari could have no cause for argument (the deal between Bridgestone and the other teams would have been nothing to do with them). Easy!

  7. Brakius said on 20th June 2010, 4:39

    I was there that year, as I was every year before and after. Grew up right outside of Indy, always been a very special place to me, and when F1 decided to return I was thrilled. The chance for me to see and hear modern day F1 cars on a track I love was more thrilling than any F1 race that was put on there. They were never one of the most spectacular races, but it was a race I could get to and experience F1 in person. So for me to be there alone was something I’ll always cherish.

    However, I’m not sure what most beieve to be the best solution would have been appropriate. A chicane in the final turn? The track was boring outside of that long stretch of full throttle. It was also the only place you’d come close to seeing what a lot of readers here would like to see and that’s an F1 race on an oval. Why take away the one corner that set it apart from every other track? I know there are a lot of great corners around Spa, but would you like to see Eau Rouge, Pouhan, or Blanchimont taken out or dummied down because of a flaw in the car or tire construction?

    These are the things that made F1 great to me. It is not a spec series, different teams will be better suited for different tracks and environments. The problem was with tires, but before that the ultimate problem was the ridiculous rules at the time. I believe that unless testing is done on a track, nothing (especially tire choice of all things) should be determined before Friday practice. Nothing else is set in stone, they have a good idea of downforce levels and the like, but it’s all changed accordingly during practice sessions.

    Poorly written rules made for a poorly executed race, I’m just glad there was no chicane installed.

  8. yes michelin were to fault as quite rightly the corner had been there for years? but ferrari and mad max were sucking up to each other and that is why I didnt want Todt as fia president – we need more than one tyre supplier in F1 it improves competition or why not just have one car builder and engine supplier it makes economic sense – mad max’s point not mine – ps it works for Le Mans why not F1?

    • Brakius said on 20th June 2010, 5:51

      I think I’ve seen better competition with one supplier than two, especially in the last 12 years, only exception being 2003.

  9. Rob Roy said on 20th June 2010, 12:09

    I think I’m the only person who thinks that what happened was the only plausible solution.

    If it had been Bridgestone who had the problem, would the seven Michelen teams have bent over backwards to include the three Bridgestone teams in the race? HA HA HA!

    You cannot redesign an F1 circuit in a weekend, even if all the teams agree to it, there is a procedure that it has to go through.

    The FIA is not a small body, even if all the teams and the FIA president agree, it doesn’t make the bending of the rules legal.

    You can can blame Ferrari, Jean Todt, Max Mosley or whom ever you like. Three teams had the equipment to race, seven did not. Those seven tried to get everybody to agree to a number of proposals which would have been possibly illegal and unenforceable or even dangerous as a way to shift the blame.

    At the end of the day one tire manufacturer and seven teams decided not to go around a track 48 times fast or slow, in any manner whatsoever but within the rules and instead chose to withdraw altogether and in fact succedeed in making many people believe that their choice was the fault of others.

    • bosyber said on 20th June 2010, 12:15

      But Bridgestone could have given them tires to allow them to race, and the agreed already that they would not be getting points regardless.

      From a sporting perspective you could say: well, rules are rules, even if they make little sense. And that is legally correct. But legal is not always right.

      • Rob Roy said on 20th June 2010, 23:27

        “legal is not always right”
        I agree wholeheartedly with that statement but the question is who gets to choose which rules get broken, why, when and by whom? As soon as you do you open a can of worms, I don’t believe it was necessary to do so.

        There were workable solutions but instead of showing contrition and accepting the situation with dignity the Michelin shod teams chose to go on the offensive and demand that things be changed to suit them.

        The 2005 USA F1 GP was a sad race, I actually watched the whole thing live, at 3 am here in AUS.

    • Franton said on 20th June 2010, 20:11

      Yes you are, because there has already been precedence in F1 for last minute circuit modifications: the 1994 Spanish GP where they installed a temporary tyre chicane at the “Nissan” corner.

      • Rob Roy said on 20th June 2010, 23:14

        There was nothing wrong with the track! Therefore the track should not need to be changed, especially the most unique corner (banked turn) on the 2005 calendar!
        Why should the teams that had the equipment to race be penalised?

        Again, I repeat, this nonsense would not have been proposed if the shoe was on the other foot, 3 Bridgestone runners with the problem.

        The Michelin runners were arrogant and hard headed and wanted a fight with the FIA. The fact that Michelin went as far as it did to restitute spectators goes to show its guilt.

  10. gaz said on 20th June 2010, 12:43

    the “show” has come a long way in 5 years!

  11. Five years on and the ego riddled decisions of Mosley continue to haunt us all.

    Here’s hoping Todt stays the steady course he has navigated to date.

  12. Chaz (@chaz) said on 20th June 2010, 15:56

    I certainly hope the FIA has since amended the rules to give itself the power and authority make alterations to a race track over a race weekend in the event of safety concerns.

    I still think its high time the contracts and money distribution need to be renegotiated and more fairly dispensed between all teams. Ferrari’s veto must be immediately repealed and it should be written into the FIA constitution that this can never be allowed or permitted to ever happen again regardless of the circumstances. And if the cancer that is Ferrari object, then they are free to leave with no refunds. In that event I suspect they would be back sooner rather than later once the Italian temperament calms itself as I think they know very well that they need F1 more than F1 need them, as has been shown of late.

  13. DaveW said on 21st June 2010, 1:10

    Nothing to say but terrific, well-organized piece, Keith.

  14. Dillon said on 21st June 2010, 4:08

    If there had been any data available on things like G loading I’m sure Michelin could have come up a proper tire. Oh, wait.

    Now I’m hardly one to defending ovals (real race cars turn right) but I don’t seem to recall the IRL or CART having tire problems on ovals nor did I notice any Bridgestone problems.

    • Rob said on 22nd June 2010, 9:20

      Bridgestone own Firestone, who produced tyres for American series, and thus they had a massive amount of testing data from the circuit to help produce their tyres, which Michelin did not. If Bridgestone had not produced a safe tyre for Indianapolis then they shouldn’t have been in business!

      • Gman said on 23rd June 2010, 1:40

        Yeah, true that Firestone supplies tires for the IndyCar series. But remember that IndyCars run through that corner going in the opposite direction, at higher speeds, using a spec car that is much different than an F1 car. All in all, I think that makes any data Bridgestone/Firestone may have had pretty useless when applied to F1.

  15. Ben Curly said on 21st June 2010, 10:47

    “Michelin found faults with six tyres tyres”.

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments must abide by the comment policy. Comments may be moderated.
Want to post off-topic? Head to the forum.
See the FAQ for more information.