Did you catch that? We, as a racing-loving community, love to scream at the top of our lungs that Formula 1 is motorsport’s top category. Let me laugh! Hahaha! 14 years ago, F1 ruined its reputation and heritage for good when it hosted its own “race of shame”. A Grand Prix that should never had seen the light of the day.
Close your wee eyes, well just enough to keep on reading, and imagine a race where all the drivers are Grand Prix winners. Can you do it? Now imagine that, in this very same race, there are massive accidents, traitorous weather and so much overtaking that we don’t even know who’s leading!
Well, today, there won’t be any of that.
We’re in 2005. During those ancient times, Formula 1 was #blessed by the genius of Fernando Alonso, howling V10s, and an over-aggressive Juan Pablo Montoya.
And new regulations have bought a new freshness to Formula 1. You see, that year the International Federation of Automobile (FIA) has the brilliant idea to ban tyre change during races. No, you’re not dreaming, a tire set could last two whole hours AND still be competitive. By the way, Pirelli? You guys can take some notes…
Anyway, the game is changing and it favors Michelin big time. The French tyre manufacturer, which supply Renault and McLaren, keeps on winning while Ferrari and Japanese rival Bridgestone suck hard. We are finally witnessing the downfall of the Schumacher-Todt-Brawn-Byrne quartet, as well as fifth-wheeled Barrichello! Today, watching Ferrari lose is almost sad. But back then, it was quite tolerable.
INDY AIN’T PUNCTURE-PROOF
The ’05 United States Grand Prix starts off well, the usual stuff you know. Although drivers must face a hell of a racetrack: the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. ‘Tis the home of Mazzacane’s sole overtake in Formula 1 and home of the famous 500 Miles, a 220-mph-on-average race with 33 madmen behind the wheel. The whole thing is ran on an American oval type of circuit, with four banked corners. However in its Formula 1 configuration, Indianapolis only counts a single 9-degree curve, simply known as “the banking”.
If there’s a driver that isn’t looking forward to go back in the States, it’s Ralf Schumacher. A year earlier, the former Williams driver was victim of a sudden Michelin tyre failure on the middle of the banking. Ralf lost total control of his car and made heavy contact with the concrete wall. This accident knocks the German out for months. And it’s panic at the Williams HQ, the British team has to hire Marc Gené and Antonio Pizzonia as replacements… A shame.
This puncture sure worries us. Was it due to Michelin or to the extreme nature of this corner unique in Formula 1? To clear themselves of responsability, the USGP organisers decide to resurface this part of the track for 2005.
MISTAKES WERE MADE
But it turns out to be a disaster for Michelin! The manufacturer forgets to take into account the tarmac new parameters. The surface will be harder on the tyres. However the Michelin Man completely underestimates the new stress levels experienced on the banking!
And what was bound to happen, happened.
Friday, June the 17th, 2005. Free practice two. As cars were cruising on track, a Michelin tyre from the same Ralf Schumacher explodes on the banking. The German crashes once again against the wall, it’s a carbon copy of his 2004 accident! Fortunately, the world sighed with relief as it watched an unhurt Ralf get out of his Toyota by himself. Yet his weekend is already over. The German refuses to go back on track, he’s getting pretty tyred of Indianapolis… Get it?
It could have ended there. Except Ralf’s replacement, Brazilian driver Ricardo Zonta, also had a puncture in the same session! Michelin is clueless… All decisions made by the manufacturer turn out to be wrong. First, the tyres are analysed: there’s no manufacturing defects whatsoever. Then, they fly by plane a ton of spare tyres, “just in case”: all of them have the same characteristics as the old ones, and therefore the same risks of puncture.
At the end of the day, the terrible news is announced to the teams supplied by Michelin. Bibendum can no longer guarantee the reliabilty of its tyres beyond ten laps! 14 cars, i.e. 70% of the whole F1 field, are at stake right now.
DOWN WITH THE BANKING!
There’s an uproar in the paddock. We are a few hours away from the start of the race and Michelin has just dropped a bomb on everyone. Strangely enough, the ten F1 teams agree to work together and try to find a solution. Well actually, no, not really. Ferrari, a Bridgestone-supplied team, doesn’t really care about the Michelin teams and their struggles.
The FIA is quickly informed, mainly because it governs the event. Max Mosley, FIA president, first suggests the plaintifs to “go easy with the throttle” when approaching the banking. An interesting(?) idea, if we’re not talking about safety, however it’s rejected by the assembly. The team bosses would rather set up a tyre-built chicane in the middle of the gosh darn banking to slow the cars down in a safer way. But the idea in itself of multiple tyre walls in a 220 mph corner to slow everyone down isn’t very… clever.
It could have been a band-aid solution though. But the FIA retorts that the tracks it approves months in advance after careful inspections cannot be modified in a snap of a finger a few hours away from D-Day! To further highlight that Max Molsey ain’t nothing to mess with, the man says that if any part of the circuit were to be modified, the FIA officials would resign from their positions, thus making the race ineligible for the world championship!
MENACE II TEAM OWNERS
On Saturday afternoon, while the catfight between FIA and team principals goes on, cars are still on track for qualifying. No punctures to report, however another event disrupts the session, on a lighter note this time. Ralf Schumacher’s teammate Jarno Trulli clocks the fastest time. This means Toyota takes its first-ever Formula 1 pole position!
So maybe the tyres only explode because the Toyotas are particularly overpowered on this circuit? It could be… the truth is out there. Let’s look at the ’05 regulations: the quali lap must be done on a single attempt, with a race worth of fuel in the tank. But Jarno is Trulli smart. The Italian knew this Sunday was bound to differ from every other Sundays, so he qualified with an empty tank, making his car way more lighter – and faster – than the opposition!
The following events will show you guys that the Italian nose was more than right.
Meanwhile, the team bosses send the FIA packing and rather solve the situation by themselves. It doesn’t matter if the Grand Prix doesn’t count for the championship. After all, the principals could just fill the empty seats! Max Mosley’s ears are burning. The Brit is outraged and threats take on a whole new dimension: if the officials quit and the Grand Prix is considered as a non-championship event, it would jeopardise every single FIA-approved race in the US! And believe me, that’s a lot of races.
ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE
We’re on the edge of a diplomatic incident. On Sunday the 19th, when the clock strikes two, no agreement is yet to be found. But it’s too late… On the grid, the Michelin drivers make a sour face. Cars start their formation lap, Jarno Trulli is leading the field. But on the approach of the infamous banked and final corner, the 14 Michelin cars head straight to the pits to retire!
And the spectators don’t know what’s going on! No information filtered out between the first Toyota incident and the start of the race! Maybe Jarno knew but the crowd is Trulli clueless. The heart of billions of children breaks, just like Ralf’s tire did. And what about the Japanese spectators! It’s 4AM in Tokyo, they fought well against Morpheus and its terrible weapon, sleep, only to see this horrible scene on the telly!? Hell no. In the grandstands, the crowd roars its disappointment… Half-empty Bud Lights and genetically modified tomatoes pile up on the trackside.
You’re not mistaken. Six cars will race this afternoon. Six. Cars. And only two of them are F1 racecars.
This is crazy. Pure craziness. The “Michelin spots” on the grid are left empty. This means that the Ferraris of Schumacher and Barrichello, both well qualified, start more than 60 feet ahead of the “GP2s”: Jordan and Minardi.
THE (BRILLIANT) RACE
During 73 laps and 90 minutes of pure torture, only six cars race. Some choose not to broadcast this farce, that is the case with France. Channel TF1 hands back its microphone on the first lap… But it could have been way worse. See, when the lights go out, the Toyota (again!) engine of Jordan driver Narain Karthikeyan almost snaps! Too much emotion…
You guessed it, Michael Schumacher wins the United Shame Grand Prix, maybe the hardest race of his career (next to the 2002 Austrian GP). Original wingman Rubens Barrichello is second, of course. But surprise surprise, Tiago Monteiro puts his Jordan on the podium, the last one for Eddie J.! I have doubts about them celebrating it properly though. Yet both Ferrari drivers pout on the podium whereas Monteiro is so happy he jumps everywhere… like… chill, man. Where’s the merit in all this?? I swear to Senna go see this on YouTube, it’s surreal.
STODDART GETS INVOLVED
To everyone’s surprise, both Minardis of Patrick Friesacher & Christijan Albers, who started last, finish last. Still, they grab seven well-undeserved points. Paul Stoddart, leader of a team on its deathbed since 1985, is over the moon!
“I’m not a slighest bit interested [about the points]. This is the saddest day in Formula 1 racing history. We had an opportunity to race here this afternoon. It was denied by the non-approval of putting in a chicane. The Michelin runners have my sympathy. And the only reason my cars are out there, it’s because the Jordans went out.
I can’t do anything, I’m a Bridgestone runner. I don’t take any pleasure in this. This is not a race, it’s a farce! My apologies go out to the fans that are here today and to the millions and millions of people watching this on TV around the world. This is why Formula 1 needs to be a sport… This is fucking crazy. The FIA needs to get a grip with itself and sort this sport out before there’s no fucking sport to sort out. This, today, is bullshit.
Nine teams, forget Ferrari, had actually decided before this race that unless that chicane is put in, we wouldn’t race. And now there’s three teams competing out there. We should’ve all been out there, we should’ve all been taking part in the race. It was Max Mosley who said that they wouldn’t put the chicane in. He said that in a telephone call with all the team principals, bar Todt, in the room.
The championship is over for Minardi. We were only fighting Jordan. This bullshit race is meant that the season finishes here. We can’t ever overtake the points from today. You know? It’s over. This farce just not only screwed the Michelin runners, it screwed up the fight between Minardi and Jordan that was getting quite good.”
[NB: Both teams are really bad and never have scored points before this race. Now Jordan leads Minardi by four points, four months before the season ends. Jordan is now sure to finish ahead of its main rival.]
Formula 1 can and should be embarrassed. No need to look for culprits, the harm has been done. Why didn’t the FIA just cancel the event? Or why didn’t they postpone the race to a date when Michelin could provide “safe” tyres? Just… why?
After the race, the FIA continues to make a fool of itself and fines the 7 Michelin teams as they’re found guilty of three charges:
- failing to provide suitable tyres
- failing to take part of the race
- and bringing the championship into disrepute!
Would you believe that? A month later though, the Motorsport World Council backpedals and fines are cancelled. McLaren director Ron Dennis and Red Bull director Christian Horner beat the case by stating the following: if everyone had taken the green flag and a fatal accident had occurred, the state of Indiana would have not hesitated to sue Formula 1 for manslaughter!
This US Grand Prix will have huge consequences for many actors. While interviewed at Indy, Bernie Ecclestone, basically F1’s Scrooge McDuck, pronounced those prophetic words: “The future in Formula 1 is not bright for Indianapolis and Michelin”. As a result, the American Speedway disappeared from the calendar in 2007 and the Michelin Man, which got itself a fantastic publicity stunt, pulled the plug at the end of 2006.
Finally, the garbage one-tyre-set-per-race rule was thrown away at the end of the year. Never again would we see tyres suddenly explode on the F1 circuits… Oh no, wait, it seems that Pirelli still master to this day this French savoir-faire!