I have been following Formula One now for a good number of years, and take pride in the professionalism of the sport. However, I must take a large bite of humble pie today.
The reason for my change in diet is down to the rediculous farce that occured at the US Grand Prix this weekend.
It all started when Ralf Schumacher had a big accident at the famous turn 13, where the cars are travelling at and beyond 200mph over the 9 degree banked curve. It was a smililar accident to last year, where Schumacher Junior suffered damaged vertebrae as a result. The blame then was put squarely on an ‘abnormal driver error’. Apparently, Ralf took a slightly different line into the entrance of the corner which compromised his exit onto the apron of the banking. The car was made unbalanced because of this, and everything ‘let go’.
This time however, Ralf suffered a tyre failure which catapulted his car into the barrier. Thankfully, he only suffered mild concussion. The doctors recommended he sit out the US meeting in fear of suffering concussion twice in 48 hours.
After the incident, Michelin, the tyre supplier to Toyota (whom Ralf drives for) launched an investigation into the causes of the failure. However, this investigation took time and no answer could be found prior to the start of the race.
Without knowing the true cause of the incident, and after looking at other Michelin tyres on other cars (which were in a similar condition to the Toyota’s), Michelin advised that the teams do not race with these tyres on this track.
Michelin, along with the 7 teams using them and the FIA (F1 Governing Body) started discussing what to do in order to enable the race to commence. Lots of ideas were thrown around, such as;
1. Allow ALL teams to change tyres, including Bridgestone shod cars.
2. Build a chicane at turn 13 to slow the speed of the cars through this part of the circuit.
3. Suggest that Michelin and/or all cars to slow down through this part of the course.
1. The FIA would not allow the teams to change tyres as this goes against the new regulations of 1 set of tyres for the race weekend. It also breaks other rules as well, but if ALL teams got to change tyres, then surely it is kept fair for all? At least, that’s my opinion anyway.
2. Building a chicane was considered unacceptable by the FIA and the Event organisers. It would be difficult to build admittedly, and the drivers would have had little chance to practise and gather data for this.
3. The third suggestion is completely wrong as well. How slow is ’slow’, and if the Bridgestone cars did not slow, then the consequences of having a full-speed car meeting a slow car is unthinkable.
Basically, the teams and the FIA could not agree and on the warm-up lap, all 14 Michelin-shod cars pealed off into the pit lane to retire. This left Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi (the only Bridgestone shod teams) to ‘race’. If you don’t want to know the result, look away now. Schumacher, Barrichello and Monteiro.
The US Grand Prix was a low point for Formula One. It has damaged F1, it has damaged Michelin, and it has damaged all those people who love the sport. The devoted fans who watch, travel to and actively involve themselves in the sport have been hurt and for some, this will be irreversable. I don’t blame the angry spectators who paid $85+ to be there who are now demanding a refund. I think the FIA should be picking up the bill for this.
Michelin have had their reputation damaged, Formula One has had its reputation damaged and the FIA need to seriously think how they run the sport. They cannot expect to get off lightly for this.
Whilst Michelin should be repremanded for this, I don’t think they are at blame for this. Not entirely anyway.
I firmly believe the the FIA should have beaten a compromise out of everyone on Saturday evening. Instead, they just stood firm and dismissed all suggestions to resolve the issue.
Formula One employees are some of the most intelligent people in the sporting world. Designers, tacticians, engineers and strategists. All are ’super-clever’ and don’t get to where they are without proving their worth. So why couldn’t these people sort this mess out?
I cannot blame the teams for retiring. If a part of the car in considered unsafe, or potentially unsafe, the drivers should never race. Safety is absolutely paramount, and no driver should ever take such a risk as they were posed with this weekend.
The stubbornness of the FIA caused this avoidable fiasco, and they are the ones who need to think long and hard about the shambles of the US Grand Prix.
Needless to say, Formula One in America is almost certainly over, and Michelin’s future in the sport is probably in serious jeopardy.
I told you the new tyre regulations were going to cause a fuss!
Let’s hope that this never occurs again, and that Formula One can recover and move forward. And I still think (Michelin or not) Raikkonen will win the title.