I can’t believe what happened today with the US Grand Prix, there’s nothing Grand about it, and despite what they would like to think the FIA have a hell of a lot to answer for. Due to inaction, mismanagement, egos, private agendas and who knows what else, the farce was allowed to continue to the finish line of one of the most embarrassing and shameful events of Motorsport I’ve ever seen.
It’s pretty simple what happened, and it was easy to see at an early stage that there was a complete impasse and that someone had to have the balls to take control of the situation and sort it out. After all, not only would there be a bunch of disgruntled sponsors, but there’s something out there the FIA seem to have forgotten about, the fans. Those would be the people who pay to turn up at the events, purchase all that merchandising and sit at home watching the TV and sitting through those adverts, in short, the people who make it possible for you to earn all that money.
So what happened at the GP? Well it’s pretty simple.
- During practice and qualifying Michelin tyres experienced blowouts causing accidents
- Michelin worked until 6am race morning to find the problem
- Michelin could not source the problem, just that it could occur at high speeds, particularly on the high banking last corner and could not guarantee their reliability
- Michelin informed all teams that they could not race with these tyres due to safety
- Michelin informed the FIA an suggested a possible solution in the form of an additional chicane to slow the fast corner
- FIA stated that as per the rules Michelin should have provided a second set of tyres and that a new chicane would not be installed
- Due to fears for the safety of the drivers and other people at the track, the teams could not allow them to continue to race
When you look at the letters between Michelin and the FIA (available on the FIA website) it’s very clear that the FIA have just stood back and said these are the rules, tough luck, abide by them.
That’s an interesting position to take if you realise that the competitors in your sport are looking at an moving to an alternative competition with an alternative governing body, and that there is another World GP series starting up in the background. However there’s something more important than the teams and the series, and these are the people that allow the FIA and all the teams in F1 to make money, those are the fans. The fans at the track that day and at home watching on TV.
Surely there’s a case that they should have done something to make the race work for the fans, to give them what they’ve paid and are tuning into watch through the adverts for.
So why couldn’t the teams go out and race? Well they had the option to with the possibility of tyre explosion around ten laps or so on that banked turn. The FIA suggested that Michelin should tell their teams what top speed would be and they would stick to them.
That’s a great suggestion isn’t it? How much of a race would that turn out to be? Everyone but three teams would have a limited top speed? That’s not a race at all, and as some of those involved in F1 said during the race it wouldn’t be safe either. Full speed F1 cars careering around the fastest corner on the track, and indeed all of the tracks in F1, and encountering a group of cars travelling at their “safely assigned” speed? Just an accident waiting to happen.
That was it from the FIA, those people who govern F1 and make the racing happen, or not as the case may be.
There’s still the question of why the teams couldn’t race. Well with their tyre supplier saying that the first set of tyres they supplied was dangerous and they couldn’t support them there comes a problem of liability. If a crash were to happen and a driver was harmed or killed, or a Marshal, or even worse a spectator, the liability lies with the team, or even the driver. Those people who decided to race despite knowing that the safety and peoples lives were in danger. Lawsuits galore, corporate manslaughter, all sorts.
Michelin seemed to have the most sensible suggestion in their letter from earlier in the weekend, and coupled with the agreement from all the teams some fourty minutes before the race, this seemed the most sensible approach.
Let all the Michelin teams race behind the Bridgestone teams, even ensure that they gained no points for the race, but institute a new chicane on that fast speed banked corner to slow everyone down to the same pace. That removes the tyre safety issue and keeps the racing aspect, they’d all still be on a level playing field, and really racing for the audience.
However that was not to be, and the FIA would not budge. It was at that point that the teams decided since they couldn’t afford to take the risk of letting their cars out racing, that they would have to pull their cars into the pits and try and avoid any possible accidents and liabilities. Seems sensible to me, perhaps the FIA preferred the idea of a faked race, or corporate manslaughter on the track.
It made it much worse that no one had told the huge crowds waiting in the stands what had been happening throughout the weekend or on the day itself. As Martin Brundle said from the ITV commentary,
why couldn’t they have sorted this out last night? They knew all the issues then. I was particularly proud of Mr Brundle when he grabbed Bernie Ecclestone on the grid and badgered him for answers, he looked as pissed off as any of the fans were, and his comments when Michael Schumacher went to the podium were classic and just what I was thinking,
If he does his victory leap I’ll go down there and punch him.
So Ferrari were due to be the only teams on the track, despite both Jordan and Minardi running with Bridgestone they had agreed that they would be pulling into the pits as well. However, since Jordan and Minardi are both fighting each other for points, they are the Ferrari and McLaren of the back of the grid, Jordan took the decision to go out on the track and race. After all, if they won points over Minardi, because they were stuck in the pits, then that’s a bonus for a share of next years money.
Minardi decided that they would have to race, they couldn’t afford to loose all those points against Jordan when they are struggling for so much cash as it is. Paul Stoddart was a hero for speaking out as he did, saying that they had to race because Jordan went out and backed out on their agreement with the other teams.
As they all pulled into the pits Coulthard was heard to say over the radio that could the decision be his, and he was keen to go out racing.
Could there be any bigger mess?
Today the FIA are sticking to their guns and even taking all the teams that pulled into the pits to the Courts to chastise and penalise them. That’s a great idea FIA, the majority of teams think that the teams did the right thing under the circumstances and that you were wrong. The majority includes not only the teams that pulled in, but also Minardi. That’s everyone bar Jordan and Ferrari, and I’m sure Jordan will say they agreed but wanted the points advantage. So you’re going to stick to your guns and penalise the majority of the grid?
Despite all that they stick to the claim that it would have been unfair to slow down the race for the majority of cars because it would disadvantage the others, that being Ferrari.
F1 in the USA is dead. The FIA are adamant that they will punish those teams, destroy the spectator side of the sport, and pull money from those teams trying to race, penalise everyone bar Ferrari, generally kill F1 and hand it over to the one of the new series.
Update: 21/06/2005: Now the FIA are charging all these teams for five different instances of rule breaking, and the US fans have started their own lawsuits to reclaim their money. All the while famous and important figures in F1 are publicly speaking out against the FIA, Nigel Mansell and Jackie Stewart. Go for it FIA, hammer the nails away I look forward to the new racing series emerging triumphant.
Update: 24/06/2005: Over at ITV F1 they have a transcript of the conversation Martin Brundle had with Bernie Ecclestone on the grid walk before the GP, very interesting reading and shows that Martin is not only a great off the cuff interviewer but also that he has a real passion for the sport. Watching the interview was really interesting, and you could hear him getting angrier and more frustrated.
The quote I like the best from Ecclestone is
The incident’s not the fault of the teams, to be honest with you…What Michelin have said is that if they put a chicane in that corner then it would be OK, they could run. And it’s been decided not to put it in so that’s it.
That makes a lot of sense, is clear, blameless and pragmatic. However, that’s just a lot of talk in front of the camera, why didn’t he and people like Mosley pull their fingers out and find a pragmatic solution to it? Perhaps they want the teams punished, BAR Honda excluded for six months and the others on warning, after all they have already been looking to leave FIA’s twisted version of F1.