So Sunday played host to one of the wierdest Grands Prix of my generation. After 3 days of wrangling over the Michelin tyres that weren’t able to take the pace (and two nasty accidents for Toyota), only 6 cars lined up on the grid for the start of the race. The crowd was stunned and quickly began booing the remaining competitors, throwing debris on the tracks and leaving the stadium. At one point, we were even informed that the riot police had been called.
So how did it happen?
Apparently Michelin only brought along one type of tyres (in contravention of the rules, which state that two different types of tyres for each GP), and these suffered some catastrophic failures on Friday, culminating in 2 bad accidents for Toyota. Ralf Schumacher had a near carbon copy of his 2004 accident, but was fortunate enough to walk away unharmed this time. He later complained of blurred vision and was taken for a precautionary check-up and was retired from the rest of the race weekend for his own safety. Michelin later stated that the tyres were not safe if used for more than 10 laps. So they decided to courier out new tyres for their teams, but there was no way to get them there before Saturday qualifying. They asked the FIA F1 Race Director if they could run with these new ones (again contravening the 2005 rules that state one set only for qualifying and practice) for the race only, but this was refused.
Next, Michelin and 9 of the teams (guess which red one didn’t agree!!) asked for the speed in turn 13 to be lowered, as this was the high speed turn where the tyres were most likely to give way. They suggested the incorporation of a chicane at turn 13, but again this was rejected by the FIA. Further correspondence was met with a final statement from the FIA – the teams involved had three choices:
1) Your teams have a choice of running more slowly in Turn 12/13;
2) Running a tyre not used in qualifying (which would attract a penalty); or
3) Repeatedly changing a tyre (subject to valid safety reasons)
This meant that the drivers would have to regulate their own speed by taking turn 13 slower (and this would have led to higher risk as different teams would be approaching the turn at very different speeds), or they could have changed to the new tyre – but this would attract an unstated penalty (the rules do not state the specific penalty). Their final choice would have been to pit and change tyres every lap, but this was unfeasible as most teams would not have had enough tyres for 6 changes. And since the cars cannot be fueled at the same time as a tyre change, this would have led to a minimum of 8 pitstops per car (6 tyres plus min 2 fuel), which could have led to a very interesting race indeed!
In the end all cars turned out onto the grid for the parade lap. I spoke to a colleague who was in attendance and he said that a lot of the crowd “breathed a sign of relief” at this point, as they finally thought that they would be getting a race. The “boos” and jeers when the Michelin cars pulled into the pit lane at the end of the parade lap, were massive and the crowd was hugely disappointed. I have to ask, though, what was going through Trulli’s mind as the first car to pull into the pit lane “Will the rest of these guys follow me?”. Apparently the Jordan and Minardi teams had also agreed to join the race boycott, but the Jordans pulled onto their grid markings “forcing” the Minardi’s to join them (according to Stoddart!). And a 6 car race it was, except that not much racing went on after the first few laps…
This one is going to run for a while, but the next major development is that representatives of the seven Michelin teams have been summoned to a hearing of the FIA World Motor Sport Council to be held in Paris on Wednesday, June 29, 2005. An account of the charges against them can be found at the link below.
Despite all the wrangling, no compromise could be reached…
and only 6 cars started the race.