Michael Schumacher chalked up win ...
Michael Schumacher chalked up win #84 this afternoon in what may be the final US Grand Prix held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He beat Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello to the flags by 1.522 seconds in one of the strangest F1 contests in modern history.
Only six drivers took the green flag and all six finished. Tiago Monteiro was a lap back in third with the first Jordan, taking his first podium in nine races but accruing nine finishes, quite an impressive feat. Monteiro became the first Portuguese driver in modern history to secure an F1 podium slot and he was followed by Indian teammate Narain Karthikeyan, also a lap back.
The brace of Minardi drivers, Christian Albers and Patrick Freisacher finished two laps back of the Ferrari duo.
The one item these six finishers have in common is that they all utilize Bridgestone tires. While all 20 qualified F1 cars made the formation lap prior to the green, the 14 Michelin drivers immediately retired to their garages as the six survivors lined up to face the starting lights.
After accidents on Friday afternoon by Ralf Schumacher and Ricardo Zonta, both of whom drive for Panasonic Toyota and use Michelin rubber, it was apparent the French tire constructor's choice of rubber for this race was inadequate. Still no solution was proposed until late yesterday evening when Michelin was unable to replicate the damage in their tests.
It was presumed the tire failures were due to insufficient pressures or, possibly due to improper camber settings on the two Toyotas, but this has not been proven.
Although Michelin attempted to effect safety changes to the circuit by adding a chicane in the final turn - where Schumacher's accident occurred for the second straight year - neither the FIA governing body, FOM supremo Bernie Ecclestone nor Scuderia Ferrari would consent to such an alteration.
For that reason Michelin advised its teams not to race, being unsure of their rear tires' acceptability for any duration over ten laps. The situation bordered on the absurd and prompted an all-skate press release from the affected seven teams:
"The Michelin teams deeply regret the position that they have been put in today and would like to apologise to all the spectators, TV viewers, Formula One fans and sponsors for not being able to take part in today's USA Grand Prix.
"Following Ralf Schumacher's accident on Friday morning, we were advised by Michelin that none of the tyres that were available to the teams could be used unless the vehicle speed in turn 13 was reduced. Without this Michelin did not consider the tyre to be safe to be used for the race.
"All the teams are confident in Michelin and trust their advice as we know they are competent and responsible and their written instruction to us not to race unless changes to the circuit were made was accepted.
"After final data from Michelin became available at 06.30 on Sunday morning it became clear that Michelin were not able to guarantee the safety of the drivers. Numerous discussions and meetings took place to find a safe solution to the problem.
"Every possibility for the race to go ahead in a safe manner was explored. The only practical solution was for a chicane to be installed prior to Turn 13 and nine of the teams were prepared to run under these conditions even forgoing championship points or by allowing non-Michelin teams to take top positions on the grid.
"Unfortunately all proposals were rejected by the FIA.
"Safety is always the first concern of any team and the FIA. Regrettably the teams were obliged to follow Michelin's requirements not to race.
"We are totally aware that the USA is an important market for Formula One and there is an obligation for Formula One to promote itself in a positive and professional manner. It is sad that we couldn't showcase Formula One in the manner we would have liked today."
The release was signed by principals from all seven Michelin-shod teams.
At the same time polesitters Panasonic Toyota had their own spin on the fiasco. "The Panasonic Toyota Racing team did not start today's US Grand Prix, returning to the pit lane after the formation lap as a precaution following the accidents suffered by Ralf Schumacher and Ricardo Zonta in Friday's practice session.
"The decision," the team declared, "was taken on the clear advice of Michelin, as they could not guarantee that such incidents would not re-occur in race conditions with this track configuration, particularly at Turn 13.
In the "race", Schumacher moved to a comfortable lead over Barrichello and held it as the Brazilian pitted on lap 24. Taking his own pit stop on the 26th lap, the German had his team take a long, hard look at his left rear tire (not change it, as earlier reported) and thereby fell behind his Brazilian teammate on exit.
They continued in this fashion with Barrichello pulling out three seconds on Schumacher before making his second stop on lap 49. On the 51st lap Schumacher pitted and rejoined, nearly colliding with Barrichello entering the first turn.
Barrichello slid to the grass after nearly missing the corner and returned to the circuit in second, where he remained for the duration of the "race".
There was no big celebration on the Indianapolis Victory podium but rather, a subdued trophy taking. The "win" marked Schumacher's fourth in six USGP starts and third consecutive. He joined A.J. Foyt Jr., Al Unser, Rick Mears and Jeff Gordon as four-time winners at the Brickyard.
"My emotions are very mixed," Schumacher acknowledged. "We had a very good car and we were very strong in practice. I think I might have been able to fight for the win (with a full field participating). To be frank it was out of our hands, but we didn't agree that the chicane was needed. It was not our position to agree."
Schumacher admitted he would not have raced had he been in the same position as the Michelin drivers but he was "sorry the other guys didn't show up. This is a tough business; we work very hard and we have to do what we're told by the team."
Barrichello, of course was disappointed not to finish first. It's not the first time he's had near contact with Schumacher on this very circuit, on that very corner and the Brazilian looked annoyed by his situation. "I knew we'd be very close and he was by my side," Rubens said. "It was very sad to see all the cars pull into the pits as in F1, we don't look very good already.
"We all work so hard and we showed tremendous pace in practice. We've still got problems in qualifying. I pushed quite a lot when I was leading early on and opened a gap but this the Ferrari team and it doesn't matter if I am happy or not."
Monteiro, the F1 rookie who spent the 2003 season in Champ Car with Emerson Fittipaldi and has very little racing experience compared to his competition "pushed a lot. I was concentrating on the race and pushed a lot when I became comfortable" with his pace. Our tires kept getting better and better as the race went on," Monteiro explained.
When the Jordan crew explained he was 40 seconds ahead of teammate Karthikeyan, "there was no reason to take risks," Monteiro shrugged. The fact that the rest of the grid didn't complete the race "can't diminish my pleasure and happiness." The podium was Jordan's first since Giancarlo Fisichella's 2003 victory in Brazil.
Karthikeyan, the first Indian driver in F1 stated, "These are my first Championship points in Formula One and it does not really matter how they come. Points are points. This is the first time an Indian driver has scored points in F1 so I am happy. My car was very reliable this weekend and I am very pleased with that," he exulted. Speaking for his two drivers, Minardi principal Paul Stoddart had this to say once the race was complete: "First of all, our sincere apologies to the race fans, both here and around the world for the farce that took place at Indianapolis this afternoon.
"Earlier on today," he explained, "nine of the 10 competing teams agreed that, in the interests of safety, a temporary chicane needed to be placed before the final turn and, unless that took place, the nine teams would not compete.
"This idea was rejected by FIA president Max Mosley and, in no uncertain terms, the teams were told that should this occur, there would be no race. This, in my opinion is clearly not in the interests of the sport, the American public or Formula One fans around the world.
"A solution that would have allowed the US Grand Prix to have proceeded unaffected today existed," Stoddart continued, "but was resisted by the FIA and not supported by Ferrari, who claimed it was not their problem."
With his win and his competitors' inactivity, Schumacher gained on point leader Fernando Alonso (59) and second placed Kimi Raikkonen (37), moving up with 34 points. Barrichello is fourth with 29 points and Trulli told 27 fifth place points. Nick Heidfeld lies sixth with 25 points, Mark Webber is seventh (22), Ralf Schumacher has 20 points, while Giancarlo Fisichella and David Coulthard are tied with 17 points each.
The contract for the United States Grand Prix ended with the checkered flag this afternoon. Ecclestone and Tony George had intended to discuss future plans through this weekend but with all the distractions that did not occur.
Ecclestone's blame to IMS could mean the end of F1 racing in the US for the foreseeable future and discount interest in Americans Scott Speed and other viable Formula One driving candidates.