As the tire turns

The "as the tire turns" soap opera at the United States Grand Prix continues to unfold with letters hurled back and forth between FIA and Michelin operatives late Saturday and early Sunday. Copies of these correspondences were released by the...

The "as the tire turns" soap opera at the United States Grand Prix continues to unfold with letters hurled back and forth between FIA and Michelin operatives late Saturday and early Sunday.

Copies of these correspondences were released by the FIA to the media "in the interests of complete transparency" this morning.

On Saturday evening, Michelin addressed their concerns with Charlie Whiting, the FIA's race director and safety delegate in correspondence.

Michelin are still unable to find a "root cause" for the tire failures that occurred on Friday to the Panasonic Toyota team's cars for Ralf Schumacher and Ricardo Zonta (but not to pole man Jarno Trulli).

"The current rules and timescale do not permit the use of an alternative tire solution and the race must be performed with the qualifying tires," recognized the note penned by Pierre Dupasquier (motorsport director) and Nick Shorrock (director of F1 activities) for Michelin.

"Michelin has, in the sole interest of safety informed its partner teams that we do not have total assurance that all tires [that qualified] can be used unless the vehicle speed in turn 13 (the final corner where Ralf Schumacher crashed on Friday) can be reduced.

"Michelin very much regrets this situation but has taken this decision after careful consideration and in the best interests of safety at the event," Dupasquier and Shorrock continued, offering to "remain at your disposal if you want any further information."

Opening yet another can of worms, Michelin apparently would like to see speeds reduced at corner 13. How to effect such a change is now the root problem with the race less than five hours from its scheduled start.

In his reply this morning, Whiting relayed his surprise "that this difficulty has arisen." Each team, after all is allowed to bring two different types of tire to an event according to the covenant agreed upon prior to the start of the season.

The alternate tire compound is to "ensure that a back-up (usually of lower performance) is a available should problems occur," Whiting acknowledged. "It is hard to understand why you have not supplied your teams with such a tire given your years of experience at Indianapolis," he chided.

"That the teams [you supply] are not in possession of such a tire will also be a matter for the FIA to consider in due course under Article 151c of the International Sporting Code. The particular article examines breach of rules as: "Any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motor sport generally."

Whiting continued by addressing Michelin's advice to its teams: "No doubt you will inform your teams what is the maximum safe speed for their cars in Turn 13," Whiting stated. "We will remind them of the need to follow your advice for safety reasons. We will also ask them to ensure their cars do not obstruct other competitors."

Of course running a tire not used in qualifying would be an absolute rules breach "to be considered by the stewards. We believe the penalty would not be exclusion but would have to be heavy enough to ensure that no team was tempted to use qualifying tires in the future."

Whiting suggested a secondary possibility "for the relevant teams repeatedly to change the affected tire during the race." He noted Michelin have reminded their teams that the left rear is safe for a maximum of ten laps at full speed.

"If the technical delegate and the stewards were satisfied that each change was made because the tire would otherwise fail - thus for genuine safety reasons - and that the relevant team were not gaining an advantage, there would be no penalty," Whiting decreed.

"If this meant using tires additional to a teams' allocation, the stewards would consider all the circumstances in deciding what penalty, if any to apply."

Whiting was totally up in arms at the idea of placing a chicane in corner 13. "This is out of the question," he fumed. "To change the course in order to help some of the teams with a performance problem caused by their failure to bring suitable equipment to the race would be a breach of the rules and grossly unfair to those teams which have come to Indianapolis with the correct tires."

After receiving Whiting's response to their Saturday letter, Michelin again addressed Whiting with concerns after "our in-depth analysis from France and the USA confirmed the tires on which we have qualified" can not be guaranteed for "total safety of the drivers. As a result we reached the conclusion that we will not compete with these tires in the current configuration of the circuit. We therefore reiterate our request to have a significant reduction of vehicle speed in turn 12/13," Michelin asked.

Whiting angrily replied: "Your teams have a choice of running more slowly in Turn 12/13, running a tire not used in qualifying (which would attract a penalty) or repeatedly changing a tire (subject to valid safety reasons). It is for them to decide. We have nothing to add."

Apparently the FIA feels no need to suggest a solution to this problem but rather to chide Michelin for its negligence in not producing a proper compound to suit the reconfigured Indianapolis Motor Speedway circuit, which was completely resurfaced and re-grooved since Formula One was last here in June of 2004.

Incredibly, the bouncing letters were all addressed to Bernie Ecclestone and the involved teams but not to FIA president Max Mosley, who is responsible for the sporting code and the rules as they stand now.

In the interest of safety the correct solution this afternoon would be to permit - for this 73-lap race only - tire changes for all teams.

It would be a fair and equitable resolution to the problem at hand. The teams are prepared to effect such tire changes and, most likely both Bridgestone and Michelin have sufficient stock on hand to handle the demands of the ten teams involved.

The matter remains unsolved at the present time. Will Renault race on the rubber provided by supplier Michelin, despite managing director Flavio Briatore's comments to the contrary? Will this ninth race in a calendar of 19 events even be held?

As the Formula One circuit is indentured to its commercial partners, most likely the event will run as scheduled. But even that is not set in stone.

Stay tuned.

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jarno Trulli , Ralf Schumacher , Ricardo Zonta , Bernie Ecclestone