Infamous. That’s the only word that describes the US GP of 2005 when it comes up in conversation, both in the Sett and in general F1 chit-chat. It stands as a pillar of confusion and bad decision making that turned the sport on it’s head for an afternoon and sent it packing from America, a land rich with promise, a mere two years later.
It all started on the Friday afternoon, when Ralf Schumacher crashed spectacularly at the banked Turn 13. It wasn’t the first time Ralf had had issues with that specific corner, fracturing his back 12 months earlier driving for Williams. Again, the German had to miss the race thanks to injury, but it revealed an underlying problem with the Toyota’s Michelin tyres that became all to apparent after the session had finished.
For Saturday morning the Michelin teams were ordered by the company’s representatives to run the tyres at higher pressures, so they would flex less. While Jarno Trulli took pole for Toyota – their first ever – it soon became clear that the French tyre manufacturer was not able to guarantee that their tyres could safely complete a race distance. The cause was a manufacturing error and not a consequence of producing an overly soft compound to guarantee race pace. Schumacher’s failure occurred on only his first flying lap.
Ralf wasn’t the only case either. His replacement, Ricardo Zonta, also suffered a blow out, and it total there were eleven failures across the 7 customer teams. A resolution was needed, and fast.
And that’s when things got ridiculous.
Michelin and their teams all came up with proposals that would mean a race for the fans. Suggestions included a chicane installed at Turn 13 to slow the cars down, which then turned into a “Michelin only” chicane that only they would traverse. The option of the Bridgestone runners – Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi – starting at the front (as their tyres could last the distance) then became the strong favourite for a resolution.
Then Ferrari decided they wanted absolutely none of the negotiations, and declared themselves ready to race.
It was a media storm. Martin Brundle’s gridwalk turned into a media scrum when he nabbed Bernie Ecclestone.
Max Mosley, who many singled out as the main thorn in the negotiations, resorted to gibberish to explain the FIA’s stance of no compromise;
“To make the competitors in a downhill ski race with the correct skis run on a completely different course to suit those with the wrong skis would be contrary to basic sporting fairness.
“It would be like making all the athletes in a 100m sprint run barefoot because some had forgotten their shoes.”
Come race morning there was still no resolution. No-one knew what was going to happen for the Michelin teams, but the Bridgestone runners had made their minds up – Jordan broke ranks at the eleventh hour and decided to compete, while Minardi followed suit, both claiming they were fearful of FIA sanctions.
As the cars lined up, it was still uncertain exactly what was going to happen.
With 14 of the 20 cars pitting on the parade lap, it turned from a race to a Ferrari led demonstration. Even in the race itself, Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello pushed themselves to the very limit, with the German pushing Rubens onto the grass at Turn 1 after rejoining the track from his pitstop. No investigation was made, probably as the stewards were busy packing up their stuff.
The race finished with a Ferrari 1-2, and the fans that did stay to boo were treated to everyone involved with the Italian team making a quick exit, leaving third placed man Tiago Montiero to celebrate like he’d just won the World Championship.
Try as Tiago did, he was the only one with a smile of genuine joy on his face in Indianapolis that day. Fans were furious, promoters lost money and the sponsors slowly dried up to the point where the track held it’s last F1 race in 2007.
It’s taken five long years to return; fingers crossed Formula One is back in America for good.