Fiasco in F1 caused by politics
Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist
A couple of weeks ago I commented in this space on the state and future of Formula 1 racing.
The subject was the technology used in the sport and a proposal to rein it in. Well, as last Sunday’s fiasco at the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis demonstrated, politics is a far greater force than technology in F1 (and in many other human endeavors, but don’t get me started on Yucca Mountain).
All but one of the teams proposed and agreed to a couple of compromises that would have allowed the race to be run with a full complement of competitors. However, Ferrari and the sanctioning body, the FIA, refused to go along. Hence the fans were cheated of the spectacle they had paid good money to see, and Michael Schumacher got his first win of the season, albeit a tainted one.
But although Ferrari and the FIA drove the final nail into the race’s coffin, there was plenty of blame to go around. Tire manufacturer Michelin, who declared its tires to be unsafe on the high-speed banked turn of the Indy F1 course after two practice accidents, had passed on a chance to test tires at Indy earlier.
Had it done so, the problems could have been discovered and a redesign accomplished well before the race. And although I am not a fan of Indy emperor Tony George, I have to hold the Speedway blameless in this instance. It had no control over the machinations of the other parties.
The seven teams involved in the boycott have been summoned to meet with FIA officials on June 29, charged with several offenses under the sanctioning body’s regulations. Penalties could include an order to reimburse race fans at Indy for their tickets, a cumulative fine of $16 million. That’s over $2 million per team – not a major portion of a modern F1 team’s budget but significant nonetheless. Interestingly enough it is the teams, and not Michelin Tire Company, that are being called on the carpet by the FIA. (Late breaking news: Michelin may be on the hook for ticket refunds).
FIA President Max Mosley issued a “Q & A” press release on Wednesday, basically absolving the sanctioning body of any blame in the situation. The spin doctors had obviously been burning the midnight oil over this one. I don’t even begin to have the space here to deal with all of Mr. Mosley’s convoluted logic, but if you are interested, go to http://www.fia.com/mediacentre/Press_Releases/FIA_Sport/2005/June/220605-01.htm on the Internet and read if for yourself. For self-serving blather, it rivals anything coming out of Washington, D.C.
Today is probably my favorite Nextel Cup race of the season, the road course race at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma. Although I’ve been to a number of tracks that the Cup cars race on, this one is my “home track,” where I have a fair number of racing laps under my belt.
For me, watching the Nextel Cup guys there is like a recreational softball player watching the New York Yankees take to the local diamond. Road racing veteran Boris Said, this year a NASCAR semi-regular, noted that Infineon is unique in that there are no real straightaways, which gives a driver no time to relax.
“The whole track is just constant off camber, uphill, downhill, very fast esses, where if you lose concentration, you’re in trouble. You’re probably going off the road,” noted Said.
Remembering my racing days at the track, I can add a hearty “Amen.” Said also noted that when he first raced in Cup as a road course “ringer,” the competition wasn’t as close. Now, with the “Chase for the Cup” format, each of the first 26 races in the season takes on more importance, so teams have stepped up their game.
Watch for a couple of other changes at Infineon today. Scott Pruett, another road course expert, will be driving a Dodge for Chip Ganassi, while Ron Fellows trades in his Lemans Corvette for the No. 32 Tide ride. Former Trans-Am champion Brian Simo will wheel a Richard Childress Chevy, and Terry Labonte will have a one-off ride with Joe Gibbs Racing, replacing Jason Leffler. These guys all have good, competitive rides, and we might just see a surprise winner this afternoon.