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STEWART WEIR: F1asco in US was down to Michelin men.

Byline: STEWART WEIR

IT had everything - drama, excitement, extraordinary manoeuvring, one-upmanship, gamesmanship and brinkmanship.

Then the green light went on for the US Grand Prix and it was a complete non-starter - except for six cars on Bridgestone tyres.

The problem was Michelin couldn't guarantee the safety of their tyres. They brought along two types of rubber - one that pushed levels of performance right to the limit and a second type that was about five per cent less effective.

Neither, as it transpired, were suitable for the abrasive nature of the Indiana Speedway track.

Bridgestone, on the other hand, brought along two tyre types - one for outright speed and the other a safe, reliable option.

Which was the one Ferrari, and ultimately Jordan and Minardi ran on. Where all the off-track fighting began was when the Michelin runners were asked to slow up on one particular part of the track.

But how slow was slow? Were they talking five or 15 or 50 miles per hour? That in itself would be a danger. Then the chicane idea was sounded, one being put in to slow all the cars down to a safe working speed so they could race. But that was penalising the Bridgestone teams who had the proper equipment.

Then there was a final option - the drivers could race if they wanted to, again uncertain about just what might happen to their dodgy tyres in a race.

A suggestion which many track-side and later in print believed would have saved the race and the face of F1.

So am I right in thinking that those same people who wanted the drivers to race would be happy if their local tyre fitter stuck on four, new black doughnuts on their Ford Focus and sent them on their way cautioning against talking any bends too fast as the tyres might collapse or deflate and kill them? Sure thing.

In the end, Michelin advised those shod in their wares not to compete. Blame for the fiasco on the grid being reduced by 14 cars has been levelled at Max Mosley, the FIA President, and at Ferrari management for not agreeing to the chicane idea.

And, of course, the experts were wheeled out in their dozens to give their opinions. Nigel Mansell said: "A compromise had to be found - a chicane being installed at that final fast corner, pure and simple."

Sir Jackie Stewart added: "I believe the US Grand Prix should have taken place in the proper way. For that to have happened, you would have needed a chicane in place. There was plenty of time to do that." And another knight, Stirling Moss said: "I cannot see why they could not put a chicane in. If Ferrari didn't like it they could have pulled out of the race."

But for so-called experts, isn't that missing the point? Ferrari were prepared for all eventualities. The other front-runners weren't. Why should they make concessions for everyone else?

And would Mansell, Moss and Stewart have been understanding towards the opposition had they still been pulling on a helmet to earn a living? No chance.

The blame rests squarely with Michelin, who were caught short on the rubber front, trying to push performance instead of reliability.

While teams, drivers, companies and governing bodies scrap it out, their legal departments have been trying to placate sponsors whose name wasn't seen at Indianapolis - other than on stationary cars.

Of course, those legal eagles would have been a whole lot busier had they been fighting claims for injury or, god-forbid, death had one of those tyres disintegrated and harmed either a driver, a marshal or a spectator.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 24, 2005
Words:608
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