The year is 2005. Lewis Hamilton drives in Formula 3, Max Verstappen goes to primary school and Fernando Alonso fights for his first world title. It is also the year in which the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis ends in farce.
Beautiful weather, around a hundred thousand fans and a packed starting grid: all the ingredients for a successful weekend are present. The drivers are preparing for a challenging battle on both the winding infield circuit and part of the oval, where IndyCar and NASCAR make their presence felt.
But the positive atmosphere quickly disappears during free practice on Friday. During the afternoon session, Toyota driver Ralf Schumacher crashed badly due to an issue with the left rear tyre at Turn 13 - the banked curve to finish the lap. The German is no longer able to continue the race weekend; his place is taken by reserve driver Ricardo Zonta.
Several more incidents happen at the same corner, with only Michelin-tyred runners experiencing the issues. The French tyre manufacturer had tyres unable to cope with the demands of the track surface and loads exerted, though Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi are experiencing no issues with their Bridgestones.
Michelin decided to take a closer look at its tyres over the weekend and came to a shocking discovery: the quality of the tyres is not good enough to last the entire 73 laps.* With its tail between its legs, Michelin admits that it can only guarantee the safety of the drivers for only ten laps.
*In 2005, changing tires during a race was prohibited.
What follows is a race against time.
The seven teams with Michelin tyres are putting the lives of their drivers at risk if they send them onto the track on Sunday. One possible solution is to fly over new, safer tyres, but the FIA rejects this.
The idea of inserting a chicane at Turn 13 and thus reducing the speed in the bend is also nullified by the FIA. F1's governing body gives the teams two choices: either let the drivers slow down in Turn 13 or make a pit stop every ten laps, in spite of that year's regulation.
Little by little, the debacle turns into a major soap opera. Only Jordan and Minardi are willing to agree to any changes to the track. Ferrari team principal Jean Todt stands firm and refuses to agree to the proposal. The same goes for FIA president Max Mosley.
Later, all the team bosses come together, except for Todt. The F1 personalities discuss three alternative solutions:
- A race that does not count towards the championship;
- A race where all Michelin drivers take the chicane and the Bridgestone drivers don't;
- A race in which the Michelin drivers cannot score points.
All three ideas then find their Waterloo and that the start of the race is approaching without a solution.
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The result? Thousands of American fans in the grandstands and millions of TV viewers are presented with an embarrassing display.
All twenty drivers will start their warm-up lap, but only six take to the start: Ferrari's Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, Jordan's Tiago Monteiro and Narain Karthikeyan and Minardi's Christijan Albers and Patrick Friesacher. The rest of the drivers dive into the pit lane at the end of the formation lap and then park their cars and do not participate in the race.
During the starting procedure, the engine noise is drowned out by boos from the crowd. Schumacher would go on to claim the only Ferrari victory of the season, Monteiro scored his first and only F1 podium finish and Christijan Albers clinched points for the first and only time in his Formula 1 career.
FOM and the FIA have learned from the situation and during a similar situation during the Qatar GP weekend just passed, they managed to prevent such a doomsday scenario, instead implementing a compromise to ensure a safe running of the race.