Tyres in Formula 1: When the Wrong Choice Really Caused Chaos

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Tyres in Formula 1: When the Wrong Choice Really Caused Chaos
Clive Rose/Getty Images

At the Belgian Grand Prix, Red Bull ran a level of camber which was above the recommended levels causing severe tyre blistering. There were concerns that this could increase the chance of tyre failure and going around corners such as Eau Rouge or Blanchimont if the tyres did fail, there could have been a huge accident.

This season, tyres have been one of the major factors in both qualifying and the race. Pirelli have done a fine job this year in creating tyres that degrade and make drivers and teams think extensively about strategy. It has been one of the major factors this year in creating some great racing. In years gone by, the choice of tyres has been split between companies as well as compounds of tyre.

In the years gone by we have had tyre wars between Goodyear and Bridgestone, Michelin and Bridgestone and we have also had many other companies such as Avon, Dunlop, Englebert, Continental and Firestone. But now things are back under one banner.

But in 2005 we had both Bridgestone and Michelin providing tyres for Formula 1. With Bridgestone supplying tyres for Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi and Michelin providing tyres for Mclaren, Toyota, Renault, BAR Honda, Sauber, Red Bull and BMW Williams. The Bridgestone tyres were not as good during most of the races in 2005, not providing the same amount of grip as the Michelins.

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However, on one weekend the sport of Formula 1 became the laughing stock of the whole world. The weekend of the United States Grand Prix in 2005 will go down in history as one of the most bizarre, farcical and reputation-crushing in Formula 1's history. 

The whole saga began in Friday practice when Ralf Schumacher driving for Toyota had a left rear tyre failure going around the banking at turn 13. The nine-degree banking at turn 13 was unique to Formula 1 with no other track being used having such banking. Fortunately, Ralf did not suffer the same injuries that he suffered at the 2004 United States Grand Prix.  

However, Michelin began to study the tyres of Ralf Schumacher's Toyota as well as some of the other tyres being used by other teams. The tyres were found not to be able to withstand the loads being placed on them for anymore than a few laps perhaps able to do ten at most before they were at serious risk of tyre failure. 

Michelin began to look and see if they had any tyres that they could get across to Indianapolis that they could use that would be able to take the demands of the track. They didn't. Michelin immediately had to let both the teams and the FIA know that the tyres were simply too unsafe to be used under normal circumstance.

A number of suggestions were put forward in order to allow the Michelin teams to compete. The first of these was to install a tyre chicane at turn 13 to slow the cars down causing the load on the tyres to be reduced. A meeting between all the Michelin running teams and Paul Stoddart of Minardi and Colin Kolles of Jordan was organised. No Ferrari representative was asked to attend this meeting.

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At this meeting, the team principals agreed to place a chicane at turn 13 in an attempt to allow the Michelin teams to race. However, the FIA led by Max Mosley refused this idea saying that the track could not be altered. Bernie Eccelstone also did talk to Jean Todt about this idea and Todt said had he be consulted, he wouldn't of accepted this idea. The FIA stated that the installation of a chicane would have been 'grossly unfair' to the Bridgestone teams.

The idea that the FIA put forward was the idea of speed limiting the Michelin cars but this would have been highly dangerous. If a Bridgestone car was approaching a slow moving Michelin, then the chances of a very serious crash was too high.

Michelin weren't allowed to bring any new tyres in and Michelin could only guarantee safety for 10 laps, so without multiple pit stops there was no chance of Michelin runners being able to compete safely.

Other solutions were put forward in this meeting. The idea of making a chicane at turn 13 that only Michelin runners had to use was one idea, so was the plan of making it a non-championship race. The idea was if it was designated a non-championship race, then people wouldn't push as hard, but knowing racing drivers their competitive instincts would take over, so it was turned down.

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At this point the idea of revolution was spreading. The Michelin teams were saying if the FIA was going to stop them they would run the race without FIA approval or endorsement as well as not allowing Ferrari to compete to allow more compromise. They began to tell individuals if need be, they would take over various FIA roles to allow the race to continue.

Eventually, the revolution was cancelled and a statement for a further meeting was called for. At this meeting all 20 drivers were present and all possibilities were outlined and none of them managed to get unanimous approval. Both Ferrari drivers, Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, said nothing through the entire meeting apart from saying it was up to Jean Todt who had already made his feelings clear.,

It's also known that other drivers disagreed with some of the plans, but it is not known which drivers objected and which plans they objected to, but that did happen. At this point all options were exhausted. The FIA wouldn't approve track manipulation or making the race a non-championship event and other ideas were either too dangerous or not reasonable. Nothing else could be done.

It had become clear that Michelin runners wouldn't be to compete so it was then a question of do the Bridgestone competitors compete. At first Minardi seemed reluctant to compete and Jordan seemed to agree with them saying that they wouldn't compete. However, it soon became clear that Jordan were going to compete so Minardi needed to compete too in order to try and keep the fight between the two teams close.

Who was most to blame

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The formation lap began with all 20 cars, but all of the Michelin runners pulled into the pits and retired leaving the six remaining Bridgestone runners. The biggest farce in Formula 1 was happening right in front of us.

This is the footage of the start of the race.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTg2rUx3xDM

The race was very processional with Schumacher and Barrichello going to possibly the easiest 1-2 finish ever. Tiago Monterio for Jordan was third, Karthikeyan fourth, Albers fifth and Freisacher sixth. The only person who seemed happy was Monterio who scored the first ever podium for a Portuguese driver, and despite everything, people were pleased for Tiago.

At the end of the race the autopsy began about who was to blame. Many people blamed the FIA and many also blamed Ferrari for not allowing a compromise to be found. But the truth was the people to blame were Michelin as they were the group who caused all of the problems in the first place.

If the tyres make for close racing, then people are always quick to praise them. In this case, the tyres made for a disaster and a weekend Formula 1 would rather forget.

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