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Original Issue

Trial by Tire

A Michelin mistake left F/1 fans livid and cast doubt on the series' future in the U.S.

As a grand total of six Formula One cars hummed around Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Lap 18 of Sunday's U.S. Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso was walking hurriedly through Gasoline Alley, his eyebrows furrowed into a V. Carrying his suitcase, the F/1 points leader from Oviedo, Spain, pushed through a crowd of fans and muttered, "I go home now. Bye-bye."

After Sunday's debacle F/1 racing in the U.S. may also have gone bye-bye. Of the 20 cars entered, 14 pulled into the garage on the parade lap and refused to race because the Michelin tires they were using had been deemed unsafe by the manufacturer hours before. (The other six cars, including the Ferrari driven by winner Michael Schumacher, used Bridgestone tires.) "There was a good chance someone would have been killed if we had raced with those tires," said Nick Fry, the boss of the BAR-Honda team. "This is a black eye for our sport."

After Ralf Schumacher crashed in Turn 13 in practice, Michelin engineers concluded that the tires couldn't hold up under the high speeds reached in that banked turn. They advised the drivers not to race on the tires, and after a compromise couldn't be reached--F/1 rejected the idea of putting a chicane in Turn 13 to force the cars to slow down and refused to relax a rule that bars teams from changing tires after qualifying--the drivers pulled out. Fans, including many from overseas, tossed bottles onto the track, and some headed for the exits. "I'm embarrassed to be a part of this," said Red Bull driver David Coulthard, who did not race. "I hope this doesn't hurt the future of F/1 in the States."

It most likely will. Speedway CEO Tony George paid F/1 a reported $15 million to stage the race, and despite a crowd of 100,000, he did not break even. George was upset that his people didn't have more of a say in the negotiations. With no agreement in place to bring the race back, George--who was so livid that he refused to wave the checkered flag when Schumacher crossed the finish line--will think hard about whether his track, which hosts the lucrative Indy 500 and Brickyard 400, needs a third race. Said Joie Chitwood, the track's chief operating officer, "We are as disappointed with this event as anything we've had in our history."

--Lars Anderson






In a wild weekend, Ralf Schumacher wrecked, Michael (below) won and fans whined.



[see caption above]