Analysis: F1 Shoots its Foot Again

Formula One has struggled to win over the United States since a Grand Prix in Phoenix 14 years ago sold fewer tickets than an ostrich race across town

Analysis: F1 Shoots its Foot Again

Decimated by the withdrawal of 14 cars due to tyre safety concerns, Sunday's U.S. Grand Prix did nothing to enhance its reputation.

In one stroke, the 'race' wiped out whatever gains had been made over the last few seasons and dealt the supposed glamour sport a major setback in a key market for sponsors and manufacturers.

After talk of expanding to Las Vegas or New York, Formula One's future in the United States looks far less promising. It may not even have one, although Indianapolis has a year to run on its contract.

An estimated crowd of 120,000 people, one of the biggest of the year at a Grand Prix, paid good money to watch a motor race at the Brickyard on Sunday.

What they got was just six cars, four of them the slowest in Formula One, with angry fans hurling beer cans and bottles on the track in frustration.

The fiasco could go down as the worst public relations own-goal yet in a sport that has never been shy of shooting itself in the foot.

Briton David Coulthard, one of the 14 drivers going nowhere after the seven Michelin teams pulled out before the start because of safety concerns about their tyres, summed it up succinctly enough.

"Even if we do come back, half the crowd in the stands today won't be back. That's for sure," the Red Bull driver said.

Minardi boss Paul Stoddart was even more stinging in his criticism.

"If you run something as badly as what we've done today, you wouldn't be surprised if there was never another U.S. Grand Prix," he said.

"Today Formula One lost sight of the word sport."

No Winners

Ferrari's Michael Schumacher crossed the finish line first but, even if team boss Jean Todt likened the result to a technical knockout in boxing, there were no winners.

Michelin messed up, bringing a tyre that could not be used with any guarantee of safety for a race in one of the world's most litigious countries.

As one prominent team member said after the race: "You've got a letter saying the tyres are unsafe, you're in America, what can you do?"

Michelin said they had acted responsibly, in the interests of safety, and once the problem became evident with Ralf Schumacher's crash in Friday practice there was room for a possible compromise.

Nine of the 10 teams wanted a temporary chicane put in before the slingshot final banked corner to reduce speeds and lessen the huge forces on the rear left tyres.

Champions Ferrari and the governing FIA said no.

The governing body offered instead three alternatives: running more slowly through the turn, using a different tyre and picking up a penalty or repeatedly changing a tyre.

Despite several meetings, nobody would compromise and at that point all of Formula One failed.

"Formula One and motor sport fans throughout the World are the losers today. The FIA is now awaiting a report from its observer in Indianapolis before deciding on the next step," said FIA president Max Mosley.

Weak Position

Others saw yet further evidence of the political battle between Mosley and the carmakers, who are threatening their own series from 2008 and are involved with five of the seven teams that did not race on Sunday.

The FIA, which published draft proposals for 2008 regulations last week, has also said it wanted a single tyre supplier in future and Michelin's position will not be strong.

Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone looked weaker too, with the sport's ruler failing to broker an agreement that might at least have given the fans the entertainment they paid for.

"This is going to leave a long, lasting bitter taste in people's mouths," Coulthard added.

"Quite frankly, as a driver, I'm embarrassed to be involved in this situation.

"The fact is that mature adults were not able to put on a show for everybody. It's a very sad day for racing."

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Series Formula 1
Author Alan Baldwin
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