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Controversy over Michelin tires taints Grand Prix race in Indianapolis

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Tire problems created controversy at the United States Grand Prix in Indianapolis, Ind., on Sunday when the seven teams riding on Michelin tires refused to participate, citing safety concerns.

With only six racers, all riding on Bridgestone tires, competing in the Formula One race, Michael Schumacher finished first.

Prior to the race, Groupe Michelin released this official press statement:

"The intensive investigations that have been undertaken in the last 24 hours by our laboratory and technical teams in France and United States concerning the incidents that occurred on the Toyota cars during the free practice test of Friday, have allowed Michelin to reach the following conclusions. Given the combination of oval exit speed of the F1 cars and the subsequent down forces experienced by the tyres, Michelin is not able to guarantee that such incidents would not reoccur during race conditions, and therefore Michelin is not able to guarantee the total safety of the drivers.

"As a result Michelin, in total agreement with our partner teams, has asked the FIA that a chicane, allowing the reduction of car speed, be installed at the entrance to the oval. In this condition the Indianapolis F1 GP would be able to take place with the tyres that we used during the qualification.

"This proposition answers three Michelin objectives: The safety of the drivers, the support of our partner teams and the interest of the race for the F1 fans."

Michelin was not able to convince F-1's governing body, the Federation Internationale de L'Automobile (FIA), to change its rule forbidding teams from changing tires following qualifying.

In a pre-race letter to FIA Formula One Race Director Charlie Whiting on Saturday, Michelin Motorsport Director Pierre Dupasquier wrote:

"Having analysed and fully evaluated the tyre failures that have occurred over the Indianapolis Grand Prix practice sessions we have been unable to identify a root cause.

"The current rules and timescale do not permit the use of an alternative tyre solution and the race must be performed with the qualifying tyres.

"Michelin has in the sole interest of safety informed its partner teams that we do not have total assurance that all tyres that qualified the cars can be used unless the vehicle speed in turn 13 can be reduced.

"Michelin very much regrets this situation, but has taken this decision after careful consideration and in the best interests of safety at the event.

"We trust that the FIA can understand our position and we remain at your disposal if you want any further information."

Whiting was not convinced.

"We are very surprised that this difficulty has arisen," he responded. "As you know, each team is allowed to bring two different types of tyre to an event so as to ensure that a back-up (usually of lower performance) is available should problems occur. It is hard to understand why you have not supplied your teams with such a tyre given your years of experience at Indianapolis.

"That the teams you supply are not in possession of such a tyre will also be a matter for the FIA to consider in due course under Article 151c of the International Sporting Code.

"No doubt you will inform your teams what is the maximum safe speed for their cars in Turn 13. We will remind them of the need to follow your advice for safety reasons. We will also ask them to ensure their cars do not obstruct other competitors.

"Some of the teams have raised with us the possibility of running a tyre which was not used in qualifying. We have told them this would be a breach of the rules to be considered by the stewards. We believe the penalty would not be exclusion but would have to be heavy enough to ensure that no team was tempted to use qualifying tyres in the future.

"Another possibility would be for the relevant teams repeatedly to change the affected tyre during the race (we understand you have told your teams the left rear is safe for a maximum of ten laps at full speed). If the technical delegate and the stewards were satisfied that each change was made because the tyre would otherwise fail (thus for genuine safety reasons) and that the relevant team were not gaining an advantage, there would be no penalty. If this meant using tyres additional to a teams' allocation, the stewards would consider all the circumstances in deciding what penalty, if any, to apply.

"Finally, it has been suggested that a chicane should be laid out in Turn 13. I am sure you will appreciate that this is out of the question. To change the course in order to help some of the teams with a performance problem caused by their failure to bring suitable equipment to the race would be a breach of the rules and grossly unfair to those teams which have come to Indianapolis with the correct tyres."

After a second Michelin appeal, Whiting summed up the situation to Michelin as follows:

"... your teams have a choice of running more slowly in Turn 12/13, running a tyre not used in qualifying (which would attract a penalty) or repeatedly changing a tyre (subject to valid safety reasons).

"It is for them to decide. We have nothing to add."

The teams running on Michelin tires chose not to compete at all. They pulled off the course following a warm-up lap.

In Michelin's post-race "Formula One News" publication, it said the following:

"Michelin is very disappointed about the way the United States Grand Prix turned out at Indianapolis, Ind., today for the public, the drivers and the teams.

"Michelin is sorry that the tires it ran in free practice and qualifying were not suitable for use in racing conditions this weekend, but driver safety is always a priority.

"Michelin will never change its stance on this principle, whether we are talking about tires for competition or any other purpose.

"It is regrettable that our pre-race suggestions, agreed in conjunction with our partner teams, were not adopted.

"Had our ideas been followed, we could have guaranteed driver safety, the participation of our teams and added interest for the public.

"Michelin would like to thank its seven partner teams for their close collaboration, for having made propositions to the FIA and for having respected our advice on safety issues.

"Michelin will continue to investigate the technical reasons for the tire-related incidents that affected Toyota during Friday's free practice."

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