By Bruce Davis, European Rubber Journal staff
Indianapolis -- Uncertainty over the safety of their tyres prompted seven Michelin-equipped teams to withdraw from the US Grand Prix Sunday before it started, turning the event into a farce with only six Bridgestone-shod cars taking the green flag.
A spokeswoman for Michelin said the incident would have no impact on sales of Michelin tyres, or on the image of Michelin in North America. "When the fuss has died down," she said, "people will appreciate our decision to put safety ahead of everything."
Reuters news agency quoted Michelin's deputy director of competition Frederic Henry-Biabaud saying, "It is too early to say what consequences this will have but our partners were very supportive and we are confident our decision will have been understood, especially in the United States, where safety is of paramount importance,"
Following two tyre-failure-related crashes in practice and qualifying in turn 13 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS)'s banked curve, Groupe Michelin Motorsport Director Pierre Dupasquier notified race organisers that the firm had been unable to determine the "root cause" of the failures and therefore could not assure the teams using its tires that they could compete at race speeds safely.
Michelin and the affected teams suggested the organisers make temporary changes to the track -- such as a chicane immediately before turn 13 -- to slow down the cars before they entered the curved straightaway, the fastest spot on the course.
The Federation Internationale de l'Automobile, the Formula 1 sanctioning body, and IMS, the race organiser, declined the suggestion, saying, "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 tires."
Michelin, which supplies seven of the 10 F1 teams, apologised publicly for the situation, saying safety is the firm's No. 1 concern. Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher won the race ahead of teammate Rubens Barrrichello.
Press release from Michelin
Position statement from Michelin
Reuters (UK) story