Some believe that Formula 1 has never been the same since. Some also believe that this single event crippled the sport’s reputation in the United States of America. Of all the speculation, one thing remains clear: The 2005 United States Grand Prix was arguably the most prevalent farce in Formula 1 history, and sent literal shockwaves through its management and global community.
Formula 1 had occupied the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – the Mecca of American open-wheel racing – to host the ninth race of the 2005 season. Jarno Trulli had stunned the field on Saturday to claim Toyota’s first ever pole position, but he wouldn’t get the chance to back it up the following afternoon. Toyota was one of seven teams to be using Michelin tyres, while Ferrari, Minardi and Jordan all ran on Bridgestones. The recent rule-change that stipulated a ban on tyre changes during pit stops had already created some pulsating races – most memorably the European Grand Prix which was characterised by a last lap suspension failure for Kimi Raikkonen. But, the tyre battle would turn the sport on its head at Indianapolis.
On Saturday morning, Toyota’s Ralf Schumacher crashed heavily at Turn 13. The corner was unique on the calendar: a fully banked oval turn that brought cars onto the main straight at enormous speeds. Schumacher’s accident reminded many of the previous year’s race, in which the German had struck the wall at high speed while driving for Williams. The consequences of this latest shunt would be far greater, though. Michelin’s tyres were later deemed to be too dangerous for racing. The French company even admitted that the compound they had taken to Indianapolis wouldn’t be able to last ten laps on the abrasive and unforgiving surface of the Brickyard.
Frantic negotiations ensued, but no flash solution was found. The teams were toying with the idea that a chicane be added at the final corner to prevent the cars from negotiating Turn 13, in order to relieve the Michelin tyres the pressure of the banked bend (probably similar to the final corner on the current Indy GP layout). Even on the grid there were explicit signs of frustration. The scenes suggested the frightening thought that Formula 1 was falling apart on the public stage. The fans were on edge in the grandstands as the field of twenty cars cruised around on the formation lap. Only six made it to the start.
The Michelin-shod teams had decided to protect the safety of their drivers and boycott the race. The shock of the crowd permeated the air as Michael Schumacher led an easy 1-2 finish for Ferrari (with no rivals competing in the race, the reigning champion was able to jump to third in the drivers’ standings). Tiago Monteiro came home in third for Jordan, a lap behind the Ferraris. The Portuguese driver rightfully savoured the moment of securing his first (and only) grand prix podium, which would also secure Jordan’s position ahead of Minardi in the constructors’ championship
The key question soon arose; who was at fault? The initial finger pointing was directed at the FIA, with Max Mosely in particular facing the brunt of the opposition. Of course, it was the FIA’s job to ensure that the race could be run to safe standards, and they clearly failed to find a suitable alternative before the grand prix started. In addition, it was Mosley who had made the decision not to build a final chicane in an attempt to make the track safe for the Michelin-run cars, according to Minardi boss Paul Stoddart. Michelin were also in the firing line. They had failed to produce a tyre that could withstand the challenging Indianapolis surface, and had therefore let down their customer teams. For both Michelin and the FIA, there were few places to hide.
Nine years on, and the lasting impact of the farcical 2005 United States Grand Prix is still apparent. America had been starting to welcome Formula 1 back again. For a country so engrossed in NASCAR and American Football, it was a refreshing change to see Formula 1 creeping up in the popularity stakes. But, what became known as ‘Indygate’ by the media immediately dashed the sport’s chances of returning to a golden era of popularity; arguably one that hasn’t been seen since the glory days of Mario Andretti. Ever since 2005, Formula 1 has been forced to try and regenerate itself in America. Many fans were simply put off by the non-show that the FIA, supposedly a world-leading body in sports management, had produced. Spectators were eventually compensated in monetary terms, but the long-term price paid by the FIA is still lingering.
The question remains, has Formula 1 learnt from its mistakes? Some would argue against, especially following the controversy surrounding the 2013 British Grand Prix and Pirelli’s deliberate manufacturing of tyres to make them degrade quicker to improve the show. On the other hand, the United States Grand Prix itself is growing again. The Circuit of the Americas is creating a new chapter of Formula 1 history, and is leaving behind the troubles of Indianapolis.
What will always remain though is the lasting recollection of six cars, unequal in performance, lining up to start a 73 lap race that many still say should not have gone ahead. There have been so many classic grands prix held in the United States, but the one that really gets people talking is the one that brought the sport to breaking point.
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