The year was 2005 and Formula 1 was in the middle of its latest attempt to crack America – a massively underexploited market for an otherwise truly global sport.
America is as difficult a nut to crack for a European based motor racing series as F1 is for US based drivers, as Michael Andretti & a long line of others will attest.
It has a rich motorsport history of its own, with NASCAR, Indycar, the Indy500 and Daytona so why do they need another series, especially one in which they can take no (or very little at least) national pride?
So despite a Grand Prix in America being an almost ubiquitous presence on the F1 calendar since its foundation in 1950, its reception in a country filled with petrolheads was, and is still considered lukewarm.
After a short break, the USGP returned to the F1 calendar in 2000 but this time it was to be held at the brickyard – America’s most iconic motor racing venue and scene of the annual Indy500 that attracts up to 400,000 fans each year to witness one of the great spectacles in sport.
Attendances for the Grand Prix were good – it’s estimated that around 225,000 people attended the inaugural F1 Grand Prix at Indianapolis (I’m ignoring the Indy500 that counted towards the F1 world championship between 1950 and 1960 as it was contested almost exclusively by non F1 teams and followed a completely different set of regulations), amongst the highest ever recorded at a Grand Prix.
The notoriously territorial Americans were beginning to soften to Formula 1, led at the time by Ferrari, to the delight of the large swathes of US fans of Italian descent.
The last thing Formula 1 wanted to do was to jeopardise all of this by somehow orchestrating a farce that Molière (who according to Wikipedia wrote farces) would have been proud to put his name to, leaving the good old US sports fan feeling cheated.
But that, dear reader, is exactly what happened.
In the seasons prior to the 2005 season, it had become clear that Bridgestone were almost exclusively focussed on producing a tyre for the Ferrari F1 team with Michelin supplying its main competitors, notably the French Renault Team, McLaren and Williams.
And so a tyre war ensued. Grand Prix were won and lost depending on how one brand of tyre or another suited the conditions at any given Grand Prix. Indeed the balance of the entire 2003 World Championship swung in favour of Ferrari and Michael Schumacher when they protested the legality of main championship rivals Williams‘ tyres and manufacturer Michelin were forced into a compromise on their tyre design.
So when, in practice for the 2005 USGP, Michelin tyres began to fail due to the unusual loads applied to them on the IMS’ uniquely banked turn 13, the Bridgestone shod teams, Ferrari in particular who were yet to win a single race all season, saw their opportunity for a big haul of points.
Michelin flew in another batch of tyres from their France HQ in an attempt to remedy the situation but they too were liable to fail, and it was decided by Michelin that they could not guarantee the integrity of any of their tyres beyond 10 laps of the Indianapolis circuit without modifying the configuration.
In an attempt to allow the Michelin shod cars to race it was proposed that a chicane be added at the troublesome turn 13, but that was denied by the FIA on safety grounds, on the basis that it hadn’t been tested.
It was also suggested that any car on the Michelin tyre would be forced into a mandatory pit stop every ten laps. Another proposal was to limit the speed for any Michelin runner around turn 13, but both were rejected.
So despite every effort for an albeit somewhat compromised Grand Prix to go ahead, come Sunday afternoon, having exhausted all alternatives 20 cars set off on their warm up lap, at the end of which, 14 (including both Williams cars) pulled off into the pits and promptly retired.
When the lights went out to start the race just six cars: two Ferraris, two Jordans and two Minardis, all on Bridgestone tyres bolted down to turn 1.
The US crowd soon started to show their displeasure, most of whom headed straight to the ticket offices demanding refunds.
Those who remained trackside began a chorus of boos, and some started throwing cans and bottles onto the track.
But the race continued; Ferrari shot off to a predictable lead (although Ferrari being Ferrari still felt the need to execute team orders, as if there wasn’t already little enough racing going on!), with Jordan 3 and 4, Minardi 5 and 6.
And so it finished. Few fans were there to see it and there was little to celebrate post race, from anyone concerned…other than Tiago Monteiro who had just scored his one and only Formula 1 podium finish – a feat he most likely knew he’d never repeat – and celebrated accordingly.
Weeks of reparations were to follow with everyone in attendance offered full refunds, apologies and the promise this would never be allowed to happen again.
Indiana State Law was blamed for the cancellation of the race, allowing Michelin and the wider world of F1 to be exonerated of any blame and to move on to the next race.