Michelin cars pull off track after warmups

INDIANAPOLIS -- Michael Schumacher climbed from his car to a
chorus of boos, the die-hard Formula One fans unable to accept his
first victory of the season after more than two-thirds of the field
quit in protest over tire safety.

Sparking a fiasco for a series desperate to capture the American
audience, Michelin advised the 14 cars it supplies that its tires
were unsafe for the final banked turn at Indianapolis Motor

Unable to forge a compromise, all 14 Michelin teams ducked off
the track after the warmup lap Sunday, leaving Schumacher and the
five other drivers who use Bridgestone tires to race among

Fans headed for the exits in disgust, drivers were left
bewildered and track officials joined team members in speaking
afterward as if the United States Grand Prix itself is in jeopardy.

Schumacher returned to the podium, but there was no champagne
toast for the Ferrari team on this Sunday.

"Bit of a strange Grand Prix," Schumacher said. "Not the
right way to win my first one this year."

When an agreement couldn't be reached over the use of fresh
tires or the placement of a chicane to slow the cars going into
turn 13, the Michelin teams pulled off the track and parked in a
unified protest.

"I feel terrible. I have a sick feeling in my stomach," David
Coulthard said after pulling out of the race. "I am embarrassed to
be a part of this."

The situation created a farce of a race for F-1, the world's
most popular series. And it couldn't have happened at a worse
venue: The series is already struggling to build an American fan
base, and Indy officials were left unsure of the event's future.

"Undoubtedly, this sets us back in all of our efforts or all of
the gains we've made in introducing this sport to America," said
Joie Chitwood, track president. He declined to speculate on if the
race would be back at Indy next season.

But even the Ferrari team, which finally scored its first win of
the season, acknowledged that the series' future in the U.S. is in

"I wish we can come back to the States, this is a very
important country and our No. 1 market," said Ferrari boss Jean
Todt. "But this is a very bad day for our sport and I feel bad for
the supporters."

Many blamed Ferrari itself -- the Italian team was the lone
holdout in a series of compromises the nine other teams frantically
tried to reach.

After two Michelin tires failed in Friday practice sessions --
one causing a wreck that prevented Ralf Schumacher from competing --
the tiremaker ruled that its rubber was unsafe for this track.

Michelin was rebuffed when it asked the FIA, the series
governing body, to ease its rule forbidding teams to change tires
after qualifying. The FIA also refused to consider installing a

So Michelin advised its teams not to compete after a lengthy
morning meeting between nine team bosses (Ferrari did not attend),
F-1 boss Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA. At one point, all 20
drivers were summoned to the meeting.

The nine teams even agreed to race for no points, as long as the
obstacle was added to the course.

All of them said Ferrari would not agree to any of the
proposals. Todt denied that Ferrari held up any deals, and said any
decisions were left to the FIA. However, he said Ferrari would have
protested the use of a chicane.

The teams worked up until the final moments for a resolution,
even lining up on the grid and taking the warm-up lap. Then they
pulled off, climbing out of their cars at the same time the
remaining six drivers started the race.

The crowd was stunned, with fans pointing and gawking as they
tried to figure out what was going on. Some booed. Others threw
water bottles on the track in disgust.

"If I was a fan out there I would do the same," said driver
Jacques Villeneuve, a former Indianapolis 500 winner.

After just 10 laps, many spectators began heading for the exits.

Indy officials said they had not yet discussed offering refunds,
and track boss Tony George issued a statement urging fans to direct
their frustration to Michelin, the FIA and F-1's management.

This event already draws just a fraction of what other races
here do. Less than 100,000 come to this race, compared to a crowd
in excess of 300,000 for the Indianapolis 500. Sunday's debacle
will do nothing to improve that.

"Quite frankly, the fans got cheated," Ecclestone said.

All seven teams that pulled out of the race signed a single
statement apologizing for the debacle.

"We are totally aware that the USA is an important market for
Formula One and there is an obligation for Formula One to promote
itself in a positive and professional manner," it said.

Among those refusing to race were world championship points
leader Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, who trails him in the
standings by 22 points.

Alonso is F-1's biggest threat this season to end Schumacher's
five-year reign as world champion. But when he and the other
contenders pulled out of the event, it opened the door for
seven-time world champion Schumacher to climb back.

Schumacher entered the event 35 points behind Alonso, but cut
the deficit to 25 with the victory -- well within striking distance
with 10 events left this season.