A dispute in which 14 cars boycotted the United States Grand
Prix in Indianapolis was about tire safety. But it also was part of
a larger battle for control of Formula One.
Fielding only six of 20 cars on Sunday underlined how the sport
is fractured, with a breakaway series looming in 2008. It also
damaged F1 in the United States, where the sport has a scant
following compared with its wide popularity in Europe, Asia and South
Formula One has been hurt by a lack of American drivers none
since 1993. If the series can't succeed in Indianapolis, its
chances for survival anywhere in the United States may be beyond
"There are going to be a lot of people in Formula One turned
away from the sport because of this," Red Bull driver David
Coulthard said. "I feel terrible. I have a sick feeling in my
stomach. I am embarrassed to be a part of this."
The French sports daily L'Equipe was blunt in its Monday
headline: "Formule Zero."
Ferrari's seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher won the
race, but the headline in Cologne, Germany – near Schumacher's
birthplace was unflattering: "Schumacher wins scandal-race in
the USA," said the Cologne Rundschau newspaper.
Formula One is starkly divided.
In one camp is Max Mosley, the president of racing's world
governing body, the FIA. He is joined by F1's multibillionaire
commercial director, Bernie Ecclestone, and by Ferrari the
sport's most powerful team.
In the other camp are the nine remaining teams, and key Formula
One manufacturers BMW, Mercedes and Renault. The group is
considering running a breakaway series in 2008, and also has the
support of Japan's two manufacturers in F1 Toyota and Honda.
After two Michelin tires failed in Friday's practice sessions
for the U.S. Grand Prix one causing a wreck that prevented
Toyota's Ralf Schumacher from competing Michelin said its tires
were unsafe for Indianapolis.
Michelin wanted a curve installed going into turn 13, slowing
the cars and sparing the tires. Nine of the 10 teams backed the
French tire company. But Mosley and Ferrari were opposed. Seven of
F1's 10 teams use Michelin tires, with Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi
running on Bridgestone.
Mosley has been playing hardball with the nine renegade teams,
and the five manufacturers, ever since they boycotted meetings
called by him in January and April to discuss regulations for the
2008 season. On Monday, the FIA summoned the seven teams that use
Michelin tires to a hearing June 29.
Minardi team owner Paul Stoddart, who serves as spokesman for
the nine teams, has called for Mosley to resign. Ecclestone's
former lawyer and friend, Mosley has been accused of being
dictatorial. Stoddart has called for "more transparency in how F1
is run, a precise regulatory process and a stable and consistent
way the rules are applied."
The teams also want a bigger cut.
Formula One teams have complained that Ecclestone shares too
little of the sport's commercial rights income, which was estimated
at $800 million in 2003. Teams receive about 23 percent. Ecclestone
has amassed a fortune estimated at $3.7 billion in three decades of
Joie Chitwood, CEO and president of the Indianapolis Motor
Speedway, called Sunday's fiasco in Indianapolis a dark day for the
"Obviously, we are as disappointed over this event as anything
that we've had in our history," he said.
Asked how it would affect F1's future in the U.S, he replied:
"I would say it is a major setback."