It was a day that will always be remembered — but for all of the wrong reasons. The record books will show that Michael Schumacher won his 84th Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on June 19 2005 — one of the most celebrated tracks in American motorsport. He fended off the challenge of his Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello, not to mention the ‘mighty’ Jordan and Minardi cars and... that’s it. Just six cars were all that the 120,000 fans got when the other 14 returned to the pits after the parade lap following Michelin’s advice to its seven customer teams that its tyres weren’t safe.
A failure to agree on a solution to a tyre problem that emerged two days before the race ranked as one of the biggest PR disasters in sport. It was a total farce; the grandstands were almost empty and Michael was too embarrassed to even open a bottle of bubbly on the podium.
You’d have thought that a simple agreement to build a chicane at turn 13 — the fastest part of the track and the section that was potentially the most damaging to the Michelin tyres — could have been approved. It couldn’t. Ferrari and the FIA refused to slow the track down on that last corner and left seven teams no option but to stand down. And this when the sport was just starting to build a good image in America on TV.
No doubt Michelin made a mistake; the rules back then didn’t allow for a change of tyres once a choice had been made, but neither of the two specifications it had brought along were fit for use. Teams didn’t know at what speeds they’d burst and couldn’t send their drivers out and risk their lives. As 14 cars pulled out, the anger of the fans was all too clear. A chicane would have solved the problem but Max Mosely, the FIA president at the time, defended his decision not to accommodate the request, saying, “it would be like making all the athletes in a 100m sprint run barefoot because some had forgotten their shoes.” Fair point.
Michelin offered compensation to all race fans who had purchased tickets, and 20,000 free tickets for next year’s event to returning fans.