Lesse, where to begin?
During free practice on Friday, both Toyota cars suffered serious tire failures. You remember last year, when Ralf went into the wall backwards? Guess what fun he got to have again? He's okay (much better than last year, due to some safety modifications to the wall structure.) It seems that the other Michelin runners were also seeing the same kind of problems as well.
Michelin, of course, immediately began investigating. They weren't able to completely determine the cause, but they suspect that the banking on Turn 13 (the one before the start straightaway) puts excessive vertical load on the tires and is causing them to fail. They overnight ship new tires for all their teams, but make no gurantees that the new tires won't fail as well. And they advise all their teams that unless a chicane is placed before Turn 13 (so as to slow that corner down), those tires are unsafe to race.
Michelin supplies 7 out of the 10 teams.
Michelin asked the FIA for permission to modify the track, so as to make the conditions safe for drivers for the teams they supply.
The FIA turned them down. They said it was completely out of the question to modify the track just because Michelin failed to bring along appropriate equipiment to the race.
(As a side note, all teams except for Ferrari agreed to allowing the chicane. The FIA said that if the chicane was put in, they would not sanction the race. All the teams except for Ferrari agreed to this, so as to at least put on a show for the crowd, even if there would be no points involved. The FIA's brilliant suggestions were: 1) tell the drivers to go around the corner slower, and 2) change the tires every 10 laps. If there was an obvious safety concern, then they might not be penalized. Otherwise, choke the penalities down and cope. The teams argued that forcing most of the field to slow down significantly before Turn 13 was in and of itself a safety issue. Which, well, they are not wrong.)
The Michelin teams said they had no choice but listen to their tire supplier, and not race unless a chicane was added to the track.
The TV coverage started at this point, with a total impasse. At first it sounded like the Michelin runners were not going to go out onto the grid at all if there wasn't a chicane. Then they went out. They did a parade lap, and at the end of it...
Every single Michelin driver pulled into the pit, and retired.
The starting grid consisted of the six cars that had Bridgestone tires. And the race started, with only Ferarri, Jordan, and Minardi participating.
I'll pause for a moment, so you can contemplate that. Ferarri. Jordan. Minardi.
Have you stopped laughing yet? Good. (I'm not sure I have...)
Everyone wondered if the Michelin runners might not rejoin the race, or maybe the FIA would stop the race, or cancel it or something. But they ran 73 laps with six cars. It would be horribly dull, except for all the fuss and politics going on.
Needless to say, the Ferarris finished first. This should not be a surprise. And yet... Thanks to Schumi, it looked for a moment like that might not happen. He came out of the pit right next to Rubens (who was in the lead at that moment), and basically ran Rubens off the track. Rubens was able to get back on and finished the race. But still, that's gotta be one of the more pathetic moves I've seen in a while.
The ramifications of all this are... I'm still having trouble wrapping my brain around all of them. Ferarri and Schumi are pleased at their sudden rise in the points. (Uh, sorry, but loooooosers.) The PR for the sport... Well, I suspect that the push for trying to popularize F1 in the US is pretty much over now. The news broadcast commented that this was one of the biggest crowds for the USGP ever, and that the USGP is usually the second or third most attended F1 event in the world. (Someone on a board pointed out that if this had happened in Europe, there would have been riots. At first I was worried they might be.)
At this point there are rumors that the track might lose its F1 sanction going foward. This annoys me, since it is hardly the track's fault. The only reason I can see for not bringing the race there again (other than the high probability that no one will attend it if they do run it here again) is... Turn 13. See, it seems the reason that the whole problem came up in the first place is that Turn 13 on this track is the only banked turn in the entire F1 championship. Apparently no one tests on banked turns (none of their test tracks have them), and that's why Michelin got caught out. Which would make some sense, except that they have been coming to this track for a while. *shrug* Who can say?
And the drama is, of course, just beginning. As this article points out, [t]he scene of this shameful debacle, dare F1 forget, was the most ligitous nation on the planet. This will be a pain that will linger.