Teams could face sanctions after U.S. GP flap

Updated: June 20, 2005, 2:51 PM ET
Associated Press

PARIS -- Formula One's governing body on Monday summoned seven teams using Michelin tires to a hearing later this month after they pulled out of the United States Grand Prix for safety reasons.

The FIA hearing in Paris on June 29 could lead to a range of punishments including fines, docked points or even suspensions -- possibly throwing the F1 season into chaos with 10 races left.

Michelin provides seven of the 10 F1 teams with tires. Only six cars -- using Bridgestone tires -- started the race in Indianapolis on Sunday after 14 drivers left the track following the warmup lap. Ferrari's Michael Schumacher won, climbing from his car to a chorus of boos.

Teams from Renault, McLaren-Mercedes, Toyota and Williams-BMW -- none of which raced -- were told to attend the Paris hearing.

Two Michelin tires failed in Friday practice sessions -- one causing a wreck that prevented Ralf Schumacher from competing -- prompting Michelin to rule its tires were unsafe for the Indianapolis track.

But FIA said it had "clear rules" that everyone had to keep.

"These cannot be negotiated each time a competitor brings the wrong equipment to a race," FIA said in a statement.

Michelin had unsuccessfully asked FIA to ease its rule forbidding teams to change tires after qualifying. FIA also refused to consider installing a curve. Michelin then advised its teams not to compete.

"What about the American fans? What about Formula One fans worldwide? Rather than boycott the race the Michelin teams should have agreed to run at reduced speed in turn 13," FIA said, referring to the part of the Indianapolis circuit that Michelin said was too fast for their tires.

"By refusing to run ... they have damaged themselves and the sport."

Michelin defended its decision.

"We are absolutely not embarrassed about our decision, although we do have regrets for the fans of Formula One and for the racing drivers of course," Frederic Henry-Biabaud, Michelin's deputy director of competition, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Monday.

"We feel it is a reasonable decision and we were professional to bear in mind primarily the safety of the drivers," Henry-Biabaud said. "We had no other choice."

He called the United States a safety-minded country and said there would have been an uproar if there were a crash Sunday.

"Imagine what would have happened in the United States if there was an accident ... What would have been the reaction if we'd allowed the drivers to race and something bad happened?" he said.

Henry-Biabaud said Michelin's involvement in F1 would continue, and dismissed speculation only one tiremaker would be allowed to supply cars from now on.

"Competition at the highest level includes competition between tire makers. I don't see why it would change," he said.

Henry-Biabaud said the problems with the tires were largely due to the design of the Indianapolis track.

"At Indianapolis, the tire coating suffers," he added. "The circuit is very traditional but the straight line before the banking delivers massive pressure on the car and the tires. For the car to do the whole race we have to be sure the tires can last."

Henry-Biabaud said FIA should have built a temporary curve before the banked corner to reduce speeds and lessen pressure on the tires.

Michelin said it has no concerns for the French Grand Prix on July 3.

"The Magny-Cours circuit is well known to Michelin technicians who use it regularly for testing," the manufacturer said.

FIA said putting in a curve would have been unfair to those using Bridgestone tires.

"The Bridgestone teams had suitable tires. They did not need to slow down," FIA said. "The Michelin teams' lack of speed through turn 13 would have been a direct result of inferior equipment, as often happens in Formula One."

The FIA also pointed out that each team is allowed to bring two sets of tires, including a slower tire suitable in all circumstances.

"Apparently, none of the Michelin teams brought a backup to Indianapolis," it noted.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press