A child born on June 19, 2005 would be old enough to drive a car in the state of Indianapolis today, but on the date of his birth, most Formula One cars were not driving in the United States Grand Prix. That’s right, folks. It’s been 16 whole entire years since one of the most controversial F1 races in history.
(Welcome to Today in History, the series where we dive into important historical events that have had a significant impact on the automotive or racing world. If you have something you’d like to see that falls on an upcoming weekend, let me know at eblackstock [at] jalopnik [dot] com.)
When the US GP kicked off at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2005, 14 cars had opted against heading out to compete. That left six whole vehicles competing for a truly unsatisfying win. This is a story that most fans know but one that’s always worth a retelling.
Back in the day, F1 used to have two competing tire manufacturers: Michelin and Bridgestone. Generally, this was not a massive point of contention. But Turn 13 at IMS was banked, since it incorporated some of the iconic oval track. And the tires that Michelin supplied weren’t quite right for the job.
In fact, Ralf Schumacher’s Michelin-clad car lost control in the high-speed turn, which caused a massive crash. A deep dive by the tire company showed that it was indeed the fault of the tire; the compound it brought couldn’t withstand the speed and forces.
That’s when things got tricky. Michelin very quickly realized that it couldn’t safely run its tires during the event. So it asked the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), F1's sanctioning body, if it could send another batch of tires out to the track. Those tires would be safer and capable of handling the forces.
The FIA, much to everyone’s chagrin, said no. Teams were allowed to bring and use a single set of tires during a race weekend. The FIA said that Michelin bringing in safer tires would be in direct contravention of that rule.
Michelin asked that a temporary chicane be built to slow cars down ahead of Turn 13. Track officials were fine with the alterations. Nine of the 10 teams were fine with the alterations. The FIA said no because a sudden change could prove dangerous.
So the race went ahead. The Michelin teams withdrew. The three Bridgestone teams contested the race. Michael Schumacher won. Fans were so pissed they either left early, booed, or threw beer bottles onto the track.
It was such a ridiculous situation that it actually caused serious detriment to the United States Grand Prix. After all, how could you expect the event to recover when it had become, as many people said, a farce? It caused many people to call for Max Mosley, the president of the FIA, to resign. The seven Michelin-shod teams were charged with violating the International Sporting Code. While the teams were later exonerated, it was such a disaster that its shadow is still cast on the sport.
F1 only raced at IMS two more times. The track was dropped ahead of the 2009 race season, leaving a US-shaped gap in the schedule until the Circuit of the Americas was completed.