Cash and Chaos: 2005 United States Grand Prix

The 2005 United States Grand Prix truly redefined the term, “Cash is King”. ATRL’s Immy Cousins takes a look at the infamous “race” in Indianapolis.

Written by Immy Cousins

October 21, 2021

This article is a part of our ‘History of Motorsports’ series. These are a selection of short, educational articles discussing important events and figures across a wide variety of motorsports series.

 

As each weekend goes by, we sit predicting how many people will finish a race, but how often do we anticipate that only 30% of the grid will finish the race? Almost never. For the fans who sat eagerly watching the 2005 US Grand Prix, this was the result they so famously saw. 

 

This fiasco started at the beginning of the season when a new rule was introduced that only allowed teams one set of tyres for qualifying and the race. During this season, two tyre manufacturers were being used, Bridgestone and Michelin, with Ferrari being the Bridgestone’s only frontline team while Michelin had McLaren, Renault, Williams, and Toyota. 

 

The first incident of the weekend was during Friday practice and involved Brazilian Toyota driver Ricardo Zonta. Zonta’s rear left tyre failed, causing a spin during the morning session. While this incident alone didn’t cause much concern or draw attention, what followed has left a mark in motoring history.

 

In FP2, a second incident occurs, once again involving a Toyota driver. This time Ralf Schumacher fell victim to a heavy crash on the exit to Turn 13. The first questions asked were by Toyota themselves. Reviewing the crash footage, they assessed and claimed that the left rear had gone down, the same as Zonta’s. Even more, questions were raised when Toyota’s final driver Jarno Trulli returned after the session with what looked to be vertical cuts in the sidewall of his rear left tyre. They took the information they had gathered to Michelin, who informed them that they must have been running the pressures too low.

 

After a small investigation, Michelin returned to Toyota to inform them that they had found similar signs to what Jarno had returned within multiple other competing teams. Michelin worked overnight in an attempt to understand what was happening to their tyres. On Saturday 18th June, Michelin came back to Toyota with what they firmly believed to be the cause of the issues. 

 

Michelin had come to agree that it was a combination of the tyres and the banking of Turn 13. The banking was causing the sidewall of the tyres to collapse. This was the prognosis Michelin was running with after a night of simulations. The fault was only showing in Toyota as the build of their car was accentuating the frequency of the wave that was causing the sidewall to collapse, therefore making them the most vulnerable. 

 

The best Michelin could do was to warn its teams to take precautions in FP3. Teams were told to run at the top end of the tyre pressures and to avoid extensive runs if possible. They were even told to run lighter on fuel to prevent straining the tyre. As a result of these less strenuous runs, the issues did not appear as much; however, teams that had run longer runs started to show minor sidewall defects. 

 

Trulli claimed pole position in qualifying, but Toyota said this was likely down to them running lighter fuel due to extra precaution. 

 

Michelin went to the FIA that day and said that the race could not run with their tyres at the top speed. It would be too dangerous. Michelin requested that the cars be slowed down for that race; the FIA instead told them they would need to provide new tyres for the race, but Michelin didn’t have enough. By this time, the whole paddock knew that this was a severe issue.

That night, a meeting was held between all the Michelin teams to try and assess what could be done. They collectively came up with the idea of introducing a chicane, similar to what had been done at the 1994 Spanish GP. They proposed that this chicane be introduced just before Turn 13, as they had narrowed down the problem to there. The idea was to slow the cars down before the turn, therefore reducing the stress put on the tyres. However, race director Charlie Whiting disagreed. Both he and the president of the FIA were against the chicane as it could create other dangers without the track configuration being thoroughly tested. 

 

Come Sunday morning, there was no sign of a temporary chicane or a solution. Emergency meetings were held between Michelin, Bernie Ecclestone, and Whiting. Whiting made his point clear the chicane was not to happen as it was considered unsafe. The counter-proposal presented by the FIA was that they would lift the rule on only using one set of tyres, meaning teams could stop and change tyres throughout the race as much as they wished. Other ideas proposed were allowing cars to run through the pit lane every lap of the race to avoid Turn 13 and even imposing a speed limit on the Michelin cars while allowing the Bridgestone cars to run at normal speed. 

 

The Sunday morning meetings went on for hours, with no solution reached. In the end, Michelin admitted responsibility for the problems caused over the weekend, and all teams concluded that the Michelin teams would only complete the formation lap and were not to race. While the teams were on board, some of the drivers required more convincing for this final plan. 

The formation lap went ahead; the Michelin cars filed into the pit lane after being completed, leaving only the 6 Bridgestone cars to start the race. The race ran with only the 6 cars from Ferrari, Minardi, Jordan, and plenty of unhappy fans. The disaster that was the 2005 US GP did not finish that Sunday night with plenty of arguments between Michelin and the FIA had. Michelin was subject to compensating the fans that attended, including subsidizing tickets for the 2006 event.

 

Seven Michelin teams were brought in for a World Motor Sport Council hearing and were found guilty of failing to ensure that they had suitable tyres; but with strong mitigating circumstances and wrongful refusal of allowing cars to start the race, regarding their right to use the pitlane each lap. Some weeks later, the World Motor Sport Council overturned this decision and dropped all charges for the teams, as they were not at fault. Three other charges on top of these were dropped.

Michelin was later given credit for how far they went to compensate fans, going a long way to correct what they had been at fault for. The 2005 US Grand Prix will forever be left in history as one of the most disastrous Grand Prix weekends, but for Michael Schumacher, it provided him with one of the many wins that led him to his legacy career. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Immy Cousins is currently studying a degree in Sociology at the University of Exeter, aiming to use it in order to help her train to be a teacher in the future.
 
When she’s not endlessly searching for new motorsports facts and figures, Immy is usually found accidentally sleeping through early F2 and F3 races, glued to F1, working at her part-time job or spending many, many hours on various social media and streaming sites.

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