I’ve tried consistently not to dislike the French. Hell, I’ve continued to drink French wine when I can afford it, cognac because I like it, and even eat Brie when it is called for in a recipe. I’ll admit to having switched from Michelin to Bridgestone tires on my little performance car, but that was more a matter of specs than nationalism. But, now they may have gone too far.
I’m talking about the United States Grand Prix fiasco that occurred yesterday. Michelin's Flat at Indy First there was the demise of the National Hockey League. Does anyone really believe that professional hockey can recover? Now, we’ve got a stake in the heart of any future American support of Formula 1 auto racing driven by the French tiremaker and the intransigence of the management of F1.
There was a time when a US F1 race was an annual event and very well supported. It would have been unthinkable not to have the “World Championship” series without an American visit on the yearly schedule. Then, in the glory days, the FIA governing body wrote a convoluted rule that allowed a nation to have more than one GP, provided they were more than 2000 miles apart—only one nation capable of supporting the big show existed, the U.S. of A. So we had two F1 races per year. And, with the ever evolving rules, there even came a year when we had three races in the US.
But, the world grows and attitudes change. In the US we saw the emergence of NASCAR-mania, followed by the self-destructive rupture of Indy car, open-wheel racing into USAC and Tony George’s IRL. Meanwhile across the pond, Bernie Ecclestone of FIA grew globalist and expanded the F1 circuit into South America, Japan, Africa and parts of Europe that barely had ox-carts for the general populace. With only a limited number of dates to run a yearly tournament at that level of expense, the US Grand Prix became one and then none. We had racing, but didn’t have F1. We had NASCAR building a huge market and an entire culture in the US. We had open wheel racing fractured and struggling for survival as USAC and IRL attempted to cut each other’s throat. (Now despite all predictions to the contrary, IRL has prevailed, but other than Indianapolis there doesn’t seem to be the mania of NASCAR.)
F1 still shows the world’s most advanced automotive technology. The cars boast incredible performance and engineering creativity despite a management of the league that keeps tinkering with the rules to raise the cost of participation and hamper the opportunities for expansion. Entry fields erode in F1 from the days of thirty cars or more to now only a paltry twenty (and sometimes less.) Meanwhile, in NASCAR we view the thundering herds rounding the sweeping corners three and four abreast in half-mile long processions, nose-to-tail at 200+ miles per hour.
Now, frustrating an attempt to create a resurgence of F1’s former glory in the US, they’ve effectively killed any hope for the future. Will anyone take a chance by buying a ticket next year after this pathetic exercise in incompetence? Is this likely to entice someone who likes auto racing, but missed ever attending a F1 spectacular, to start saving for the next opportunity in America to see Ferrari and Williams, Schumacher and Barrichelo? Un-bloody-likely.
What was Michelin thinking? Did they not know what the Indianapolis course was like? Weren’t they there last year? What were the teams anticipating? Didn’t they have a voice in the preparation? How stupid was Ecclestone in stubbornly denying any modification in the rules to allow for a change in tires from qualifiers when those Michelins were determined unsuitable for the task? What was Joie Chitwood, at Indianapolis, betting when he refused to consider a simple course modification of a chicane at turn 13 to slow speeds and allow the race to go on? Wasn’t there anyone in the whole package with a clue about what it would take to make the race real?
I remember watching Andretti in Spain, Lauda at Hochenheim, Gilles Villeneuve on the day he died in Belgium, Fittipaldi at a dozen races in Europe, the six-wheel Tyrells in the ‘70s, Graham Hill before his tragic plane crash, and the delightful antics as James Hunt entered the circus with champagne and parties only to become the world champion three years later. Ahh, the good ol’ days of F1. The sort of visions never to be seen again by Americans who will forget that open wheel racing is where it really happens.