Caring too much about safety is apparently tantamount to acts prejudicial to the good name of Formula One, even though Max Mosley, the president of the sport's governing body, the FIA, has been proselytising so much on the subject in recent months to the point of bullying through a reduction in engine capacity for 2006.
That was the curious message emanating from the portals of the the FIA in Paris yesterday, as the seven Michelin teams – Renault, McLaren, Toyota, Williams, Red Bull, Sauber and BAR were found guilty by the FIA World Motor Sport Council of wrongfully refusing to compete in the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis. All seven did not participate specifically because the tyre manufacturer had told them their tyres were not safe without an agreed reduction in speed through the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's banked Turn 13.
The council declared the teams guilty of failing to ensure that they were in possession of suitable tyres for the race, but with strong, mitigating circumstances; guilty of wrongfully refusing to allow their cars to start the race; not guilty of refusing to race subject to a speed restriction, having regard to the absence of any detailed plan for this; not guilty of combining to make a demonstration for the reason that they had hoped to race until the last minute; not guilty of failing to inform the stewards of their intention not to start for the same reason.
There had been fears that each team would be banned for a race (each ban to be taken separately to avoid a repeat of Indianapolis). Or that BAR-Honda, already on a suspended ban after a fuel ballast infringement, might be thrown out of the championship altogether. Instead, the fact that the council deferred discussion of possible penalties until an extraordinary meeting is held on 14 September, has been hailed as a climbdown dressed up as a Sword of Damocles by the FIA.
After the hearing Mosley explained that the delay in making decisions on penalties was due to the need to assess what steps have been taken by the seven Michelin teams and/or Michelin to compensate fans and repair the damage to the reputation of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and to the image of Formula One; and what steps have been taken by the Michelin teams to ensure that nothing similar ever happens again.
The paucity of this further underlined suggestions of a climbdown, since Michelin had only the previous evening declared their intention to compensate US GP ticket holders.
Hard questions remain unanswered, such as why the governing body did not ensure that the spectators at Indianapolis were not deprived of the sight of all 20 cars racing; or how any of the teams could be held responsible for Michelin's failure to provide suitable tyres, given that there are no other banked circuits on which they might have tested them. Nor did the FIA accept the slightest blame for its own role.
Prior to the hearings 19 drivers (excluding Ferrari's and Jordan's) signed a statement supporting the teams and outlining why they behaved as they did. It concluded: "All of us wanted to have a proper race at Indianapolis, one of motor racing's sacred venues, and to showcase F1 to the American public. We were all extremely disappointed that we were unable to do this."
Six of the teams found guilty said they intend to appeal – Red Bull are considering their options – but this weekend's French GP can proceed without hindrance, together with next week's British race, which is a sell-out. Perhaps a troubled sport can make some appeasement to its loyal fans, by staging similar races to the eight which preceded Indianapolis.