Michelin teams to face FIA sanctions

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The Independent Online

Michelin teams will face disciplinary action after their unsafe tyres prompted a mass pull-out in the United States Grand Prix here on Sunday.

Michelin teams will face disciplinary action after their unsafe tyres prompted a mass pull-out in the United States Grand Prix here on Sunday.

The French company advised their seven partner teams not to race, a request they all complied with by pulling into the pit lane to retire after the warm-up lap. That left six cars to race.

The FIA, motor sport's governing body reacted yesterday by summoning all seven Michelin teams to a world motorsport council meeting next Wednesday in Paris.

Tyre companies must bring two tyre compounds to each race, with one generally understood to be a "safe" option which will be certain to last the pace. Michelin's two compounds at Indianapolis were both judged to be unsafe due to loads experienced on the banked final turn, a problem discovered when Ralf Schumacher crashed heavily there in practice after a puncture.

The FIA reacted angrily to Michelin's failure to bring adequate tyres and are now considering charging the company with bringing the sport into disrepute.

Before the grand prix, the FIA race director, Charlie Whiting, wrote to Michelin to express his surprise that no safe tyre had been brought to Indianapolis.

He wrote: "We are very surprised that this difficulty has arisen. As you know, each team is allowed to bring two different types of tyre to an event so as to ensure that a back-up [usually of lower performance] is available should problems occur. It is hard to understand why you have not supplied your teams with such a tyre given your years of experience at Indianapolis.

"That the teams you supply are not in possession of such a tyre will also be a matter for the FIA to consider in due course."

The FIA have unlimited powers to punish Michelin, from fining the company to banning them from Formula One. If charges are made against the seven teams they are likely to be made under article 151C of the FIA's international sporting code, which deals with "any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motorsport generally."

Yesterday, as Michelin's share price dropped by three per cent in Paris, the company's motorsport director, Pierre Dupasquier, was adamant that he made the right decision in asking teams not to race. The Frenchman said: "Anything we have heard so far was more on the side of 'congratulations for the responsibility, you made the right decision' and so on.

"You ruin your reputation if you do stupid things. If you race with a problem in the tyre that could send the drivers in the wall then you ruin your reputation because you are knowledgeable and you are responsible. In this situation we did not have the right tyre for the conditions - but fine, it happens to everyone."

The FIA, though, was adamant that Michelin were to blame. "Formula One is a sporting contest," a statement read. "It must operate clear rules. These cannot be negotiated each time a competitor brings the wrong equipment to a race."

The statement said that rather than boycott the race the Michelin teams should have agreed to run at reduced speeds, while Michelin said the race could have gone ahead with all cars had the FIA agreed to build a temporary chicane before the final banked corner.

Their deputy director of competition, Frédéric Henry-Biabaud, put on a brave face, saying, "I really don't believe this will have an effect on Michelin's future in Formula One."

The track's chief operating officer, Joie Chitwood III, said it was a "major setback" to Formula One's future in the United States, but that talk of voiding the contract with Bernie Ecclestone's Formula One Management company (which runs out in 2006) was premature.

Asked if the damage was reparable, Chitwood said: "I'm not sure. I hope it is."