Jarno Trulli will start the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway from a surprise pole position after beating Kimi Raikkonen by a mere 0.069sec in qualifying as they outpaced Jenson Button and Giancarlo Fisichella. But behind yesterday's performances lurks a spectre of potential tyre failure, following the accident in turn 13 on Friday that ruled Ralf Schumacher out of participation in the race.
Michelin believe that it was a result of a failure arising from the combination of suspension camber angle and the tyre pressure that Toyota chose. Yesterday's practice and qualifying went ahead, with all of the Michelin teams adopting fresh recommendations from the tyre manufacturer regarding those parameters.
The problem is, however, they will change the wear rate and performance of the tyres, so the Michelin teams will go into the race with much less data on predicted performance, because what they spent their time gathering on Friday and Saturday has been rendered academic. Higher tyre pressures, for example, lead to oversteer and higher wear, and there is no way that they can predict what this will be. With increased wear comes an increased risk of the sort of failures Michelin experienced here last year.
Michelin have flown in Barcelona-specification tyres from Clermont-Ferrand and they arrived this morning, but it remains to be seen whether their teams will be permitted to use them for the race and, if they are, what olive branch might be extended to Ferrari and Bridgestone, who have not experienced any tyre problems so far this weekend. It is a political hot potato the FIA must treat with real sensitivity, not only because of the underlying safety connotations, but because some teams may wish to stay with the tyres they have already tested.
Schumacher Jnr might be forgiven for developing a phobia about IMS. The record for consecutive accidents here probably still belongs to the late "Cactus" Jack Turner, who cartwheeled down the main straight during the famed 500 three years in a row in the Sixties. But Ralf is catching up after his second straight shunt in the banked turn 13 on Friday that duplicated the incident which took him out of last year's race and led him to miss several more.
Schumacher's misgivings aside, you never come to this hallowed place without breathing deep the history of a great sport. Its self-styled moniker "the world capital of racing" is stretching things a bit (though with the 500-mile classic, the Grand Prix and the Nascar 400 it embraces the three top-line disciplines in the US), but the Brickyard is one of the spiritual homes of motor racing.
The American rookie Scott Speed lived up to his name with the eighth-fastest time as Red Bull's third driver in Friday's practice, and local stars Tony Kanaan and Danica Patrick are mooted for BAR tests in the near future. There are even rumours of a second US race, in Las Vegas, in 2007.
Another image for the possible future came from the FIA president, Max Mosley, via his latest proposals for the sport's technical rules from 2008. Designed to assist independent teams, they are a pastiche of manual gear-boxes and standardised components that, critics suggest, will dumb down the sport and could drive technology-minded manufacturers away. But others believe they could genuinely reduce costs and improve the racing.
Sir Frank Williams said: "How does Max truly define an independent team? Is that a team with no money or is it the opposite, are we owned by a billionaire with lots of money with only one mission, to win every championship he can get his hands on?
"Are we an independent team? We certainly are. We've managed to get, through merit, a freebie engine, but next year maybe will have to pay for engines. It doesn't suit me to want to have to fire 500-plus people next year. But much more importantly, if you want to field a perfect field of 10 independent 30-man teams, would Formula One still be Formula One and still have the world's third-largest sporting TV global footprint?"Reuse content