In an attempt to clarify events at Indianapolis last weekend, Minardi boss has issued his own personal account of the weekend:
Much has been said about the farce that occurred on Sunday, June 19, in Indianapolis, and I feel that in the interests of transparency, it would be worthwhile for someone who was actually present, and participated in the discussions leading up to the start of the Grand Prix, to provide a truthful account of what took place, both for the 100,000-plus fans who were present, and for the hundreds of millions of people watching on television around the world.
While this is a genuine attempt to provide a factual timeline of the relevant events that took place, should any minor detail or sequence be disputed, it will not, in my opinion, affect in any way this account of events that led up to arguably the most damaging spectacle in the recent history of Formula One.
For those who have not followed the recent political developments in Formula One, it is fair to say that, for over a year now, the majority of teams have felt at odds with the actions of the FIA and its President, Max Mosley, concerning the regulations, and the way in which those regulations have been introduced, or are proposed to be introduced. Not a weekend has gone by where some, or all, of the teams are not discussing or disputing these regulations. This is so much the case that it is common knowledge the manufacturers have proposed their own series commencing January 1, 2008, and this is supported by at least two of the independent teams. The general perception is that, in many instances, these issues have become personal, and it is my opinion that was a serious contributory factor to the failure to find a solution that would have allowed all 20 cars to compete in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix.
Friday, June 17
I noticed that Ricardo Zonta’s Toyota had stopped, but in all honesty, did not pay any attention to the reasons why; however, I actually witnessed Ralf Schumacher’s accident, both on the monitors, and more significantly, I could see what took place from my position on the pit wall. This necessitated a red flag, and in the numerous replays on the monitors, it looked very much like the cause of the accident was a punctured rear tyre.
Throughout the afternoon, numerous people in the paddock suggested it was a tyre failure and commented that it was similar to the serious accident which befell Ralf Schumacher during the 2004 US Grand Prix. Later that evening was the first time I was aware of a potential problem with the Michelin tyres at this event. In all honesty, I didn’t pay a great deal of attention, as our team is on Bridgestone tyres.
Saturday, June 18
On arriving at the circuit, the word throughout the paddock was that there was a potential problem with the rear tyres supplied to all Michelin teams for this event, and it became evident as the first and second sessions were run that most of the affected teams were being very conservative with the amount of on-track running they were doing. In addition, Toyota announced that it had substituted Ricardo Zonta for Ralf Schumacher, who would take no further part in the event. Speculation was rife in the paddock that some Michelin teams might not take part in qualifying. Also, during the practice session, I was informed there would be a Team Principals’ meeting with Bernie Ecclestone at 1430 hrs after qualifying, which I incorrectly assumed would centre around the Michelin issue.
Qualifying took place, and indeed, all 20 cars qualified for Sunday’s Grand Prix.
At approximately 1420 hrs, I attended Bernie’s office, and with representatives present from all other teams, including Ferrari, the meeting commenced. Surprisingly, the main topic of conversation was the number of events and calendar for 2006, followed by a suggestion that a meeting be convened at the next Grand Prix to discuss two issues only – firstly, a proposal for a single-tyre supplier in Formula One, and secondly, whether or not it would be desirable to qualify with or without a race fuel load in 2006. Only at the very end of the meeting did the Michelin tyre issue arise, and in fairness, it was not discussed in any great detail. I personally found this strange, but as I have stated, it did not affect Minardi directly, and therefore I had no reason to pursue the matter.
Throughout Saturday evening, there was considerable speculation in the paddock that the tyre issue was much more serious than at first thought, and people were talking about a fresh shipment of tyres being flown overnight from France, and what penalty the Michelin teams would take should those tyres be used. By the time I left the paddock, people were taking bets on Minardi and Jordan scoring points!
Later that evening, I checked with our Sporting Director on what developments had occurred, and was told that the issue was indeed very serious, and the possibility existed that the Michelin teams would not take part in the race.
Sunday, June 19
I arrived at the circuit at 0815 hrs, only to find the paddock was buzzing with stories suggesting the Michelin teams would be unable to take part in the Grand Prix. I was then handed a copy of correspondence between Michelin, the FIA, and the Michelin teams that revealed the true extent of the problem. By now, journalists were asking if Minardi would agree to a variation of the regulations to allow the Michelin teams to compete, and what penalties I felt would be appropriate.