(The main part of this article was written in June 2005 after I attended the US Grand Prix where only six cars started.)
You probably already heard about the 14 Michelin-tyred drivers who didn't start the US Grand Prix and the consequent 73 lap Ferrari, Jordan, Minardi parade. Let me tell you first hand what it was like at the track.
It was pathetic.
Nobody in the crowd had a clue about what was about to happen until after the warm-up lap when 14 cars pulled straight into their garages. I thought they must all be changing tyres and starting from the pits and I said as much to my two mates who I had dragged along to watch their first F1 race. "This is going to be very interesting, fellas. All these cars are all going to start from pit lane! Should make for a very interesting race.". Wrong. They didn't change tyres - they just didn't race. The crowd was absolutely stunned. So was the track commentator Tom Carnegie who was lost for words. (Carnegie has called every major race at the Indianapolis motor speedway since 1946 and knows how to talk about motor sport.)
The "race", if you can call it that, was a total farce (it started on-time of course - the penalties for a late-start and all that lost satellite air-time are too high even for a rich sport like F1 to countenance). For the first 10 laps or so it seemed like all six cars were turns 5 & 6 at the same time. That's how slow the Ferraris were going. (Schumacher qualified 3 seconds faster than the slowest Minardi and would normally have been half a lap ahead by lap 10.)
The day could have been salvaged in a well-deserved ironic twist when Schumacher drove Barichello off the track in turn one, however they managed to avoid taking each other out (perhaps the penalties for that are higher than for a late start) and the charade continued right to its pathetic end. It's a pity - Ferrari deserved to DNF and a Minardi 1-2 would have been a fitting end to the whole debacle.
The fans, to use the local vernacular, were pissed. People walked out, threw stuff onto the track, gave the bird to the drivers, booed the teams, made signs with "$'s back" and "Axe Max" and generally tried to express how thoroughly disgusted they were at being ripped off in such a "fuck y'all" kind of way.
I was listening to the TV coverage on a scanner and heard the "off air" chat between the commentators and the director. Good thing they were off air. Speed TV interviewed a bunch of drivers while the farce was unfolding and couldn't use any of the interviews because the drivers were all swearing too much.
So who was right and who was wrong? Michelin? The FIA? The Teams? Ferrari? The Track? The Bubba in the Corner 6 stand who spilled his beer in my camera bag? Who the hell cares!
Imagine if you charged a quarter of a million people a chunk of change to watch an event and you didn't deliver. For a European-based sport that is trying hard to build it's US market share it's difficult to imagine a more stupid act. They should have figured something out and run a safe, competitive race. Or at least refunded the fourty bucks I spent on five Fosters and a pork sandwich. Actually, come to think of it, getting drunk was the highlight of the day. That and the pit girl holding number 42 for the Formula BMW support race. And the girl holding 6, and the one holding 13 and the one holding 7. And the one holding 22. And the one standing opposite the one holding 22. And the one behind her. The pork sandwich wasn't too rough either.
The FIA can take their over-priced, over-hyped flying circus and shove it up their rich, fat arse. That's the last F1 race I'm paying my hard earned money to see.
PS I wonder if they'll have the same pit girls next year? That might make it worth going. I'll let you know.
PPS (November 2006) I didn't go the next year, and neither did tens of thousands of other disenfranchised fans. 2006 attendance was way down from 2005 and a mere fraction of the 225,000 that attended the 2000 race. There were even empty seats in Stand H and those are premium seats that are usually sold out months before the race. The kind souls at the US GP ticket office mailed me three free tickets, and free parking, all I had to do was drive 2 hours up the road. Sorry fellas - I have better things to do.