The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
As F1 heads back to America, we take a look at the best and worst of the US Grand Prix.
The Good – Phoenix, 1990
Phoenix wasn’t known for being one of F1’s greatest circuits but the streets in Arizona did throw up a brilliant race in 1990 when Ayrton Senna got a run for his money from a young French driver by the name of Jean Alesi.
Qualifying set up the race perfectly, rain interfered with the sessions resulting in a surprise grid. Senna and title rival Alain Prost started the race in fifth and seventh while at the front, Gerhard Berger was on pole alongside Pierluigi Martini who put his Minardi on the front-row, the only time in history for the team better known for occupying the back row of the grid.
At the start, Alesi amazed everyone and rocketed from fourth to first in his underpowered Tyrrell-Ford. The Frenchman, in only his ninth grand prix start, began to pull away and by the end of the first lap he was already two and a half seconds clear of the field.
Not many drivers took Senna on wheel-to-wheel.
Senna battled his way up to second and soon began to cut Alesi’s lead that was now over eight seconds. On lap 34, Senna went for the inside line to pass but unbelievably Alesi kept it round the outside and re-took the lead. Not many drivers took Senna on wheel-to-wheel, especially not an inexperienced driver in a much slower car.
Alesi went on to score a brilliant second position with Senna taking the win. The Frenchman had well and truly put himself on the F1 radar and in some style, even Senna himself praised Alesi saying he had all the hallmarks of a future world champion.
The Bad – Indianapolis, 2002
The Indianapolis crowd were used to side-by-side finishes in Indy Car, so when the Formula One threw up one of the closest finishes in Grand Prix history you’d think they’d have been in for a brilliant race. It was however another one of Ferrari’s fixed finishes.
The 2002 season had seen complete dominance from the Italian team, winning every race that year bar two. At the US Grand Prix, they’d already stitched up both titles easily and drivers Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello were free to race each other.
Any hope of not hearing the Italian national anthem again were abolished on lap two, when Ralf Schumacher lost control when passing his Williams team mate Juan Pablo Montoya. The two collided and any chance of them spoiling Ferrari’s party was over.
We tried to cross the line together but failed by a little bit.
Schumacher led Barrichello heading into the banking for the final time but the German began to slow dramatically at the finish. The Ferraris crossed the line side by side with nothing between them and Barrichello took the win by 0.011 seconds.
After the race it appeared that neither driver knew what was happening. "We tried to cross the line together but failed by a little bit,” said Schumacher.
Some believed Schumacher messed up a formation finish while others thought he was paying back Barrichello for letting him win the controversial Austrian Grand Prix that year. Rival teams didn’t agree it was a kind gesture and felt that Ferrari brought the sport into disrepute again. Whatever the reason behind it, a confusing finish certainly wasn’t the best way to introduce Formula One to the American audience.
The Ugly – Indianapolis, 2005
The most farcical race in the history of Formula One, the 2005 US Grand Prix is one that people would rather forget.
During practice, Ralf Schumacher and a number of other Michelin runners suffered tyre failures. That season, new rules meant tyres were not allowed to be changed during the race, a rule that only added to Michelin’s problems.
Safety concerns grew before Michelin told its runners that their tyres would not be safe over the full race distance. Michelin looked for a compromise, a temporary chicane or tyre stops were suggested but the sport’s governing body, the FIA, refused.
Despite this the race still went ahead with rumours that all Michelin runners would pull-out of the race and sure enough as the cars lined up on the grid, fourteen of the twenty cars came into the pits to retire.
This left the six Bridgestone runners, Ferrari’s Schumacher and Barrichello, Jordan’s Tiago Monteiro and Narain Karthikeyan and Minardi’s Christijan Albers and Patrick Friesacher to complete the six car grid.
Some fans even threw bottles and rubbish onto the track in disgust at what they were witnessing.
Booing and jeering could be heard from the crowd who not only had no idea what was going on but had also been cheated out a great race. Some fans even threw bottles and rubbish onto the track in disgust at what they were witnessing.
Schumacher comfortably led home a Ferrari 1-2 from Barrichello while Monteiro completed the podium. During the victory ceremony fans could still be heard booing, none of the usual podium representatives were there and things got even more awkward when Monteiro joyfully celebrated his first podium finish as an F1 driver next to the rather embarrassed looking Ferrari drivers.
Michelin offered compensation to all fans that bought tickets and even offered additional free tickets to those who renewed theirs for the 2006 US Grand Prix.
The damage however was already done and just two years later the race at Indianapolis was scrapped from the calendar.