The future of Formula One in the United States remained cloudy as recriminations flew over Sunday's depleted U.S. Grand Prix at the world's most famous race track. Despite worldwide popularity, Formula One has never drawn widespread interest in America, where a lack of American drivers - none since 1993 - has hurt its appeal among fans.
The scandal burst when lawyers for a Colorado fan filed a suit in federal court seeking reimbursement for client Larry Bowers and other ticketholders who they claim were defrauded by Sunday's race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Only six cars competed that day after Michelin raised concerns about the safety of its tires in the final turn of the road course, prompting 14 drivers to withdraw.
Following safety concerns over Michelin tires, after Ralf Schumacher suffered an accident due to tire failure, the manufacturer advised their six teams not to contest the race in Indianapolis unless a chicane was added. This was vetoed by the governing body, the FIA, and it resulted in 14 of the 20 cars on the grid pulling into the pits to retire before the race even started, leaving the farcical sight of two Ferraris battling Jordans and Minardis for honours, reports Sportinglife.com.
Speedway spokesman Ron Green declined to comment on the lawsuit and said many fans were renewing their tickets. "The renewals far outnumbered people who waited in line to talk about the possibility of a refund," Green said.
But even Joie Chitwood, president and chief operating officer of the Speedway, acknowledged that the politics of Formula One and the fallout from Sunday's race may have irreparably harmed the series in the United States.
Former world champion Nigel Mansell insists a compromise could have been reached before events surrounding the United States Grand Prix saw it descend into farce, says the Daily Mail.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the series' only U.S. appearance, and seemed a likely choice. The track draws hundreds of thousands of fans each year to the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR's Brickyard 400.
Chitwood said if the series can't succeed in Indianapolis, its chances for survival anywhere in the United States may be beyond repair.
"I'm not sure that anything that occurred would help this event prosper," Chitwood said after Sunday's race.
"This sets us back in all of our efforts or all of the gains we've made in introducing this sport to America."
"The main reason is we don't have any Americans in Formula One," said Bob Bondurant, a former F1 driver who grooms F1 hopefuls at his High Performance Driving school near Phoenix. "I raced Formula One in 1966, and we had Dan Gurney and Phil Hill and Mario Andretti."
Hill won the F1 championship in 1961. Andretti, who combined his Indy-car career with F1 for several years, was the 1978 Formula One champion.
But Bondurant said the withdrawal of the 14 Michelin cars and the outrage by many fans on Sunday could hurt the series worldwide. "Michelin's really the one that's at fault with that. They should have had the proper tires for the drivers," he said. "Having them all drop out was very stupid, I think."
Frank Williams' team was one of the seven Michelin runners who did not race at Indy. According to Williams, such was their desperation to race, the Michelin runners agreed to run even if it meant they couldn't score World Championship points.
"We were desperate to compete, to give the American fans their entertainment, even if it meant giving up championship points," he told BBC Radio Five Live.
Williams called racing in North America “fundamental to Formula One's commercial health.” He insists, that teams consider North America an untapped commercial market of considerable potential.
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