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Americans bid farewell to F1 goofs

Bob Kravitz Indianapolis Star

Goodbye, Formula One.

Good riddance, Bernie Ecclestone.

Au revoire, Michelin.

Ciao, Ferrari.

What we witnessed Sunday was not only a monumental disgrace to the sport and everybody involved in it, but it should spell the end of the U.S. Grand Prix in Indianapolis. And, we’re quite sure, the United States.

Remember how F-1 boss Ecclestone complained Friday that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway folks don’t do a good enough job of selling his race to local motor sports fans?

How would he propose to sell a race next season? “The United States Grand Prix: This time, we think they’ll show up!”

Let me roll out the thesaurus. It was a fiasco. It was a debacle.

Unless you’re a lawyer, in which case, it’s a godsend.

As badly as I feel for the locals who got ripped off, I feel worse for the thousands who spent even more money traveling from all over the world. Some of these people made their summer vacation plans around this race. Refunding the ticket price wouldn’t come close to making this right for our foreign visitors.

Simply stated, this race is done. Forget what any contract might say about future events. The Formula One gang has lost all its credibility with the U.S. market, and has torn apart every relationship it needed to make this thing succeed.

It was bad enough that F-1 came into Indianapolis six years ago acting like they deserved to be treated like royalty. Drivers were completely unavailable to fans. And F-1 officials generally treated everybody, including the local media, like a mere nuisance.

It was bad enough three years ago when Ferrari staged one of its “managed” finishes, with Michael Schumacher slowing down to give teammate Rubens Barrichello the victory.

With Sunday’s farce, though, F-1 wrote itself a one-way ticket out of Indianapolis and, in all likelihood, the entire American market.

Which raises the question: Can we help them pack?

The Grand Prix is (was) a nice, novel event, and it brought an estimated $170 million into the local economy. For one weekend a year, Indianapolis felt a little bit like an international city.

But F-1 is the rude houseguest who never brings anything to the party and continues to wipe its muddy shoes on the new Persian rug.

And to do it at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the mecca of all motor sports, that’s like playing handball against the Wailing Wall.

Tell me, what was the purpose of having the original 20 cars come out on the grid, only to have the 14 Michelin men exit stage left?

At one point during the Speed TV telecast, Derek Daly asked that very question of Adrian Newey, the technical director for McLaren Mercedes. The response was, “Maybe to give them something of a show.”

Daly, you could tell, wanted to punch the guy in the teeth.

Now, of course, comes the time for apportioning the blame, and the best way to begin is by telling you who isn’t culpable in this situation: Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO Tony George.

Naturally, people looking for a refund will gaze in his direction, but, tell me, what else could he have done? How could they have been expected to fix this?

No, if we’re assigning culpability, it belongs to a lot of other folks.

•To Ecclestone, who couldn’t find a way to get his own politically charged house in order. The buck stops with him.

•To Michelin, a company that just got so much bad publicity, the Michelin Man was seen drowning his sorrows in an Indianapolis pub. Speed TV’s telecast, by the way, was sponsored by – yep – Michelin.

•To the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, which put politics ahead of the fans. Inexcusable.

In the end, it was business as usual in big-time racing, destroying any foothold F-1 might have gained on U.S. soil.

“Quite frankly,” Ecclestone said, “the fans got cheated.”

True enough.

The good news is, without any more of these races, it can’t happen again.

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