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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

US GP memories

I was reading a piece at F1Blog today about the history of the US GP and THAT 2005 race at Indy and felt that I had to make a comment on the recent history of F1 in the USA. It was the first time that I have bought into the hype of combing over the past failed attempts of F1 to break into America and as such I thought that I would share my distinct memories of F1 at the Indy circuit and before that at Phoenix in '90/'91, which are those US GP's which have taken place while I have been watching.


The first US GP to take place that I remember watching was the Season opener in Phoenix in 1990. I may have seen the '89 race but if I did I can't remember it.

Only two distinct memories of the race weekend come to mind when I think back; the first being Jean Alesi showing how brilliantly he could drive a car, the second was the lasting impression of a Minardi on the front row of the grid. This race is probably why I put Alesi down as my favourite driver and Ken Tyrell as one of the great constructors. Rain during qualifying made for a topsy turvey grid which allowed Alesi to put the Tyrell on the second row.

I've found the highlights on youtube which pretty much reflect my memories of the race. It's only 1m30s long but incorporates that moment when Senna, having overtaken Alesi into the corner, arrives at the next corner to find the Tyrell on the inside line retaking the lead. The next lap Senna made the same manoeuvre at the same corner and this time held the lead, just, three corners later.

The video shows a lovely shot of Ken Tyrell chuckling to himself, no doubt thinking how furious Ayrton would have been that Jean would have the temerity to attempt to hold the position. This is Alesi announcing his arrival in F1, much as Monaco in '84 did the same for Senna.

I remember also the qualifying which was wet due to unexpected rain. Pierluigi Martini took total advantage of the conditions to put a Minardi on the front row behind Gerhard Berger with a qualifying time that was less than a tenth of a second off the McLaren's Pole Position time.

Being relatively new to F1 I remember the incredulity with which Murray Walker greeted this amazing result and the level of TV coverage which was afforded to Martini's Minardi during the race. With points given to the first 6 cars, Minardi failed to score coming home in 7th, but it was a creditable performance from Pierluigi who seems to have spent his entire F1 career making the most of the Minardi cars - generally speaking a thankless task.

The 1991 Phoenix Race was really notable for two reasons, one the Riccardo Patrese spin and subsequent crash by Roberto Moreno, which I also found on Youtube:

They left the cars there for the rest of the race, massively dangerous.

The second reason was that it was the first race for the new Jordan F1 team in the 7UP Jordan, the prettiest car on the grid designed by Gary Anderson and driven in 91 by Bertrand Gachot and Andrea de Cesaris. Gachot was the only Jordan driver to compete in Phoenix as de Cesaris failed to prequalify.

Being Irish I was so amazed and excited that an Irish team were on the grid and in such a pretty car that anything else was a bonus. As it was the guys had a great first season (apart from the Gachot incident) and introduced Michael Schumacher to F1 - not a bad start.


Indy was never the most exciting F1 race but, what the track did have, to the dismay of the Michelin boys in 2005, was that fantastic banked curve leading onto the start-finish straight.

While the GP’s at Indy were never massively exciting, particularly around the infield area, the banking gave huge speed coming off the start finish straight and always led to an interesting first corner whenever two cars were slipstreaming line-astern.

The technical challenge was also of massive interest because you would always see half the field set their cars up for the banking and straight and the other half set up for the twisty, pernickity infield. These alternate strategies often led to first corner overtaking by cars set up for the banking and straight, and also to those cars overcooking it into turn one because of their lack of downforce.

So while the races themselves may not have been enjoyable elements of them were.

In respect of the 2005 race I have to say that it held a kind of grim fascination for me. After all of the controversy over the weekend and even up to the race time itself I debated as to whether or not to watch what would surely be nothing more than an exercise in futility. Having decided to watch it I have to say that, if nothing else, it was another historic moment in F1 though the sight of all of the other teams driving into the pits at the end of the parade lap is still gutwrenching.

Of course there was also the 2002 GP, another farcical exercise which saw Schumacher attempt to effect a dead heat.

So while F1 USA may not have given us recent thrilling races to capture the imagination of the US audience it has given us historic moments of farce which can never be forgotten along with the fantastic banking and that one other horrific sight of Ralf Schumacher in 2004 sitting in the middle of the Indy start finish straight with cars streaming by on both sides after one of the most serious F1 accidents in the history of US GP’s.

The Youtube cuts below show the 2002 dead heat farce, the speed off the banking and subsequent problems at Turn 1 and, of course, the 2005 GP lowlights.