He was third in the United States in 2005, where they started only six cars, and in 2017 he crashed in a promotional event. The memory of the last driver who came to F1 from the country that this weekend recovers his Grand Prix after 24 years.
It was a scandal. For many, the worst race in history. For others, the most ridiculous. On June 19, 2005, only six drivers started the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix. They belonged to three teams, the only ones who raced with Bridgestone tires. The rest, assisted by Michelin, made the reconnaissance lap and got into the pits. The anger and disappointment that was lived in Indianapolis contrasted with the joy of one of those six “survivors” on the track: Tiago Monteiro, the only Portuguese who made the podium in the history of the category and the last representative pilot of that country, who this weekend recovers his Grand Prix after 24 years.
Those who were in front of the television that day had more information than the more than 200 thousand spectators who had attended Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The official transmission stayed in the previous moments of the race with the figure of Bernie Ecclestone. The historical boss of F1 walked disoriented on the main straight and met Jean Todt, Ferrari’s team boss, the most powerful team in those years and the architect of the race taking place.
It is that only two days before, the interior configuration of the mythical oval experienced an eventful day of tests that Toyota suffered. Friday morning Ricardo Zonta He spun when his left rear tire broke. Then Ralf Schumacher it suffered the curve 13 of the route, with great incline and high speed, and he hit the wall. In addition, McLaren finished the practice sessions with its left rear tire on the verge of exploding.
From that season on, a new rule had been in place that further complicated the outlook at Indianapolis: the drivers only had one set of tires for qualifying and the race. And with the known facts, Michelin informed McLaren, Renault, Toyota, BAR, BMW Williams, Red Bull and Sauber that couldn’t guarantee those wheels would hold up a race nor the safety of the pilots.
There were meetings in which the seven teams assisted by Michelin they implored changes. The first proposal, promoted by the French company, was to allow a pit-stop every ten turns. But while that option was being discarded, that of modifying the path and create a chicane at turn 12 and 13 to reduce speed and avoid the passage of cars around the curve of the oval circuit. All teams seemed to agree, even those assisted by Bridgestone. Except for one …
“That does not go with us. We have no problems with the tires”They said from Ferrari, who did not even show up in the last match, two hours before the start.
According to the reports of that race, Ecclestone would have asked Max Mosley, who presided over the International Automobile Federation (FIA), to mediate and ratify the agreement. But the FIA refused. “We must safeguard the interests of the thousands of spectators who have paid for their tickets,” they remarked, leaving the Englishman alone in the worst situation he had faced in 30 years.
20 minutes before the start of the Grand Prix, only six starting boxes were occupied: the fifth and the seventh, with the Ferraris of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello and the last four with the Jordan de Monteiro (17th) and Narain Karthikeyan (19 °) and Minardi of Christijan Albers (18 °) and Patrick Friesacher (20°).
Suddenly, there was movement in the pits and the Renault of Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella They started the Indian line that brought the poleman Jarno Trulli (Toyota) and ended with the McLaren.
However, until minutes before the race, nobody knew what was going to happen. Not Ecclestone. “Try to go out five laps and then go into the pits,” he said. But Flavio Briatore, head of Renault, the team that would become champion with Alonso that year, and the maximum instigator of not starting, replied: “We cannot do it.” Those who were that day that the Englishman issued his sentence say: “So, Formula 1 is dead!”.
Mechanics and officials left the track while the 20 cars went out for a warm-up lap and the public exploded in the stands. But everything suddenly changed when, instead of taking the last corner, 16 pilots headed to the pit lane and they put away their cars.
The boo was overcome by the silence with which that unforgettable Grand Prix started, which Schumacher won and which on the podium, in addition to Barrichello, had Monteiro, who with a modest Jordan achieved the only podium of his career and the only one for a Portuguese in Formula 1.
“It was a very strange weekend with the tire problems, a lot of discussions, a lot of meetings in different motorhomes, trying to reach an agreement to run but perhaps without receiving the points, or some kind of decision to make everyone happy, “said Alonso.
The championship leader also pointed to the winning team of the day as responsible: “Thank you Ferrari for thinking about the safety of the drivers”.
Monteiro did not feel the same. “I remember being congratulated by Michael and by Rubens. We were all very happy, but they also told us not to celebrate too much because it was a strange weekend and it was not the best race for the fans. When I got to the podium, I saw a sea of people dressed in yellow (from the Jordan team), shouting and congratulating and throwing things at the celebration. And despite everything I saw many serious people for what had happened, but I did not hear boos or anything like that. It was not the most exciting podium, but the spectators were very respectful, “he recalled in statements to Autobild.
The truth is that many of those spectators left the Indianapolis circuit when the seven teams assisted by Michelin decided not to go out to race. One of them even became famous when he showed a makeshift banner to a TV camera that read “Back $”, which could be translated as “return the dollars”, for the between 70 and 150 they had spent for a ticket.