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WORLD SPORT

U.S. Grand Prix descends into farce

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana -- World champion Michael Schumacher scored a hollow victory in the U.S. Grand Prix after only six cars started Sunday's race due to safety fears over the reliability of Michelin tires.

Seven of the 10 teams did not race after their demands for a makeshift chicane at the Brickyard -- which they believed would have made racing safe -- were not met.

Amid chaotic scenes, the sport's governing body, the FIA, refused to change the circuit, leading to an unprecedented boycott.

All the drivers completed the parade lap but then peeled off into the pits, leaving reigning champions Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi racing.

All three teams run on rival Bridgestone tires which apparently had no problems.

Schumacher and team-mate Rubens Barrichello swiftly occupied the first two positions from their outclassed rivals.

But their domination was met with little enthusiasm from the 120,000 crowd who booed and whistled and threw beer cans on to the track.

Schumacher went on to claim a hollow victory, the only incident of note in the race coming as the German left the pits after his second stop.

Barrichello looked set to edge ahead of him but Schumacher refused to give way, forcing his team-mate onto the grass.

Portugal's Tiago Monteiro of Jordan achieved his first podium finish in third.

The ten points sees Schumacher take closer order in the championship behind leader Fernando Alonso whose Renault team was among the non-starters.

Big frustration

But observers say Sunday's events have proved a public relations disaster for Formula One in the United States and puts the future of the grand prix in doubt.

Original polesitter, Toyota's Jarno Trulli, summed up the feeling of the drivers. "It's a big frustration for the team, for the drivers, Formula One and the fans who are here," said the Italian.

"But we couldn't avoid this situation -- we were in danger and we knew it. It was very clear that Michelin runners couldn't race today."

Red Bulls' David Coulthard was equally downbeat. "As a driver I'm embarrassed to be part of this situation. It's a very sad day for the sport," he said.

The controversy arose once Michelin were unable to guarantee the safety orf their tires on the high speed banking unique to the circuit.

Michelin are baffled by the left rear tire deflations that led to practice crashes on Friday for Toyota drivers Ralf Schumacher and Ricardo Zonta.

Schumacher, who suffered serious injuries with a crash in the same race last year, pulled out of Sunday's race as a precaution to be replaced by Zonta.

The FIA also refused to bend any rules to allow the seven Michelin supplied teams to switch to tyres newly arrived from France after those used in practice and qualifying here were deemed unsafe for the race by the manufacturer.

Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One's supremo, will come under huge pressure over the farcical "race" although he pointed the finger of blame firmly at Michelin.

"You can't tell people to do something when their tire company said you can't race on those tires," he told reporters on the grid minutes before the race.

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