Jury out on wisdom of rule changes

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The Independent Online

David Coulthard labelled the new rules in Formula One "ridiculous", Jenson Button was also scathing, and as the season kicked off in Melbourne at the weekend they were not alone in their opinions.

David Coulthard labelled the new rules in Formula One "ridiculous", Jenson Button was also scathing, and as the season kicked off in Melbourne at the weekend they were not alone in their opinions.

The new qualifying system, with one session on Saturday afternoon and a second on Sunday morning, the aggregated times deciding the grid, provoked a mixed response.

Saturday's session calls for teams to run flat-out with low fuel loads, so everyone gets a sense of where they fit in on sheer speed. On Sunday they run with their race fuel, so again everyone gets a reasonable idea of the strategy rivals are planning.

The changeable Melbourne weather on Saturday created an unusual grid, which helped determine the race outcome - Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella won with Michael Schumacher an also-ran. But it also rendered Sunday's session academic since the gaps between drivers were so large. More evidence is needed before judgement can be made on the qualifying changes.

Then there is the rule that says teams must use the same engine for two race weekends. At least, that is what it should say, but this is Formula One. If an engine has to be changed before the race, the driver will be penalised 10 grid places, as happened to Michael Schumacher and Takuma Sato in Melbourne. But if an engine breaks during a race, it may be replaced without penalty.

In a ludicrous "refinement", team principals agreed on Sunday morning that you did not actually have to break an engine in the race to instal a new one for next time. Say you had the awful race BAR-Honda had, when Jenson Button and Takuma Sato had no chance of points, you could call in your drivers in the closing laps, and still be classified as finishers. "The two-weekend engine rule is to cut teams' operating costs," one observer said, "and penalise unreliability. This seems an odd way of doing that."

Felipe Massa thinks the characteristics of Malaysia's Sepang track will promote "a lot more overtaking" in the next grand prix on 20 March. Let us hope so. The jury is out, but the verdict is likely to be that Formuala One's powerbrokers have a lot more tweaking to do.

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