Twelve months ago the Formula One team principals were thrown into disarray when Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone introduced sudden and swingeing new regulations designed to spice up the sport. Only recently Sir Frank Williams admitted that he was wrong and Mosley was right, but said that legal action he had considered taking against Mosley was still in a desk drawer for the day when he might try something similar.
This season there have been further changes, but they have generally been more warmly received. The most far-reaching is the rule demanding that each driver make do with a single engine throughout a Grand Prix weekend. Instead of being good for 400km, engines that spin at more than 300 revs per second must now last at least 800kms. If an engine fails and therefore needs to be replaced prior to the Saturday afternoon qualifying sessions, the driver loses 10 grid places; if a unit fails in either of those two sessions, the driver will start from the back.
The rule was introduced to save costs, and while some teams disagree that it will, others accept it at face value. It will place a very high premium on engine reliability, which of course is Ferrari's strong suit. There have been suggestions, however, that some teams may deem it beneficial to start from the back with a fresh engine which then only has to do 300-plus kilometres in race distance and would thus be able to generate greater power. Time will tell.
There have also been aerodynamic changes. Rear wings may now only use two horizontal elements rather than three, which has reduced downforce. The engine covers must also be bigger. One effect of all this is that, in order to claw back as much downforce as possible, teams will run the maximum available at many circuits which were only medium downforce last year.
On the electronic front, the launch control, which virtually guaranteed that all drivers would make dragster starts, has been banned, as have fully automatic gearboxes. Drivers will thus have to fall back on their own skill and judgement again, to a certain extent.
Finally, there is no longer a qualifying session on Friday to determine the running order in single-lap qualifying on Saturday afternoon. Instead, Friday will be a general test day in which teams must choose their tyres. After two free practice sessions on Saturday morning there will be an hour-long qualifying session, the running order for which will be based on the finishing order of the previous race (except in Melbourne where it will follow numerical order).
Pukka qualifying will then take place, again over a single timed lap and in reverse of the order of the first session, within minutes of that ending. Anyone who experiences problems in the first hour will thus struggle to get ready for the second.
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