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The countdown is on, 2 weeks to go and nobody knows yet what will happen in Melbourne. Bernie and Max have changed the rules yet again, the Technical Working Group has decided it's all too hard and Sir Frank and Ron have called for arbitration. Even Ferrari have come out against them.
What do we know? We know that this year, like never before in the history of F1 Incorpora ... errr ... the sport of F1, there will be massive uncertainty and disruption. Nowhere is this more telling from my own personal perspective than the issue of banning refuelling after qualifying. Qualifying in race trim was acceptable, qualifying in a single do or die lap was acceptable, qualifying over two days with only one counting was acceptable, qualifying with (varying) race fuel loads is not. The other factors, as ludicrous and unnecessary as they are, left the drivers to compete on an arguably almost level qualifying field, fuel will not. Team tacticians will, quite rightly, weigh the benefits of a higher grid position against that of starting further back with a higher fuel load, looking for a charge up through the field as others pit. Even MS and Ferrari cannot gain enough of a gap to feel confident about starting from pole, running away from the pack, pitting early and rejoining in front of the mobile roadblocks of under fuelled Jaguars, Jordanís and Minardi's. Given the risks attached to a wrong strategic decision the teams will vary the tactics slightly between cars, they certainly won't want both drivers coming in to pit together, or to have them both potentially trapped in the same queue after the first refuelling stop so they will go out with varying fuel loads.
Come race Saturday the clear advantage will be with the last qualifiers if the fuel fiasco is applied. They will know the fuelling strategy of all but the penultimate car before they leave the pits. A driver cannot lap faster than the cars fuel load allows and only someone as dumb as Max or Bernie are acting would go slower than they potentially could.
Lets assume that the Ferrari's are the last two cars to go out: Rubens is second last so Michael, knowing Rubens fuel load and potential lap time, needs to achieve a lap of X min Y secs to get pole, that equates to Z laps before refuelling. He can then put himself where on the grid he wants to be simply by adjusting his fuel load to allow him to avoid being stuck behind any particularly slow cars (that had qualified on low fuel loads) and still be able to stay out long enough to build a gap to the real rivals behind him who are carrying more fuel. Tactically that decision may mean he is qualifying for 5th or 6th rather than pole.
From the Quali-flyers view this means that the performance differential between team mates and between teams are meaningless, a reflection on the tacticians, not the drivers. The only real racing will happen on Fridays where the drivers will be pushing for the best spot come Saturday. A Saturday flyer by a Jaguar or a Jordan with 3 laps of fuel on board may stroke the ego of the driver and team principals and buy the car some extra TV coverage at the start of the race but it means nothing in the larger picture.
The earlier rule changes modified the Quali-flyers task and made empirical data collection impossible. This rule change, if applied, makes the task redundant. Statistical correlation of results would break down very quickly in the face of variables in the one-lap qualifying fiasco. I cannot award Also-rans to drivers potentially slowed by greater fuel loads and I cannot compare the performance differentials across teams when the greatest single impact on lap times is the weight of fuel on board.
I'll be commenting on Melbourne, but, if these rules are applied, that could well be a farewell appearance. I questioned last year if those early rule changes were the death of real racing. The answer to that question was to have been given at Melbourne but Max and Bernie obviously couldnít wait. If these damn fool rules stick, it really is the end of real racing and this humble scribe will slink off into obscurity, hopefully only slightly ahead of that greedy pair who have sacrificed the sport on the alter of their own ego's.