Guest Author - Christine Blachford
The FIA are known for changing and tweaking the rules and regulations of F1 often. Sometimes it helps the sport, and sometimes the fans donít necessarily approve. This latest tweak is only really a safety precaution, and I donít think anyone will object, despite it only being two races in since the last change of regulations.
This is all about the qualifying sessions, specifically the dying moments of each. In Malaysia we saw a potentially hazardous moment occur, when Nick Heidfeld and Fernando Alonso, for BMW and Renault respectively, were still on their flying laps after the chequered flag had fallen. As long as they have crossed the start line before the timer reaches zero, they are allowed to complete their final lap. Whilst they were driving the wheels off their cars, though, the other contenders were finished for the day, and heading back to the pit lane at a leisurely pace. Slow in laps are vital to conserve fuel and make the most of the strategy for race day. The footage from Nick Heidfeldís car as he threaded his way through the slow moving traffic was terrifying.
Itís therefore not surprising that the FIA have felt compelled to add in an extra tweak to the qualifying rules. For the Bahrain Grand Prix and beyond, they are implementing a maximum lap time. According to a spokesman, the matter is still under discussion, but it is thought the maximum will be 120% of a normal lap time. We donít know whether the normal lap time is an average, or the pole position, or a different calculation, but 120% should give enough leeway for drivers to be slowing down without hindering a rival.
The matter has once again brought the format of qualifying to the fore, with many bloggers and journalists commenting on the way the current qualifying system benefits or hinders the sport. Felipe Massa, of Ferrari, has spoken out and said that the way it is structured at the moment makes the third session of qualifying boring to watch and to drive. Heís not happy that the last session is run on the same fuel load that a driver has to start the race with. He would prefer to see some ultra-low fuel runs resulting in super-quick laps.
At the moment, the FIA are unlikely to want to change the qualifying rules anymore than they have to. But if enough people start to complain, and the FIA start to pay attention, it could be that next year will see yet another format tried and tested.