MELBOURNE: Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix gets the 2003 Formula One season up and running with the participating teams hoping to adjust quickly to the new rule changes and most observers admitting they’re not really sure what might happen.
With refuelling between qualifying and the race now banned, fans could even be treated to a Tour de France like spectacle where one of the smaller teams decide to have their moment of glory at the front by qualifying with virtually no fuel in the tank.
Such a strategy would force the driver to make his first pitstop almost immediately, returning to the track in a more familiar position at the rear of the field.
But just like the lone cyclist who makes the break which is doomed to failure in order to attract some camera time for his team and their delighted sponsors, such a policy would give an F1 team the chance to steal the limelight and a worldwide audience for a precious few minutes.
In times of economic turmoil and dwindling revenue from sponsors, exposure counts.
FIA’s rule changes have completely changed the format of the racing weekend with four teams – Renault, Minardi, Jaguar and Jordan – signed up for the new two-hour test session on Friday morning.
There will be two single-lap qualifying sessions on Friday and Saturday and teams will only be allowed to change tyres if the weather changes between qualifying and the race.
Rain showers are forecast for the weekend in Melbourne and with suppliers Bridgestone and Michelin each only allowed to bring one type of wet tyre to each race, the teams will have to think carefully about strategies.
Renault’s director of engineering, Pat Symonds believes the main challenge will be coping with the new format and then exploiting it.
“The main part of the new rules to exploit is in the area of race strategy, because this now includes our qualifying strategy as well,” said Symonds.
“The choices we made in previous years are irrelevant for the new season: strategy is now much more variable, and I think we will particularly see this in the early races as people get to grips with the new format.”
This weekend also marks the official return of Ford to F1 with the Jordan-Ford team. The American carmaker is the most successful constructor in Grand Prix history with 175 race victories, 13 drivers’ championships and 10 constructors’ titles.
Meanwhile, reigning champion Michael Schumacher has given his opponents the thumbs down in Melbourne by giving FIA’s new rule changes a cautious thumbs up.
“They won’t alter my attitude towards the race weekend, but will undoubtedly affect the preparation, in particular because the Friday is now much more important,” said the five-time champion. “I would like to get a better idea before giving my verdict on the changes.”
FIA and F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone will be hoping the German won't be giving his post-race verdict from the top of the podium with a magnum of champagne in his hand. – dpa