More qualifying stupidity
There's one aspect of the current qualifying regulations that I missed out in my previous rant. I was reminded of it by Jacques Villeneuve's comments in the Thursday press conference for the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Q. What did you think of the new qualifying at Bahrain? You were bumped out of it at the end by your team mate, but otherwise what did you think of it?
JV: I guess it can be seen of as exciting. It's quite stressful, it doesn't feel like qualifying because you never sit in the car, figuring out how you are going to get the perfect lap. You just keep doing laps, new tyres laps and it doesn't feel like qualifying, but the fans like it and why not? It's the same for everyone.
Q. Quite busy then?
JV: Very busy. It's funny because it's the time of the weekend, before the race, when we do the most laps but we're not even allowed to set the car up. It's all a bit strange.
Q. Would you prefer more opportunity to change more things?
JV: It would be nice to work on the car a little bit.
So even without the race-fuel requirement, the new qualifying wouldn't be much like the old 1hour free-for-all session we had prior to 2003 because the teams have to set their car up before qualifying begins and they're only allowed to change the front-wing trim and the tyre pressures during the session. So even if the cars didn't have to stay out on track mindlessly burning up fuel, they wouldn't be coming into the pits and making adjustments to account for the changing conditions like the good old days.
This goes back to the "parc ferme" rules introduced along with single-lap qualifying in 2003. Parc Ferme used to just be the place where the cars where parked at the end of qualifying and the race while the scrutineers checked them over. Now it refers the rules under which the teams can change stuff on the car between the start of qualifying and the race itself.
When single-lap qualifying was voted in it probably didn't take F1 designers to realise that if a car only had to complete three laps (with only one at top speed), they could make "qualifying specials" for everything. They wouldn't need much cooling for the engine - the radiators could be stuffed with enough dry-ice to last those three laps. The brakes could do without much cooling as well as it wouldn't matter if they wore down due to oxidation. In fact they'd probably start with special thin discs. Every part on the car could have 'life' taken out of it to reduce weight. They could even fit a smaller fuel cell for the dribble of fuel they'd need. Adrian Newey was the first to make this point in the press and shortly after the FIA announced that teams would not be able to change any components on the cars (unless they were faulty and then only for identical parts) between the start of qualifying and the race. This was in order to stop the teams going crazy, spending money on making parts just for qualifying. It also, for the first time, extended the life of the engine beyond that needed to complete a race distance, although the truth is that the extra mileage required for single-lap qualifying was well within the safety margin of a F1 engine.
The FIA went further though. They also introduced the race-fuel qualifying rule for no reason I can fathom - the rules already said that you couldn't change parts so there was no chance of people using a super-small fuel cell. They additionally said that teams couldn't even make setup changes under parc ferme conditions beyond a few minor things. Even tyres could only be changed once the race started. Why is that? Why should qualifying be part of the race itself? I think the fastest car/driver combination should be on pole, not the driver who starts the race with the least fuel, thus compomising their race for a little glory on the Saturday.
Since then people have talked endlessly about "the show" and how qualifying could be improved, but they never proposed removing these rules that effectively made qualifying the first few laps of the race. It seems it's even more difficult to get a stupid rule removed in F1 than it is to get new ones adopted.