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Last Updated:  Friday, 28 February, 2003, 15:20 GMT
Shaking up the show
By Andrew Fraser

Michael Schumacher tests his Ferrari at Jerez
Ferrari will probably still be on top
Picture the scene.

It is Sunday 9 March, and the 2003 season is about to begin in Melbourne with the Minardis of Justin Wilson and Jos Verstappen on the front row of the grid.

Unlikely, of course, but not as crazy as it sounds.

The new rules introduced by the sport's governing body have created a scenario in which pole position could be reduced to almost an irrelevance.

With refuelling between qualifying and the race now banned, teams must balance the benefits of a good grid position against the advantage of being able to stay out longer before their first pitstop.

That raises the possibility that one of the minnows could decide to chase a few laps of fame by qualifying with next to no fuel in the tank.

After all, a brief spell at the front of the field might interest potential sponsors, even if it means diving back into the pits for fuel just minutes into the race.

Williams technical director Patrick Head agrees that anything is possible as the teams work out new tactics and try to guess how much fuel their rivals are carrying.

"Last year the Minardi didn't do too bad in qualifying on speed. Let's say there was three seconds difference [between them and the front runners]," says Head.

"Ten kilos of fuel is somewhere between 0.25 and 0.4 seconds. Let's say Michael Schumacher's got 80 kilos in and the Minardis have got 10 when they go out to qualify.

The fastest car-driver-tyre combination, as long as it keeps going, is generally going to win the races
Williams technical director Patrick Head

"That represents 2.8secs so you're talking about them being pretty close."

The result could be chaos in the opening part of the race as wildly conflicting strategies produce constant changes to the race order.

And the tension will build as commentators frantically attempt to calculate who is most likely to win.

More entertaining perhaps, but the chances are that the man taking the chequered flag will still be the same.

As Head reluctantly admits, there is little the other teams will be able to do about Schumacher - no matter where he starts on the grid.

"It's very difficult to get away from the fact that the fastest car-driver-tyre combination, as long as it keeps going, is generally going to win the races," he said.

"It doesn't matter how you jumble everything up. It's very difficult to overcome a quick car."

Which begs the question - if no-one can stop Schumacher, how are you supposed to stop fans continuing to turn their back on the show?

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