The Australian Grand Prix answered many questions about how the biggest regulation changes in a generation would affect the spectacle of racing for the Formula One fans.
There were some positives. Fourteen cars finished the race, far more than many doom-mongers were predicting after a pre-season testing punctuated by breakdowns. There was still overtaking to thrill the crowds and the extra torque provided by the ERS made watching drivers wrestle their twitch steeds through corners particularly entertaining, despite average speeds being down from last season.
And Daniel Ricciardo’s second-place finish was an unexpected and popular result given Red Bull’s testing woes, his first podium finish in front of an adoring home crowd proving that Mercedes may not have it all their own way in 2014.
Yet hours after the race ended, it emerged that Ricciardo had been disqualified for his car breaching the FIA’s fuel consumption regulations that state teams must not exceed the maximum fuel-flow rate of 100kg/h.
For many fans, the reaction may well have been something to the effect of “I’m sorry, what does that mean exactly?”
Amongst the raft of complex technological changes enforced this year, cars are limited to 100kg of fuel per race.
But as Autosport’s Craig Scarborough explains, there is also a fuel-flow limit in operation.
The flow restriction is designed to cap engine power - without it, teams would be free to burn lots of fuel at certain points of the lap while still adhering to the race-fuel limit.
This also applies to qualifying, where teams would otherwise be able to use specific engine maps that would not have to adhere to the race fuel limit.
Running more fuel flow than the 100kg/hr restriction provides an obvious power benefit, and any team doing so - intentionally or by accident - is in clear contravention of the rules.
A sensor on the car's monitor checks the fuel rate so as to comply with the FIA’s regulations. Red Bull changed their sensor on Saturday due to a discrepancy with readings detected during Friday practice, but the new sensor was also deemed unsatisfactory so they reverted back to the original.
What Red Bull also did wrong in Australia was to ignore a directive from the FIA during the race to reduce their rate of fuel flow to compensate. According to the steward’s ruling, as highlighted on Autosport, Red Bull chose to ignore this order.
Red Bull argued that their fuel-flow meter was incorrect, but the FIA have since backed the manufacturer of the device and the team intends to appeal the disqualification.
Still with me? Maybe you are, maybe you’re not and this is entirely my point. Fans should not have to trawl through reams of technical data and FIA rulings to get to the bottom of what happened.
Racing should be racing and that is what the fuel-flow rate seems to have taken out of the game. At several stages during Sunday’s race, team engineers could be heard telling their drivers when to push and when to drive conservatively. Imagine such a directive being issued to Ayrton Senna, a driver to which the words "back off and slow down" had no meaning.
If a car runs out of fuel, then fair enough. It used to be a regular and sometimes spectacular occurrence to see cars running out of fuel for overambitious turbo use leading to famous incidents of desperate drivers trying to push their cars over the finish line for the result to stand.
But to make it all the way back to parc ferme and then be penalised for a fuel-flow irregularity seems a nonsense.
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