When asked how many cars he thinks will finish Sunday’s 2014 season opener, Daniel Ricciardo grinned his usual grin and answered: “No one.
“We’re all going to be running across the line!”
The Australian was only half-joking.
Indeed, after the calamitous testing rounds at Jerez and in Bahrain, Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport has already asked FIA race director Charlie Whiting what will happen if not a single car reaches the chequered flag in Melbourne.
“The winner will be the driver who failed last,” the Briton explained, adding that a two-lap countback may then apply.
“So it could be that the winner is actually not the last survivor,” said Whiting.
Another bizarre possibility recently mused is that F1 might struggle even to get half a grid together at Albert Park for the race.
If the 107 per cent rule had applied at the last test in Bahrain, many cars – notably Red Bull’s world champion Sebastian Vettel – would not have qualified for the race.
But the Associated Press on Thursday pointed out that stewards are able to overlook that rule in some cases, and Whiting confirmed that cases this weekend in particular are likely to be looked at “very sympathetically”.
What is clear is that Vettel is set to struggle at Albert Park, even though boxes upon boxes of new parts for the RB10 have been shipped from Milton Keynes and will be fitted ahead of practice on Friday.
“We are not in the best position for this race,” the quadruple world champion told reporters on Thursday, “but it’s a different story when you talk about the championship.”
Even the overwhelming favourite, Mercedes, is expecting the unexpected.
“All the media are talking us up. Favourite driver, favourite team,” said Lewis Hamilton. “I just don’t know what’s going to happen this weekend.”
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