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Stewards to be flexible on qualifying rule

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Formula One stewards are likely to make allowances for any driver who fails to qualify for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix due to problems with the new engines, race director Charlie Whiting said on Thursday.

Under the regulations, to qualify for the race drivers must clock a time within 107 percent of that set by the driver on pole position.

However, the sport is coming to terms with a new V6 turbo power unit with complicated energy recovery systems that have proved tricky, and time-consuming to work on, in pre-season testing.

Some teams have arrived in Melbourne without having completed a full race simulation, or even practice starts, with their new cars.

Whiting told reporters at Albert Park that it was unlikely the 107 percent rule would be strictly enforced due to the situation.

"I think the 107 percent rule was introduced to make sure that teams that weren't capable of producing a good car that was of the required performance wouldn't actually get into the races," he said.

"What we have out here at the moment are 11 teams that we know are capable. They may be suffering a temporary performance loss but I'm sure the stewards will look very sympathetically on any team that doesn't make the 107 percent."

He cautioned, however, that stewards may be less lenient on teams who failed to complete any timed laps in practice or qualifying.

With only two hours between final practice and qualifying on Saturday, and an engine change potentially taking hours, Whiting recognized some teams might sacrifice track time.

"I've heard even teams say that they'd skip P3 (third practice) to make sure they have a car for qualifying," he said.

"Everyone's got their own way of going about things. Some teams tell me it'll take them seven hours to change an engine, some say it'll take three, some an hour-and-a-half."

Whiting emphasized that there would be no leeway on anyone exceeding the new limit of 100 kilograms of fuel from start to flag, including formation and slowing down laps.

Should reliability be so bad that there were no cars still running on track before the scheduled end of the race, the event would then be red-flagged and the result based on the last completed lap.

"I think a lot of these Doomsday scenarios are quite unlikely, knowing Formula One teams and how efficient they actually are," said Whiting.

"But if it came to the situation where no cars were actually running, we'd simply stop the race - because there wouldn't be much of one, would there?"

(Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Patrick Johnston)

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