completely irrelevant, just like common patterns for modifying RPMs
We're talking about the source code for a binary RPM. The preferred form of the source for the RPM is all that matters.
Again, the preferred form for making modifications is the raw source
That's a non-sequitur. Clearly what is required is 'the source'. The entire intent of the 'preferred form for modification' wording is to address the question of what counts as 'the source'. I think everyone agrees that a tarball of machine generated pre-processor output is not 'the source', even though it can be compiled to a binary.
If you have a build system that starts with a single tarball and works from there then that single tarball may indeed be 'the source'. If you have a build system that starts from a pristine upstream tarball and a pile of patches, then it's reasonable to say that the pristine upstream tarball and the pile of patches together form 'the source'.
It appears Red Hat's build process does still involve a pristine upstream and a pile of patches since they're making the patches available to customers. If that's the case, then the collapsed single tarball is just as much a machine-generated intermediate stage as pre-processor output would be.
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