Why F1 will be better without refuelling

Posted on Author Keith Collantine

With refuelling gone in 2010 we'll see a return to super-quick three second pit stops
With refuelling gone in 2010 we'll see a return to super-quick three second pit stops

In October 1993 the first meeting of the FIA World Motor Sports Council announced that refuelling would be re-introduced into F1 for the 1994 season.

Earlier this week the same body confirmed refuelling will be banned in 2010 – leading to a mixed reaction from fans.

I’ve been surprised how many comments have been posted here complaining that the banning of refuelling will make F1 less entertaining in 2010. I’m convinced it won’t – here’s why.

The wrong rule

Refuelling was brought back into F1 at the beginning of 1994 as the sports’ governing body scrambled frantically to find a way of spicing up ‘the show’. The 1992 season and much of the early part of 1993 saw some decidedly unimpressive racing.

The reason for this was simple: Williams had created a car that was whole seconds faster than the opposition at most circuits. At one race in 1992 the closest car in qualifying to Nigel Mansell’s FW14B was a staggering 2.7s slower. Williams enjoyed a comparable margin of superiority in 1993, though as the season went on McLaren and Benetton began to narrow the performance gap.

It was the norm at this time to see the Williams cars lock out the front row of the grid and disappear off into the distance at the start of the race. This did not make for entertaining racing, and the FIA began pushing for the reintroduction of refuelling in the hope it would cause more changes in the running order.

Bringing back refuelling in 1994 was a knee-jerk reaction to their superiority. As it happened, come the start of the 1994 season Williams’ performance advantage had been completely eroded anyway.

Had refuelling been used in 1992 and 1993, would it have made any difference to the extent of Williams’ dominance? Absolutely not. Their cars were capable of winning races by whole minutes or more.

The death of strategy?

Still, there are many fans who enjoy the strategic dimension refuelling brings to F1. Should they be concerned about its extinction?

I say not – drivers will still have to make pit stops to use both types of tyre, and this will open up some interesting strategic avenues that could also have a positive affect on the racing.

With no fuel levels to worry about drivers will have much greater strategic freedom. We could well see some drivers nursing their tyres throughout the race on a one-stop strategy, while others make two or three changes of tyres. Alternatively, drivers could adjust their strategy on-the-fly, abandoning plans to make extra pit stops in a bid to keep track position.

This was a common occurrence until refuelling killed the practice at the end of 1993. At Portugal that year Michael Schumacher scored a fine second Grand Prix victory at Estoril after deciding not to make his planned second stop for tyres, holding Alain Prost back.

The flying pit stop returns

With drivers no longer taking fuel on board during pit stops we will see the return of ultra-quick tyre changes.

Will any of the teams be able to beat the current record for a four-tyre change? The mark stands at a scarcely-believed 3.2 seconds, set by Benetton on Riccardo Patrese’s car in the 1993 Belgian Grand Prix.

Setup changes

At present drivers have to set up their cars to work between weight of around 610kg (minimal fuel) to 680kg (maximum fuel).

Next year that 70kg spread could double or more. We will in all likelihood see drivers with better-performing cars at different stages during the race. Given the limited setup time drivers have at a race weekend, getting race setup spot-on at the expense of perfecting a one-lap low-fuel qualifying setup could play dividends.

Again, this has produced some wonderful races in the past. Nigel Mansell won the 1989 Hungarian Grand Prix from 12th on the grid in a dry race because he’d nailed his race-day setup. The following year Alain Prost won at Mexico from 13th in much the same way.

Winning on the track

Above all else, banning refuelling places a much greater onus on drivers to overtake their rivals on the track.

They will no longer have the option to delay trying to overtake a rival on the assumption that they can pass them by making a later pit stop for fuel.

Refuelling has provided the odd moment of interest in the 15 years since it was re-introduced: Schumacher’s win at Hungary in 1998 for example. But I have seen far more races rendered dull by drivers ‘passing in the pits’ instead of on the track, or ruined entirely by faulty refuelling rigs.

I’m delighted to see a return to real racing in 2010. As ever I’d like to know what you think and it would be particularly interesting to see if those who started watching F1 before 1994 see things differently.

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97 comments on “Why F1 will be better without refuelling”

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  1. Jonesracing82
    3rd May 2009, 1:25

    i think it’s a massive plus, tho i dont like 4wd (goodbye powerslides), the 1st gp i saw was ’89 imola, as i have found some of those ‘era races online, and as i recal drivers had planned to go full distance on one set of tyres, they had worn s had to pit! the big plus as u say is that drivers will have toi overtake on track, and this year cars can do that (tho i fear that double diffusers may hurt the racing, just a hunch i have). another point, in a sport that is obsessed with safety and rightly so, refuelling is the most dangerous part of the sport and we are lucky that with many fires over the years, we have not had serious injuries.

    1. I agree, yes to refueling and no to 4wd.
      What we need are SIMPLE rule changes that are reasonable and practical, like the refueling ban.
      No one can see 4wd on tv – why have people work on this expensive ghost ?

  2. At least we won’t see drivers drive off with the refueling hose attached to the car anymore!

    I have a wait and see approach… I used to watch races prior to 1994, but I was too young to remember details or appreciate strategies and what not.

  3. Spot on, Keith. and I think you agree with me that the artifice of the use of two types of tires during a race is more FIA folly. It used to be possible to make a tire that can go more than half-distance. This required a driver to adjust their driving to preserve the life of his boots. Watching a driver like Prost adjust his driving during the race to account for fuel and tires was purely awesome.

    Forcing drivers to adjust to changing conditions will separate the men from the boys and I support anything that returns racing to as pure a form as possible.

  4. Arun Srini
    3rd May 2009, 3:00

    When I read about the history of F1 (my first race was 1996 Monaco), I’ve always thought how uninteresting the refuelling has made f1, like you said, the change of positions for a bad pitstop, or overtaking inside pits just becoz the team made a better one. Thanks, finally some synapse is workin in FIA’s brain.

  5. ILoveVettel
    3rd May 2009, 3:00

    Keith, I thing you are missing one thing.. With the advance of Aerodynamics, its incredibly hard to overtake nowadays.We have heard from Vettel in Baharin how hard it was to closely follow Hamilton and Trulli because he was suffering tire graining. Now that they changes tyres at least twice on an average they can afford tyre degradation a little bit. But with refuelling gone, they would be requiring saving tyres even more. So might see most drivers racing each other keeping a safe distance. Apart from that, with increasing number of street races(Monte Carlo, Valencia, Singapore) I don’t know how will they overtake.

    I am just worring that the races will become alarmingly boaring with the departure of refuelling. I just hope your wishes are true Keith. Because at the end of the day we all want wheel to wheel racing.

    1. Maybe Vettel just isn’t very good at overtaking cars? Button got past Hamilton just fine and Vettel’s car was faster than Button’s.

      The drivers might save their tyres initially. Or they might not. There is more emphasis on overtaking on track so they might want to get it over with quickly.

      At the end of the race you will also have drivers with worn tyres and others who have been saving their tyres. So there might be overtaking opportunities coming from that too.

    2. This is a point I fully agree with. The fact that an overtake is the exception, rather than the rule is simply down to aero and brakes. The overtaking window is incredibly small and tight. Sometimes opportunist, sometimes strategic.

      For me this is what makes F1. Indeed the relatively low number of on track passes make the actual passes all the more anticipated, exhilarating and skilful.

      If you want non-stop who’s going to pass who next action then other racing series offer this, of which there are many.

      F1 is the way it is because it’s meant to be bleeding edge, every step of the way – including overtaking.

    3. But they still will have to pit because of the tires.Learning of tire degradation will be the winning key for drivers.

  6. It’ll be brilliant.

    It was always terribly disappointing to see your favourite driver catching up, getting ready to overtake at the end of the race, and then having to pit because they needed more fuel (e.g. Barrichello at Bahrain this year, on the 3 stop strategy.)

  7. I think it will make the racing better. I know when they required refueling I thought it was dumb and dangerous. It was dangerous, but not the disaster I feared.

    Race setup will be a huge factor. Having pace when both heavy with fuel and light is not easy. The driver’s ability to manage tyres will be a huge factor. Speaking of which get rid of the dumb two tyre rule!!! If they do have two tyres to select from make them run the race on their qualifying tyre.

    KERS and passing is an issue. If they keep KERS then they should make all the energy in the system be from recovered energy. Not plugging it into the mains to charge it up!!! That is so fake!! where is the recovered kinetic energy when they allow charging from mains before the start.

  8. As I’ve said before, I believe it will be harder to overtake with all cars running with a heavy fuel load.

    I hope I’m wrong.
    Only time will tell.

    1. well, they’ll only be heavy for so long, won’t they?

  9. Ideally, I would like to see the rulemakers stay away from pit stops entirely – let the teams decide whether to pit for fuel and/or tyres, just as they did in the old days, before the Brabham team, Nelson Piquet and the BT50 introduced the idea of establishing a big lead on light tanks and then pitting quickly for fuel (1982, for those who think the strategy is new).

    Banning re-fuelling is, at least, a step in the right direction since it reduces the influence of strategy, leaving the drivers to fight it out on track. All this talk of processional races is nonsense, however. It has always been difficult to overtake in F1 and the ability to do so in spite of this is what sorts out the great drivers from the merely competent.

    We were moaning about the difficulties in passing throughout the ground effect era and then through the turbo years; the nineties produced some of the most processional races ever seen. That is F1, folks – if it were easy, anyone could play.

    The point is that there are always those drivers who can overtake in spite of it being “impossible”. Every year we are told that no one can pass at Monaco and then, come the race, it happens! Some of those drivers must have their mojos working all right… ;)

    Who is old enough to remember the Monaco race that Mansell had wrapped up in a massively superior Williams only to stop for fresh tyres a few laps from the end? Senna managed to get past him during the stop and the final laps became a nail-biting drama as Mansell tried everything he knew to get past the Brazilian. He failed because Senna could not just overtake like a hot knife through butter, he could also keep far faster cars behind him for lap after lap.

    That is F1 – a competition that attracts the finest racing drivers in the world, of whom a tiny handful are so gifted as to be called great. It’s not easy because, if it were, the same guy would win every time and then we’d all lose interest. Sure, it has always been difficult to overtake; but then, there have always been those who can do it.

  10. scunnyman
    3rd May 2009, 3:55

    I agree totally with Keith here.

    I feel we may have a somewhat two tier fan system here with pre 94′ fans agreeing with Keith (mostly) and vice-versa with the post 94′ fans.

    I agree that the aero may make the overtaking harder but not impossible.

    And as Keith pointed out there have been boring races when there was no re fueling, but i’d say far more have been boring since 94′.

  11. Maybe they could also get rid of that other horrid gimmick, the silly qualifying style. Just look at that ridiculous incident with Sutil and Webber…. they need to go back to having an open session.

  12. In the last 30 odd years of F1 the strategies have evolved into a fine art, usually around whatever regs are in place at the time, coupled with gifted designs of cars, this has led to one or other team having a superior design, leading to that team using the optimum strategy, followed by everyone playing catchup, nowhere was that more obvious than the one minute advantage Williams had with Mansell, and Patrese. Tyre changes then became moot. When all the cars are fuelled up to go the distance, the start will be critical, and as anyone who has been in any kind of motor race will tell you, a good start can often dictate the rest of the race, the slightest of delays in the first corner horseplay, will offer an advantage to anyone who escapes unscathed, then as the cars settle down into a tyre-saving, heavy fuel mode,probably slipstreaming as much as possible, the race will be a small procession, until the cars reach an optimum weight, where the drivers will attack, and the all important start will come into play. The opportunities for overtaking, will still be there, but if you are way down the field, even in the best car, it may be difficult to capitalise, if you have’nt the fuel, or the tyres. So we actually might see fewer changes to the racing than we think.

  13. I don’t care either way.

    Both refuelling or not refuelling have their advantages and disadvantages.

    I do hope Bridgestone can come up with better tyres. Or at least that the FIA allows them to bring the tyres the drivers really need (as opposed to tyres that are wrong in an effort to spice up the show).

    1. I think the point about tyres is extremely important here. Having just one tyre supplier is absolutely not good for competition.

      Some would say this levels the field because they all have to use the same tyres on the same track. But as I’ve said before to extrapolate this – why not have them all driving identical cars with identical engines?

      That’s just not F1…

  14. How about going back to drivers having to actually pass the cars they’re lapping rather than the slower guys having to move over for them?

  15. Billy7766
    3rd May 2009, 9:07

    See the random buggeration factor of a refueling rig going tits up or really well, the variable length of a pit stop etc – all these do spice up the show. And lets be clear it is a show, that’s not a dirty word, if the racing is technically brilliant but utterly unintresting (I’m thinking Herr Schumacher’s dominance in 2002, probably the worst F1 season ever) no one wants to watch. The lack of refueling means that drivers could wind up doing a Mansel, and there’s no way for them to be stopped. Moreover, working out who’s heavier / lighter and what strategy thier adopting, thier relavtive performance to a team mate – all of this is going to dissapear, and I for one think this is going to damage the sport…I mean show.

    1. working out who’s heavier / lighter and what strategy thier adopting, thier relavtive performance to a team mate – all of this is going to dissapear

      I think it’s brilliant they’re getting rid of that. I really could not give a damn. I just want to see a motor race.

  16. I think it’s a step in the right direction at least. Personally I’d like to see it go to one tank of fuel and one set of tyres for the race as I think it should be more about the driver and not about team tactics bgut thats just me…

  17. Keith, as you are clearly more of an expert than me and have been watching F1 far longer, I will take your word for it, and watch 2010 with interest re. the refuelling ban. As for the £40m cap and 2 tier system proposal, I think that is absolutely wrong and disastrous. I wish they wouldn’t keep tinkering with the rules. F1 must be one of the most unstable sports in the world, if not THE most unstable.

    1. Make that $40m.

  18. How about going back to drivers having to actually pass the cars they’re lapping rather than the slower guys having to move over for them?

    Worst idea ever.
    I would hate to see backmarkers deciding who’ll be the race winner.
    “I like Hamilton, so I’ll let him pass me easily, but I don’t like Massa so I’ll make it hard for him”

    Instead of a great battle for the win, you’d have Alonso comfortably leading races because Buttons and Vettels would be stuck behind Piquet doing the dirty job.
    No, thanks.
    I love to see the refuelling go. I’ve been watching F1 since 1993, although I’ve been really into it since 1994.

    No refuelling will spice things up a lot.
    As of now, if there is Button leading in front of Vettel, and they’re on different fuel strategies, then one will go to the pits on lap 17, the other one on lap 26 – all according to how much fuel they’ve got, all predictable, all boring.

    And now: without refulling. Imagine that Button is in the lead, but Vettel, who is in the 2nd place, is actually faster than Button.
    What will happen when the Red Bull guys prepare for a pitstop?
    The moment the Brawn guys see it, they will also immediately prepare for a pitstop and call Button to come in at the same time as Vettel, as to keep him behind.
    This kind of spontaneity (yeah!) brings so much more dynamics, unpredictability and improvisation into the race, it gives the feel of a head-to-head battle.
    And also – in my example – Vettel would be forced to eventually pass Button on the track by on overtaking manover!
    In the present time, different fuel strategies would split the two guys apart after the first round of pitstops, Vettel would make faster laps when having a clear track, and they wouldn’t have met again on the track.

    I’m really pleased with the new rules.

  19. I agree with Keith, but why not go all the way? They managed to make tyres that could go the whole race distance in 2005, why not reintroduce them and ban pitstops altogether? That would put the focus entirely on track. Tyre management would be important and I’m sure it would produce great overtaking.

  20. It is absolutely the right move to ban refuelling. I have been following Grand Prix racing since 1962 and is happy to be able to see proper F1 races again. The refuelling reduces races to a series of short stints whereas real Grand Prix racing is about both speed, endurance and overtaking on the track. Whith the buget cap also coming in I think we are at the beginning of seeing better and more exiting Grand Prix racing than ever in its history.

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