Why F1 will be better without refuelling

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

  1. scunnyman said on 3rd May 2009, 11:21

    I think Keith Collantine must have been cloned from my brain tissue.

    He and i seem to have exactly the same thoughts on a variety of motorsport issues, and have been watching F1 for almost exactly the same amount of time.

    I Promise I am no **** kisser lol

  2. Johann said on 3rd May 2009, 11:22

    My first reaction to the ban on refueling was anger, that the FIA is changing what makes the sport interesting. However, after reading a couple of articles (including this one) I realised that it will make things much much more interesting. We will see actual racing again, and there won’t be any problems anymore with refueling (no more Singapore disasters for Ferrari). This, combined with the budget cap means that F1 will return to its roots, as a much more simple but much more exciting formula.

  3. John R said on 3rd May 2009, 11:54

    @ S Hughes: Wow, you made a clear concise point about F1 and nowhere in your comment did you mention Lewis Hamilton…..BRAVO!!!

  4. scunnyman said on 3rd May 2009, 11:54

    I wonder Keith, if you’d be interested in a proposition????

    Would it be possible to ask some of the major players in formua one, such as Martin Brundle to start with to join in on a blog.

    You could do the same as you did with the codemasters blog where you asked us for comments and questions to put to the codemasters team for the 2009 f1 game.

    You could get us to post some questions on formula one and ask these people in F1 to come on your site and answer them for us. Maybe one person a month. And start with Brundle.

    It would be nice to get his and others insight into the stories we comment on all the time and the thoughts we have.

    Especially on this subject of banning refuelling for 2010. It would be nice to get a professional like Brundle to give his thought to specific questions fro you keith and us on this kind of subject.

    I’d like to know your thoughts on this keith please.

  5. kurtosis said on 3rd May 2009, 11:55

    It’s quite amusing to see everyone so optimistic that people will pass each other on the track. Forgetting that F1 introduced these measures only because there was so little action on the track to begin with.

    Maybe the optimism stems from the OWG changes, but has that really changed much? One of the most talented young drivers in one of the best cars this season (Vettel, Red Bull) couldn’t pass a slower car on a track with two long straights followed by hairpins (Bahrain) and we’re all talking about how cars will be forced to duke it out on the track.

    If the field was full of racers like Montoya, Schumi, and Hamilton, then maybe we’d see something. With the current crop, prepare to be disappointed.

    In principle, this is a good idea. On the track it will be a veritable procession. And it’ll be back to people hoping for rain and other such interferences to spice it all up. I also predict a lot of whining.

    • hitchcockm00 said on 3rd May 2009, 12:23

      I’m all for the ban, but I’m fully expecting to be disappointed by a lack of overtaking next year. I just hope that those who are against the ban don’t then jump on it and call it a failure.
      That’s a major problem with the rules in F1, you can’t just introduce a rule then change it the next year if it doesn’t work out. You’ve got to give it a few years for everything to settle down and for all the teams to get their designs right etc.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 3rd May 2009, 13:19

      Forgetting that F1 introduced these measures only because there was so little action on the track to begin with.

      Which, as I said in the article, was nothing to do with the fact that there wasn’t refuelling, and entirely down to the fact that Williams had built one of the most dominating cars F1 has ever seen.

  6. Accidentalmick said on 3rd May 2009, 11:59

    @ Keith. Great article – good summation.

    @ Clive. Agree 100%

    Slightly off topic. You get “processional races” because the drivers are putting lap times that never vary by more than tenths of a second (slightly reducing as their fuel load goes down) for two hours. That is not boring it is awesome. Overtaking is exiting but appreciate these guys for what they can do.

  7. Sush Meerkat said on 3rd May 2009, 12:29

    I’m in support of banning refuelling, although doing such will put an end to the likes of Massa driving in Singapore refuelling air tanker style and the hilarious Christian and his Spyker car with an extra tonne of weight bolted on because he felt his car just wasn’t slow enough.

  8. Damon said on 3rd May 2009, 12:55

    Kurtosis:
    It’s quite amusing to see everyone so optimistic that people will pass each other on the track. Forgetting that F1 introduced these measures only because there was so little action on the track to begin with.

    Well, just think about it, in 1998 grooved tyres were introduced to make cars less mechanical grip dependent and more aerodynamical downforce dependent – and all of that in order to enable more overtaking.

    Yet, in 2009 all of this was reversed – slicks came back and wings got limited… – in order to achieve exactly the same goal. Woah?

    Now, only 1 of those contradictory solutions may be right. After seeing four races this season, we may all agree it is the second one.
    The changes made in 1998 did nothing to serve the cause, but actually on the contrary – they harmed the sport.

    It is the same with refuelling. In 1993 the lack or refuelling was blamed for something it wasn’t responsible for, and wrong steps were taken.

    • kurtosis said on 3rd May 2009, 14:56

      I’m not sure, but I think grooved tyres were introduced as a safety measure because cars were getting too fast and operating outside the safety parameters of that period.

  9. Joe Smith said on 3rd May 2009, 13:11

    I have hated refuelling since it came in and I’m glad its being scrapped.

  10. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 3rd May 2009, 13:24

    Been doing some more reading around this and stumbled upon this great letter in Autosport the week after the first race where refuelling had come back (Brazil ’94):

    I wonder whether Max Mosley was watching the Brazilian Grand Prix. If he wasn’t, he may like to know that Michael Schumacher finished a lap ahead of everyone else. Nice to know the new rules work, isn’t it?

    With or without refuelling, the top three would have been the same. If Max wants to see Grand prix racing in its purest form, he shouldn’t falsify the results by handicapping the ‘major teams’.

    If you are reading this Miax, I would like to suggest that you ban refuelling immediately, saving the teams a considerable amount of money, as well as allowing the spectator to keep up with the race. There were so many pit stops on Sunday that for most of the race I didn’t know the top six, the gaps between drivers or whether a driver had pitted once, twice or three not at all. And I was watching it on televiision with the aid of a commentary…

    Steve Baker
    Maidstone, Kent

    I especially liked the reference to how expensive it is, given that they’ve gotten rid of it now on cost grounds.

  11. Rich said on 3rd May 2009, 13:34

    I began watching F1 in 1994 at the tender age of nine so I am too young to remember what Grand Prix racing was like without in-race refuelling.

    It seems like a more sensible idea than many of the bs that the FIA have spouted in their time so why not throw it in?

    The best recent news is the return to real qualifying, no more phantom, low-fuel pole positions a la Fernando Alonso in Spain last year.

  12. Rich said on 3rd May 2009, 13:36

    I think that they should just re-set the rules to 1993 before Mosley started mucking around with them ;)

  13. kurtosis said on 3rd May 2009, 13:52

    Which, as I said in the article, was nothing to do with the fact that there wasn’t refuelling, and entirely down to the fact that Williams had built one of the most dominating cars F1 has ever seen.

    @Keith,

    How do you know?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 3rd May 2009, 17:10

      Again, as I wrote in the article, it was up to three seconds per lap quicker than all the other cars. Races were never going to be very interesting as long as that was the case.

    • kurtosis said on 7th May 2009, 5:42

      Again, as I wrote in the article, it was up to three seconds per lap quicker than all the other cars. Races were never going to be very interesting as long as that was the case.

      *Sigh*. I meant how do you know that was the sole reason for which the FIA introduced refueling?

      I’m sure there were a combination of reasons, tradeoffs done, etc. You make it out to be so simple. I’m sure it was much more nuanced than that.

      Apologies if I’m being a pain :).

  14. Puffy said on 3rd May 2009, 14:44

    I have mixed feelings about the refueling ban, I quite liked the fact that with a great strategy and good driving, a driver in an inferior car could make it high up the grid on the saturday and then fight it out for the win on sunday, when, if that driver had been on the same fuel load, he would have had no chance. Strategy was always part of what I loved most about formula 1 (and admittedly hated at times, take for instance Ferrari’s recent cock-ups this year). Keith makes an interesting point on this not being the death of strategy, however with the current rules for tyres, having to run both sets of tyres during a race, and the FIA purposefully making such a performance difference between the two sets, it further reduces the actual strategic freedom you have. Often this season the fuel strategies have been set because one of sets of tyres could only last 10-15 laps, so most of the strategies set this season seem to be less about fuel and more about tyre strategies. My suggestion is to bring two good types of tyres to each race and let the teams fit whichever they want at any time and not impose which ones you must run during a race.

  15. Oliver said on 3rd May 2009, 17:01

    Tyre change of 3.2s will be hard to beat. It takes some time to add that wheel nut clip.

  16. Oliver said on 3rd May 2009, 17:13

    @Dwp, concerning KERS. I saw a link on here to a video, where Mercedes says it take only half a second to get their Batteries fully charged. So I doubt they need to even bother charging it in the garage.

  17. 5150 said on 3rd May 2009, 17:52

    Finally!!! I am all for it.

    1.harder to set up cars for the whole race
    2.heavier load = longer braking(more room to overtake)
    3.drivers must overtake not knowing whether others will stop at all

    They should ban 2 tyre rule.

  18. scunnyman said on 3rd May 2009, 19:35

    I think rather than resetting the rules back to 93′, they should just transport us all back in time to 1990 and give us a vote so we could stop Mosley from becoming President of the FIA.
    ANd maybe we could forget some of the crap in formula one we’ve had since he took over.

  19. 159Tom said on 3rd May 2009, 19:37

    Thanks for mentioning the quick tyre stops – I’d forgotten how spectacular they used to be. And how some teams were always better at them than others.

    With fuel stops, the tyre crews’ efforts somehow get lost – you’re left waiting for the fuel to go in, wondering why Ted Kravitz or whoever is so excited, why they’ve cut away from the race to show this, and why they bother putting a stopwatch on it.

  20. Maverick_232 said on 3rd May 2009, 19:46

    Im sorry but ill never agree with this.
    I read all pros and cons extensively and considered what everyone considers exciting about F1 and i really do think that banning refuelling is a massive step in the wrong direction.

    Heres why…

    Lots of us love the strategy element such as different fuel levels and pit stop times. We believe that tracks like Monaco, Hungary and (if we have to have it) Valencia, the strategies are a big positive in a relatively negative race.

    We still want the excitement of lighter cars catching heavier cars (its a lot easier to defend when on same fuel loads) I dont know about anyone else but incidents like Rosbergs pass on Trulli at Singapore last year literally had me on my feet applauding. But still in the back of my mind knowing that Trulli still may have the strategy to be in the mix later in the race.

    At tracks where overtaking is difficult, the qualifying grid surely will be very similar to the order the race ends in- Its easier to defend on same fuel loads especially at these tracks. Amount of tyre stops is irrelevant as others are going to copy others and dive in a lap later. Fuel loads make the race interesting and force cars to pass others or the strategy is over.

    I just believe that with the modern F1 car, on the same fuel loads for the whole race, with the drivers abilities closely matched, pit stops approx 4secs, rubbish tracks with no genuine overtaking for an F1 car and teams all trying to incorporate KERS that 2010 qualifying will be more watchable than the race.

    But saying that, I didnt want any changes apart from slicks and KERS from 2008…

    • scunnyman said on 3rd May 2009, 19:58

      Only 1 thing i will say about the overtaking.
      Look back to hungary 1989. A well known non overtaking track. NIgel mansell sets his car up for the race instead of qualifying well. He ends up 12th on the grid.
      He then overtakes in a brilliant race to end up winning.
      What more can you ask for in a race. I’m sure the polesitter (can’t remember who) didn’t think mansellwould come through to win from 12th.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 3rd May 2009, 21:53

      Lots of us love the strategy element such as different fuel levels and pit stop times.

      OK so fuel levels are gone but different pit stop times will make a difference – in fact they could make an even bigger difference than before. When you’re changing tyres in three seconds flat a moments’ hesitation could double the length of your pit stop.

      We still want the excitement of lighter cars catching heavier cars (its a lot easier to defend when on same fuel loads) I dont know about anyone else but incidents like Rosbergs pass on Trulli at Singapore last year literally had me on my feet applauding.But still in the back of my mind knowing that Trulli still may have the strategy to be in the mix later in the race.

      I’m sure you’ll like the excitement of drivers on fresh tyres passing drivers on worn tyres just as much. Or, indeed, drivers on worn tyres somehow keeping drivers on new tyres behind against seemingly insurmountable odds.

      Amount of tyre stops is irrelevant as others are going to copy others and dive in a lap later.

      I don’t agree – I can quite easily imagine a driver who’s hard on his tyres (say, Hamilton) opting for more pit stops than one who isn’t (say, Button). Why do I think this? Because that what used to happen before we had refuelling.

      I just believe that with the modern F1 car, on the same fuel loads for the whole race, with the drivers abilities closely matched, pit stops approx 4secs, rubbish tracks with no genuine overtaking for an F1 car and teams all trying to incorporate KERS that 2010 qualifying will be more watchable than the race.

      I think you’re looking at the entire problem backwards. “rubbish tracks with no genuine overtaking for an F1 car”? We have a generation of circuits designed for overtaking – Bahrain, Sepang, Shanghai, Istanbul – all these Tilke tracks were designed with zones to facilitate overtaking. The reason the cars haven’t been passing each other is down to their aerodynamic sensitivity and, now they’ve begun to address that this year, I believe we’re already seeing progress.

      If for whatever reason F1 cars are struggling to pass each other on track then let’s fix that problem. But I don’t want artificial refuelling ‘races’ where the object of the exercise is to avoid being near any other cars so you can race as quickly as possible.

      Let me put it this way: Mansell won at Hungary in 1989 going from 12th to first mainly by passing a load of cars on track. It was a great drive.

      Then think of Schumacher at Imola in 2005. Started 13th, finished second, on a track where overtaking is just as difficult. Is that remembered as a comparably good drive? Is it hell – Schumacher made up most of those places because he pitted later than everyone in front of him.

      A pass in the pits is a pass on paper. A pass on the track is tangible, real, memorable. And even if we only get one per race it’s better than a hundred passes in the pits.

    • Hear, hear.

    • Maverick_232 said on 3rd May 2009, 23:12

      Kieth,

      R.E- I’m sure you’ll like the excitement of drivers on fresh tyres passing drivers on worn tyres just as much. Or, indeed, drivers on worn tyres somehow keeping drivers on new tyres behind against seemingly insurmountable odds.

      Yes, i would. Even more so when there on different fuel levels…

      I understand why Tilkedromes when designed, thats not my point. But why then give us Valencia? And what do you think is going happen at Monaco? Overtaking? Of course not. And the Monaco GP is never going anywhere?

      You say lets fix F1 if theres an overtaking issue, I dont think it needs fixing at all. Sure theres an issue with the economy and i can understand fixing that, but ive watched F1 for years and years too and i can honestly say 2008 was the best season ive seen.

      I also think that the due to the amount of overtaking we have presently, we do find it more exhilarating when one is attempted. Im not sure we would if there was 100-200 overtakes a race.

      You mention Schumacher in 05.. That was a great TEAM performance. An opportunity where a team decision can influence a race. For me, a great drive is one where the team decision cannot influence the race, only the driver can. ie. Vettel-Monza, Hamilton-Silvi

      Basically, i just dont want to see drivers conserving there Tyres, i want drivers racing the rims off them.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th May 2009, 8:56

      Your line of argument is getting harder and harder to follow. For example:

      i just dont want to see drivers conserving there Tyres, i want drivers racing the rims off them.

      So you don’t want to see drivers backing off to conserve their tyres, but you’re happy to see them backing off to conserve fuel?

    • Maverick_232 said on 4th May 2009, 9:08

      Again, i dont think ive ever said that either. How often do we see conservation of fuel? Hardly ever.

      Another point i will add though is that drivers currently start on different fuel levels which instantly makes the show watchable from the start. How long into the race will it take to get to see
      “the excitement of drivers on fresh tyres passing drivers on worn tyres just as much. Or, indeed, drivers on worn tyres somehow keeping drivers on new tyres behind against seemingly insurmountable odds”.

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