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. Spike said on 3rd May 2009, 9:20

    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…

  2. S Hughes said on 3rd May 2009, 10:02

    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.

  3. Damon said on 3rd May 2009, 10:17

    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.

  4. Hammad said on 3rd May 2009, 10:22

    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.

  5. Sven said on 3rd May 2009, 10:43

    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.

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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!!!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

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

    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.

    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.

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

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

  15. 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.

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