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. I will say that Nigel Mansell’s dominating season of 1992 seems to me to have been less boring than the dominating seasons of Schumacher’s 2002 and 2004.

    That could be down to me being a Mansell fan and not a Scumacher fan. I don’t think so though.

    1. Maurice Henry
      4th May 2009, 1:25

      I think both were as dull as each other. I recollect a major US broadcaster not bothering to cover the Monaco GP in 1992, because of Mansell’s domination, for the first time in twenty odd years. Mansell only pitted because he thought he had a puncture near the end of a complete snoozefest. My fear is we’re in for more of the same with the odd exciting race here and there. For goodness sake even Le Mans has turned into a full on sprint race over 24 hours for the last seven years. Who wants to see conservation in Grand Prixs? Oh, and as for wildly varying strategies read the piece on James Allen’s blog. The brightest minds tend to find the one best way to run a race so you get predictability.

  2. Gwenouille
    3rd May 2009, 20:09

    I’ve got mixed feelings about this rule…
    I quite enjoy the strategical side of F1 right now. At least it offers the slowest teams a mean to gain positions in an alternative way.

    Of course I’d love to see more implication from the drivers and wheel to wheel action, but are the new tracks really well suited to overtaking ? I can’t imagine a GP in Monaco without strategical pit stops.

    Maybe they could try to recompense overtaking with some kind of bonus ? Like, say, each overtaking gives you a 2 sec (or 5) bonus at the end of the race. (I haven’t thought that one through more than 2 minutes, so the idea is probably crap…)
    Also,I don’t like the fact that they have to use both types of tyres…

    Anyway, I’d better like to see this new rule than the new way of attributing championship !

  3. I’m not agree with keith.Refuelling means diffrent strategies from start of the race.some care choose one others two or three pit stops.I think with no refueelling we will watch boring races.Why don’t you put a poll about these subject.

  4. Instead of getting rid of re-fuelling, why not give some kind of bonus to a team after a race that use up the least amount of fuel. I only started watching F1 a couple of years ago, so I don’t know what it was like prior to ’94 but I just have a bad feeling about most of the rule changes for next year. I have been pretty happy with the excitement level so far plus we will have 26 cars on the track next year which will make things better. I just wish that along with Aston Martin, one of the three new teams would be Lamborghini.

  5. Nick Caulfield
    3rd May 2009, 23:26

    I’m pretty happy to see the end of refueling but I’m really really happy to see the return of low fuel qualifying.

    This year I’ve found myself seeing the qualifying session finish and then getting frustated that it’ll be hours before it becomes meaningful (like if 4th on the grid with 20 laps worth is so obviously better than the 1st 3 who have 12-15 laps worth). Still better than last year when I did not bother watching it at all.

  6. @Oliver

    I saw that video too and don’t believe they can take a battery from dead flat to fully charged in half a second. If they can I want that technology in all my battery powered tools! What I do think is if they start fully charged then they can restore the enegery released per lap in half a second.

    I disnlike these battery KERS because they require a throwaway resource, the batteries. I like Williams flywheel KERS and hope they get it going soon and clean house with it.

  7. Jay Menon
    4th May 2009, 1:04

    I’m already looking forward to next season!

    I really like the idea of the amount of freedom the capped teams are gonna get. 4WD in F1 will be great eh? Wonder if Audi and the rest of the folk at Volkswagen AG are reading this.

    I hate the whole pit strategy nonesense, have to agree with Keith, drivers will have to pass on track. I guess we will be seeing a lot more action then!

    Bring on the new rules!

  8. If all these new rules and the cap means that we lose Ferrari, it will a be for nothing. I’m not a Ferrari fan but it wouldn’t be the same without those sleek red cars on the track.
    I really don’t like the idea of the driver with the most wins taking the championship. what if one driver wins 5 races but then finishes outside the top 8 in all the other races? Does he really deserve to win the championship? I know that is not likely to happen but what if? Bernie is going cenile and as proof, think about this: Its hard for cars to pass on street courses and yet they want to add more street courses! How is that supposed to make any sense? Its time for Bernie and Mosley to retire and let two younger people take over. Because right now a couple of Grid Girls could do a better job then they are.

  9. Maurice Henry
    4th May 2009, 2:07

    In addition to Hungary Keith can you tell me about the other thrilling races in 1989? I watched the 1989 British GP last week and found it a hard watch when a great driver is in a superior car (Prost + McLaren) and our Nige struggled to keep up in the Ferrari. Both lapped the entire field and the only excitement was Senna spinning off early in the race and Prost stuck in the pits for 20 secs with a jammed wheel gun. What I got was a sense of dread. We are having a good season so far. Varied competition, different teams and drivers to the fore, good racing. As F1 has stumbled from one PR gaff to the next in recent years I’m now worried pundits will be endlessly explaining how we have come to a point where there is a two tier system in place. Then to add to it, drivers are going to have to carry at least 160kg (Monaco) – 200kg (Turkey/Monza) of fuel and we could end up with the world’s fastest moving procession. And as for drivers not passing each other on the track I’m baffled by people’s memory loss when it comes to some of Hamilton’s moves on top flight drivers (Alonso, Massa and Kimi). Alonso on Massa to win the race at Nurburgring 07? Heidfeld on Alonso Bahrain 2007? Massa and Kubica fighting tooth and nail Fuji 07? Kimi passing Coulthard Fuji 07? Kovy v Kimi Fuji 07? Heidfeld on nearly the whole field Belgium 08? Hamilton and Kimi on each other several times in a crazy lap Belgium 08? The whole Italian GP 08 loads of on track action? In fact, I think that since I started watching this sport in 1982 (I was twelve), 2008 was probably the best season I’d seen in all that time.

    1. Maverick_232
      4th May 2009, 8:52

      Hear, hear!

  10. I agree with the post and see many positive aspects in not having refueling. Most of all, it will put greater emphasis on the driver and on-track action.

    1. Maurice Henry
      4th May 2009, 9:15

      See my post regarding overtakes on the track.

  11. i appreciate the views of clive that it should be decided by teams weather to pit for re-fuelled or change for tyres

  12. HounslowBusGarage
    4th May 2009, 9:55

    Dunno Keith.
    I’ve taken a lot of thought about this issue, read all the posts and I’m really not sure.
    I understand your and everyone else’s viewpoints about ‘pure racing’ from flag to flag an’ all that. But I’m not sure that banning refuelling will acheive this.
    It certainly won’t be acheived if teams still have to think about tyre-changes.
    I still rmember some of the races in the turbo era when cars sputtered to a stop, out of fuel a lap or two from the end. And others where cars did not race with each other at all because they dare not risk using too much fuel. Good racing it certainly was not.
    I’m sure that fuel-rate technology has improved to the point where the teams will know much better how much fuel; they have left, but I still think there is a danger that what should have been improved racing will turn out to be economy-run snoozefests.
    I wonder if the teams will produce different versions of the cars? A small-tank, short wheel base version for Monaco and a long wheelbase car with a huge tank for Monza etc.

  13. For those who think the ban on refuelling will make the beginng of races boring because of cars having same fuel loads, well think of this.

    Just one example.

    Suzuka 1990 and Senna wanted revenge on Prost so he went on the inside of the first turn to goalongside Prost, who had been in front of him, and took them both out and won the championhip.

    Well what i am getting at is both cars had the same fuel load yet Senna was able to make up ground on Prost.
    He didn’t need a lower fuel load to pull of this maneouvre.

    People who are good at getting away when the lights go out will do so on full fuel as well as they can do on low fuel.

    1. Maurice Henry
      4th May 2009, 11:34

      Senna made up the gground on Prost because, as was confirmed by photographers standing at the first corner, Senna didn’t lift.

  14. Is there any way we can get some sort of petition made that can be sent to FOTA to show that most fans would back a change of series for the teams?

    Maybe they are too scared to go down that route because they think we fans would be against it?

  15. Keith, you mention: “Above all else, banning refuelling places a much greater onus on drivers to overtake their rivals on the track.”

    That would be true if the cars could overtake. But if they can’t, they end up sitting behind a train of cars for 30 odd laps with no one overtaking anybody. This is exactly what happened in 2005.

    1. Now if i remember rightly 2005 had refuelling.

      People who can overtake with refuelling will overtake whatever.

      And people have been saying the design of the cars have made it difficult to overtake, well i agree to a point, there has been quite a lot of overtaking in the last few years and i doubt there has been a major difference in fuel loads between the cars involved.
      For example Lewis Hamilton has overtaken cars with only one lap difference in fuel, like his team mate. So same car.

      No something else i have just thought about is even in the same car with the same fuel load team mate usually have different setups, because they have different driving styles. So the cars handle differently and one may overtake easier than the other.

  16. But hang on…….the only reason the different tyre compounds have been introduced is to add more spice to ‘the show’ as well, so by Keith’s arguments, shouldn’t we now start campaigning for a more sensible ‘choose your tyres for the weekend’ scenario instead of the current false ‘two tyre’ setup?
    I welcome the end of refueling as I agree with Keith – its safer, its more interesting, and the both the cars and drivers will have to become more economical during the race – which actually does still see a use of strategy, especially if both drivers have different styles of driving.

  17. I like it! With this in place, drivers will have to adopt the The Professor’s judgement. Takes a lot of experience and feel to achieve a perfect race. For sure, some will cross the chequered flag and cars will halt 3 metres away and others might not even complete as fuel runs out. Thrilling for very swift tyre changes. Most of all, safety will improve. No more chinese dragon dance, remember Ferrari in Singapore? Tyres will be a concern too, hope cars don’t have to pit after 7 laps, as it’s not professional at all.

  18. I have mixed feeling about the change. While I agree with the points in the article I will miss the strategy element of refuelling, 3-stop sprints versus a 1-stopper.

    One thing I think should be changed when refuelling is banned is the need to use both compounds of tyre in a race as this could mean some drivers could try to go the whole race on one set of tyres.

  19. WhisperingWind
    5th May 2009, 14:41

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

    Hmmmm …. Not quite. The drivers would have still have to make pit-stops for tyre-changes. Though the duration of the pitstop(s) wud come down, thanks to no-refuelling, I doubt that it wud make the drivers push any harder to overtake. A faster driver, stuck behind a slower one, would in all probability wud think “Hey, I can make my tyre 4-5 laps longer than the guy in front, so why dont i wait till he pits, and then I could gain the position” !!!
    If he is a driver whose mindset prefers overtaking, then refuel or no-refuel, he is *anyway* going to attempt!!!

  20. WhisperingWind
    5th May 2009, 14:43

    Well, I dunno about the positive effects, but I do know one downside. I cant help feeling sorry for atleast 3 mechanics in each time, who will be given the marching orders :-(

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