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. 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.

  2. 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 ;)

  3. 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 :).

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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”.

  11. scunnyman said on 3rd May 2009, 19:47

    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.

    • Maurice Henry said on 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.

  12. Gwenouille said on 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 !

  13. mertyazan said on 3rd May 2009, 21:23

    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.

  14. Brian said on 3rd May 2009, 21:58

    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.

  15. Nick Caulfield said on 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.

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