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

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  1. WhisperingWind said on 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 team, who will be given the marching orders :-(

  2. Chaz said on 5th May 2009, 16:34

    I enjoyed the history lesson and I like your optimism. Indeed this may well initially be the case in the first few races until the teams advance their software and strategies to compensate and we will be bored to death by the usual predictable precession…

  3. steve said on 5th May 2009, 21:33

    I am old enough to remember how refuelling has ruined the racing. Trust Keith, he knows what a difference this will make. The whole forced pit stop thing is artificial and dull now….just an uneccessary danger.

  4. Maurice Henry said on 6th May 2009, 11:54

    And now we just have the artificial pitstops for tyres. As they’ve taken this decision it’s a shame they didn’t have the balls to leave it up to the teams to decide on whether to pit or to run non stop. In some ways the FIA’s decision has given us, by default, a minimum 2-pitstop window series. I think the other point to make is that the teams are running such sofisticated simulations now that many will have a good handle on how to proceed with pitstop strategy well before they even get to the first race next year. With modelling software as sophisticated as McLaren’s tyre model I think they may have a rocketship for next year like they did in 2007, when within a couple of months of switching back to Bridgestones from Michelins they had a car on the pace.

  5. In 2010,ferrari cant make any pitlane miatakes

  6. mertyazan said on 7th May 2009, 13:08

    There will be pitstops for tyre change and there will be again passings during pitstops.There will be again pit stop strategies.If you don’t want any passing during pitstops ever car must pit at same lap by rules.Where are f1 going.doing so much rule change.Why they don’t create another race series and leave f1

  7. I strongly disagree with getting rid of refueling. F1 is the ultimate Team sport. To win, the driver must be quick, the car must be perfect, the race strategy must be right etc. Getting rid of refuling limits the strategic options and team skills, and consequently gets us just one step nearer racing the cars in a straight line to see which is quickest.

  8. I strongly disagree with getting rid of refueling. F1 is the ultimate Team sport….

    To me it is not a team sport but a test of who is the best driver. That includes not just the ability to go fast but the ability to extract the maximum from the car. There are many instances where driver skill prevailed over what would be considered superior cars.

    The origin of F1 was not a team sport where pit crews made the difference. If anything the only team aspect was where team drivers were ordered to block and inhibit other drivers advance through the field.

    So I say it’s not the “ultimate team sport” but the ultimate test of driver and machine. I look forward to 2010 and seeing more racing and less “strategy”

  9. Steve said on 25th October 2009, 9:02

    having watched F1 for many years (over 23), this is my view…

    it is impossible to get a car setup perfectly for the start of the race and the end of the race, when the fuel levels will be maximimum and then, almost 0…. so, teams will need to adjust and find a balance somewhere…
    the ban on refuelling is a good thing…

    what now really needs to happen is a massive simplification of aero, so that the cars look (in some way) similar to the cars in the early 90′s….., the cars are still hyper sensitive and getting rid of the double-diffuser (yes no?), and the wheel covers (yes), is a good idea…

    the front wing must be further simplified as well as the aero around the sidepods….

    the other issue is, the crap circuits, Tilke seems to have no idea how to build a corner with two lines into and out of it…. or to give the outside line at a fast sweep 1-2 degrees of camber to help guys stay on the outside….

    but these boring street circuits have killed more than any rule IMO

    take care

    Steve

    contactable on

    steven28@webmail.co.za

    • what now really needs to happen is a massive simplification of aero, so that the cars look (in some way) similar to the cars in the early 90’s….., the cars are still hyper sensitive and getting rid of the double-diffuser (yes no?), and the wheel covers (yes), is a good idea…

      the front wing must be further simplified as well as the aero around the sidepods….

      The double diffuser isn’t much more the problem than the diffuser. Either way there is a huge wake of turbulent air behind the car making overtaking hard because of loss of aero.

      Regulating the diffuser will, I think, be really hard. Maybe a better approach is to make the plank thicker and thus force a change in ride height. That will diminish the effect of the diffuser and may force a different aero approach.

      I don’t think the front wing is a big player in the turbulence behind a car. It would take pages of regs to control it unless it’s a spec wing.

      the other issue is, the crap circuits, Tilke seems to have no idea how to build a corner with two lines into and out of it…. or to give the outside line at a fast sweep 1-2 degrees of camber to help guys stay on the outside….

      but these boring street circuits have killed more than any rule IMO

      Boy do I agree with this. The big problem is that countries and cities pay big bucks to bring a race to them and the money talks. For street circuts keep Monaco, too much tradition, and bin the rest. For the Tilke crap get another designer and rip out one Tilke design and see how the new boy does.

  10. Not sure about this refueling rule, I mean is that a serious fire hazard if all cars are heavily fuelled up?
    What do the cars have which would prevent any chances of a fire explosion from a (let’s say..) first corner collison?

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