Goodbye to?? refuelling

Felipe Massa might not be too disappointed refuelling is being banned

Felipe Massa might not be too disappointed refuelling is being banned

It’s the last race of the season so we’ll be saying our farewells this weekend – some of the fondly, others not so much.

One goodbye likely to divide reaction among fans is the long-awaited banning of refuelling.

When we witness our final refuelling pit stop this weekend will we have lost something special from F1? Or, like me, will you be saying good riddance to the tedium of race refuelling strategies?

Refuelling was last banned at the end of the 1983 season. Today fans are likely to argue about whether it makes racing better or worse – but on that occasion it was banned because it was deemed unsafe.

Even 25 years later, safety is still a concern. During the last race at Brazil we saw Kimi Raikkonen’s car set alight when another was sent from the pits with a refuelling hose still attached.

This time refuelling is being banned to save money. Lugging two refuelling rigs per team to every race incurs huge freight costs, especially for flyaway races.

Banning refuelling is going to have a big affect on F1 and that will be the subject of a later article here.

But as F1 approaches its final race with refuelling I wanted to ask a different question – whether refuelling has become irrelevant as part of the F1 ‘spectacle’.

F1 coverage, in Britain at least, is much more sophisticated now than it was 15 years ago. We know how much fuel a car has at the start of the race, and when they make a pit stop we can predict quite accurately when they’re going to stop again.

So a change of position due to a refuelling stop becomes more or less inevitable. When Jenson Button beat Rubens Barrichello at Spain because he used a two stop strategy instead of three there was little excitement or surprise at the outcome – other than the fact that two team mates had been put on different strategies.

To my mind it’s been five years since anyone did anything remarkable with a pit stop strategy – when Michael Schumacher won with four pit stops at Magny-Cours.

I’ve got a list as long as my arm of reasons why I’m glad to see the back of refuelling. But the most compelling justification is that it’s always the same and no-one seems to be surprised by it any more.

Are you happy refuelling is going? Was Grand Prix racing better before 1994 or after? Share your reaction in the comments – and do mention whether you watched F1 before refuelling was brought back in 1994, and what you thought of it.


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247 comments on Goodbye to?? refuelling

  1. Anthony said on 26th October 2009, 22:40

    I can’t see the ban being a good thing. We do see overtaking now but this is usually a fast car overtaking a slow car, or a light fast car overtaking a heavy fast car. Once they were on the same strategy this year, we haven’t seen lots of overtaking, first lap aside.

    Next year, we’ll see the fast cars at the front. No doubt about it unless someone makes a mistake in qualifying due to all the cars making fast runs. That means fast cars at the front, slow ones at the back and around they’ll go. At least this year, if a driver in an average car put it in the Q3 they could have a chance of mixing it with the big boys with strategy.

    Do we think we’ll see a driver come through from the back of the grid and make it on the podium next year with no refuelling? It’d be magic if it happened but extremely unlikely.

    I think this years rules have been fantastic. Button dominated the opening events but after that there was a real sense that you wouldn’t know who would win a race, even if there was a fast car on pole, and that kept me watching till the wee hours (I’m in NZ).

    Aside from that I love watching F1 cause its awesomely fast, and yes I like the transfer of technology to road cars and all that but not at the expense of the driver having to take his foot of the gas to make it to the end. Is that racing? I can’t race with him because I won’t make the finish so I’ll let him past.


    • Maurice Henry said on 27th October 2009, 5:04

      I think the FIA have p****d off shell and mobil 1. The advanced nature of shell’s project showed their commitment but this was thrown aside more than likely due to previous actions on the part of both companies. Additionally, colin chapman has already commented on the adverse impact this war is having on signing title sponsors. How could any major business get involved with an FIA F1 WC with a potentially low quality fuel suppliers ? How could shell and mobil 1 now rustle up the finances to run in 2010?

      This IMHO is greatest example of brinkmanship I have seen in a while. Bernie has put the ball firmly in fuel suppliers court. Either they get rid of Todt and his cronies to keep the shell & mobil 1 or they suffer the massive negative publicity and associated financial loss in losing the big names in F1.

      Personally, I’m now at the point where I am so turned off by Max and Bernie, that I would rather watch FOTA’s championship than anything these two old, greedy fools have to offer. They’ve got to go. Now!

  2. I won’t miss refueling during the stops. Having cars on different fuel stops was an additional strategy factor, but I don’t consider it necessary for interesting racing.

  3. gabal said on 26th October 2009, 22:52

    A couple of points need to be addressed in this debate:

    1.) pit-stops will matter even more.
    Drivers will have to make pit stops and how fast his crew can change tires will actually matter. Nowdays it is the same do they change them in 4 or 6 seconds, they allways have to wait for fuel hose to come out, a well trained crew could bring valuable seconds to the team.

    2.) faster cars in qualifying doesn’t mean that car will be faster in race.
    Setup is still fixed before the end of qualifying, teams shall face a choice – better qualifying position or better race-pace depending on will their car be tuned to work better with empty tank or heavy fuel load.

    3.) different cars will reach peak at different parts of the race.
    Some cars will work better with heavy fuel load so they would definitely put the faster tires in their early stint trying to take the most advantage of the period when their cars are fastest. They would want to make the big gap at the start of the race. Then there should be some good finishers who would be faster in lighter car so they would charge in the second part of the race (think Kubica at Australia this year).

    Maybe we are not even seeing some things teams will look to exploit, we all hope this will increase on-track battles and overtaking, honestly – I don’t find it very exciting to see will somebody make a stop on lap 13 or 14, especially as we know when will drivers stop and every team knows it too.

  4. The only concern I’ve got is that we’ll get back to the days of drivers backing off in the last half dozen laps to make sure they get to the end of the race. The days where the prospect of running out of fuel rather than finishing 7th were dreadful.

    • The sri lankan said on 27th October 2009, 5:06

      actually……does this mean teams will start work on a new car? im sure for most teams work on the the 2010 F1 challangers are underway but with a refueling ban in place what are the cars going to look like and whren does the work on them start? its quite late as it is to make another racing car th this stage especially for next year. any thoughts?

  5. gabal said on 26th October 2009, 22:58

    Also, I just remembered why banning the refueling is cost-saving. Teams need to change the fuel rigs and it is a considerable investment for a piece of equipment that makes no increase or decrease of performance.

    • copydude said on 27th October 2009, 5:07

      Much as I think this showdown had to happen, for the good of the fans and the sport, it is terrible news for formula one isn’t it?

  6. Leonard said on 26th October 2009, 23:05

    I began following motorsport seriously in 1984 (@ age 12-13). As a US fan who watched Indycars, NASCAR, and F1 (it was great back in the 80s, as it was all on ESPN), the fact that Formula One didn’t have refueling seemed weird to me. The more I read, I understood about the pre-1984 safety concerns…but refueling isn’t inherently unsafe, so I thought it was a good thing when it was brought back in 1994.

    Was the racing any better or worse due to refueling? I’d have to say not really.

    I thought the racing was really good in the mid to late 80s when you had a solid group of good drivers (Prost, Senna, Piquet Sr., Rosberg Sr., Lauda, Berger, Mansell) who were threats to win every race and multiple makes who were competitive (McLaren, Brabham, Ferrari, Williams, Lotus).

    The racing got boring when one make got a competitive advantage over another, and that team dominated, as McLaren and Williams took turns doing from 1989, and Benetton and Ferarri did in the mid to late 90s. Adding refueling was an attempt to change that, but it really didn’t change much.

    Two keys for competitive races, IMHO. The first key is having competitive balance among the manufacturers, which we’ve had this year.

    The second key is tire variation. Bridgestone has to be made to bring tires with substantial differences between them next year, like a super soft vs. a hard tire. That will make for real differences in strategy (run fast on supersofts or longer on hards – do the long stint early or late? Do two stints of equal length? Do three?).

    Suggestion: a change that could make for better racing would be to have Bridgestone bring three compounds, and have the teams required to only use two of them (but maybe they could use all three). The surprise/strategy would be that we (and the other competitors) wouldn’t know if a driver was using hards/softs or mediums/softs or mediums/hards, or softs/softs/mediums, etc. That would add an element of drama. And teams could change strategy on the fly based on weather/changing conditions/safety cars/etc.

    Or, as someone said above, have a tire war. That would create drama, too.

    • Damian said on 27th October 2009, 5:14

      This is how I see it…

      1) The teams can’t afford to run two fuel pumps, will want to go with the refueling, but will need to get out of their contracts with Bernie
      2) Until they can get out of their contracts, the fuel suppliers will not commit to races with the teams.
      3) There is no rival fuel pump manufacturer until there is the budget cap is lifted.
      4) The sponsors will not want to spend any money until they are sure there is fixed fuel supplier.

      So we will have a stalemate. Meanwhile, the motorsport authorities will be putting pressure on Todt to resign. This means both sides will be groveling to each other to reconsider.

      The most likely scenario is that someone caves in.

      The second most likely, considering the stalemate outlined above, would be no fueling at all. Most of the teams wouldn’t mind this, considering the recession. They would all like a year off to save money and come back stronger next year.

      Even if the rival manufacturer can get the pumps together, the FIA will be moving to get rid of todt. Maybe then the teams would be invited back into the fold, on their terms. Because it would be embarrassing to run a failed fuel pump where the second manufacturer is EuroBrun. This is the third most likely situation.

      A distant, distant fourth option is allowing two fuel pump manufacturers, but I see one of the above happening first.

    • Derek said on 27th October 2009, 15:30

      All the teams would start with hard tyres with the heavy fuel load and then switch to super soft when the fuel load went down enough. So they would be forced into the same stategy.

  7. Dave in NZL said on 26th October 2009, 23:12

    I would like to see the return of Q-cars. I know it is expensive, but even qualy-only enginces would be nice (with or without rev limits…). Even relaxed parc fermme requirements would make it more interesting. The qualy:race performance relationship will govern the early season race strategy more than we give credit. E.g. Jarno and Mark – quick on one lap, but poor over a race distance.

    Also – why are we maintaining the 3 qualy sessions when there is no longer a fuel correction in the third? I’m not suggesting single hot laps, but 45 minutes of track time and the grid is set in order of finishing.

    As for refuelling – car design/engineering will be much more important. I fear for the new teams. They will each run out of fuel once before the season is finished.


    • Maurice Henry said on 27th October 2009, 5:17

      Shell is out of contract after this year. They’ve got to supply for Moto GP in 2010. mobil 1 is out of contract after 2010 and castrol cannot afford the franchise fee on its own so they might pull off. petrobras is off at the moment, but ELF is still owned by a renault or someone, I think. Montreal, Indy, Suzaka or Fuji. Imola, Brno.

      The thing is , the contracts are already drawn up and I seriously doubt they exclude other fuel suppliers from the circuit (pesky EU laws on competition as well as goods services and trade). The promoters can sign deals with other oil companies as they see fit. I think they are all up for grabs as they can see more of a share of the real profits from the races. The only ones that won’t are those owned by Bernie.

  8. James, I have to disagree with you. I agree with most of Kieth’s article.

    I started watching F1 in 1987 when I was 12. I wouldn’t say that I like one era better than the other. Both scenarios create exiting moments. but overall, I’m tired of the pit passing just like Kieth.

    The reason I disagree with James is this;
    1) you say that the ‘team’ aspect will be lost, but there are what, 3 refueling guys. they still need tires and like Kieth says, this can be very dramatic.

    2) aggressive driving will be lost….we’ve seen the opposite in the past when there has been no refueling. Drivers can’t rely on the pit leap to gain advantage and they push past. Also, you get tire masters like Prost that come to life when everyone else struggles.

    ALSO, re-fueling combined with the 3 qualifying sessions leads to every car that is 11th and up going with these huge fuel load strategies….boring and processional (Trulli train!!). Now you’ll have 26(?) cars that are starting a bit more ‘fairly’ and you will see a lot more early action that hands a little more advantage to great drivers in mediocre cars (example, Sutil in the Force India at the beginning of the year starts in 19th with a ton of fuel….meanwhile, Button is 1st with very little fuel and pulls away to gain 30 seconds on Sutil….this factor will be reduced when they are all on the same fuel loads) that example assumes that Sutil is ‘great’.

    Also, James, I don’t see how you can have lists of reasons why refueling is so great that are twice as long as my arms when you didn’t start watching F1 until they had started refueling again….

    • Sorry James, didn’t mean for that to sound like an attack…you just seem adamant about it, but haven’t really gone through a season without fueling…..cheers :)

    • Maurice Henry said on 27th October 2009, 5:19

      F1 As we know & Love it will never survive without the refueling.Lets hope it becomes

  9. MinusTwo said on 27th October 2009, 0:30

    I am new to F1 and this is my first time voicing an opinion on the subject, so be kind…


    I think I agree with Anthony in that one of the unintended consequences of allowing refuelling is that you end up with cars with very different fuel loads on the track at the same time, which in turn allows more overtaking.

    Even a slower car with way less fuel can pass a faster competitor who has just topped up. This does add to the spectacle in my opinion. Overtaking on the track is still exciting, even if it is a result of different fuel loads.

    • Todt should resign now!!! said on 27th October 2009, 5:20


  10. Jay Menon said on 27th October 2009, 0:32

    I think tyre management is being overlooked here, that will be the key. As we know, Bridgestone don’t exactly bring two great tyres to a race, one will always be inferior to the other, hence there would still be strategy in tyre choice.

    Driver who can manage their cars better over the course of the race will benefit. Knowing when to push and when to back off. The ban will also force drivers to pass each other on track, which would be good fun to watch. We had so fantastic battles before 93, so I expect more of the same.

    I wonder which of the current drivers can adapt to this change quickly. I expect the like Jenson and Alonso to quickly pick up the pieces, the jury is out on the likes of Vettel, Rosberg and Hamilton

    • Abe Froman said on 27th October 2009, 5:24

      I think I’m happy about this. refueling is an enormous drag on the sport.

      F1 won’t survive as we know it without the shell, mobil 1, elf, etc. It will instantly become the “B-League”. This is especially true since the oil companies are going to be have the support of obama(as they’ll be allowed to invest in technology liberally).

      In the short-run, the sport will face tremendous uncertaintly. However, in the long-run, I truly think the sport of racing will be better off for ridding itself of the cumbersome management/regulatory framework that burdens the sport so heavily today.

  11. MinusTwo said on 27th October 2009, 0:58

    Hey… now that I think of it… I was hoping that one of the long-time F1 Fanatics out there could help a newcomer understand the sport better by providing some background info (I have only watched this season and last but am now obsessed with F1)

    My question is this: Most people seem to agree that aerodynamics are hampering overtaking in F1. But why? Is it simply that it is hard to follow another car in dirty air?

    Sorry if this question is way too basic for this forum. Let me know if these kind of questions are unwelcome.

    • Dave in NZL said on 27th October 2009, 3:55

      Not too basic at all. Yes, you are right though. The cars are set up to have the maximum corner speed by cutting through clean air. Any deviation from clean air reduces the effect of the aerodynamic pieces. Last year’s cars were addorned with flickup to straighten the air flow on to the rear wing to maximise it’s efficiency. Removing the flickups for the 09 season was intended to increase the relative performance of trailing cars. It didn’t work because aero guys managed to claw back the performance difference (in large part due to the double defusers). Only by taking a step back in design will we return to ‘on track overtaking’. Simple wings with no floor/defuser effects.

    • The track layout also has a lot to do with passing. Some tracks (like Monaco) are just not great for passing. If there is no where to cleanly pass on a track then its not going to matter what aero tricks you have.

  12. wasiF1 said on 27th October 2009, 1:23

    Refuelling was part of the show,its disappointing that it will be the last time we will see it.
    Secondly next year we may see some situation where cars on the closing stage have to back off to save fuel or may even run out of fuel.
    Will surely miss it.
    But as the tyres will grain more on the opening sequences of the race will we see 3-4 pit stops instead of regular two.

  13. I remember watching F1 before refuelling and the thing that really bugged me was that within a quarter of the race the leader(s) were lapping the backmarkers. That, especially for me, makes the race rubbish. It’s great to see the cars at the back able to change their fuel strategy to help them to the front with help from refuelling.

    But now I fear we’ll go back to the ‘lapped car’ syndrome that I thought was eradicated. It’s going to become regular in every race.

    • Thestig84 said on 27th October 2009, 2:34

      What!? Very early lapping was due to the state of some of the teams in f1 at the time. Nothing to do with refuelling. In Q2 15 cars are often less the 1 second apart all running on fumes. If their race pace is similar then maybe 5 cars will get lapped in race.

      Im 100% with Keith on this one. My brother sat in on mission control in MTC and he could not belive how much they focus on economy to eek out the extra lap to jump the car in front at the next pit stop. Now its time for them to try and pass the guy on track….if thats impossible with aero issues then at least he may see more little errors forced due to people behind pushing harder to overtake.

      If you think there will be no strategy and boring races, Paddy Lowe doesnt agree with you

  14. Keith I think that pinnacle of refuelling racing is the 4 stop strategy at Magny Cours in 2004. So was the hungaroring of 1998. That was schuey-brawn-ferrari and tactics at the best. Those were two wonderful races. I will never forget.

    Yeh I am happy to see refuelling going away because of 1 reason and that is the strategy less qualifying. I always feel those qualifying brings the best out of the machines and the drivers. No Strategy, just pure racing. Bring the best setup for the track and get the best out of it if you have the best driver around.

    One thing I feel sad about refuelling going is the fact that it takes one variable out of the game. one less variable one less complexity. Due to the technological development in the recent days the racing was becoming more predictable. Now if there are more variables atleast there is some amount of unpredictable stuff out there.

    Second reason I hate to see refulleing going is because master strategist like Ross brawn would have less role to play. I always loved the way Ross took the rabbit out of the hat albeit he needs a good driver to drive for him to do so. i loved him doing that with schumey. Also another fact is that now if a driver is trailing another in tracks like valencia, sgp and Monaco we alteast have the hope of overtaking through pit strategies. Now that element would be lost. Yeh it is not end of pit stops there are tyre changes but still.

    I have been following racing even before 1994 era. I dont have complaints towards both the versions of the race. THe real people who make the difference is the people. A ross Brawn can make a refuelling stop interesting. Similarly great drivers can make the other style intresting.

    Keith One question. If this is just done to save cost and not in the interest of the sporting spectacle. Are we going to see this come back when the economy booms agains and when auto industry is back with loads of cash at disposal ?

    My only concern is that if it is done just to save cost and not to make sport more interesting. It will lose out soon.


  15. manatcna said on 27th October 2009, 2:58

    It will be terrible. I remember racing with no refuelling All the cars were heavy and there was very little overtaking if memory serves.

    You will know the result of the race after around 10 laps.

    OK, maybe 20

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