The F1 Sporting Working Group has been asked to come up with new ideas to “improve the show” in F1 in 2010.
But the best decision to improve the show was taken this time last year. After 16 years, refuelling during the race is finally being banned. This will make F1 more exciting, easier to follow, less expensive and safer.
1. Qualifying will be more exciting
For the past few years whenever a driver pulled a quick lap out of the bag to snatch pole position the response was not “what a great lap” but “How much fuel has he got on board?”
Next year when a driver hangs it all out and grabs the number one spot by a few thousandths we’ll know it’s because of what he got out of the car and not how little fuel was put in it.
The nay-sayers who insist it will lead to the fastest car always starting from pole position should pause to consider the last season in which we had proper low-fuel qualifying. Juan Pablo Montoya started from pole position seven times in 2002 – but never won a race.
Read more: Real qualifying returns in 2010
2. Easier to compare drivers’ performances
With all drivers qualifying on low fuel we will be able to tell very easily who got the most out of their car over a single lap – especially between team mates. The tedious and contrived calculations about who did the best ‘fuel-adjusted’ lap will go in the bin.
3. Easier to follow races at the track
Sat at home with the television broadcast, F1.com’s timing screen and, of course, the F1 Fanatic live blogs, it’s easy to keep on top of the race strategies. But sat in the rain at Pouhon without a TV screen, no Kangaroo reception and the tannoy drowned out by the scream of the engines, who knows which driver is on what strategy.
Yes, they’ll still be tyre stops in 2010, but the added complexity of different fuel loads will be gone, making it a lot easier to follow a race. That can only be a good thing for the accessibility of the sport.
4. Racing will be less artificial
Although knockout qualifying has brought an exciting dimension to Saturdays, it has created the strange phenomenon where drivers on row six can be better-placed strategically because they didn’t make it into the final ten and therefore have free reign on their fuel strategy.
In short, qualifying ninth or tenth can put you at a disadvantage compared to starting 11th or 12th. This artificial advantage will be neutered in 2010.
5. It will save the teams money
This is the main reason why refuelling is being axed – and it’s a sound one.
Lugging a pair of refuelling rigs per team around the world isn’t cheap, especially when there’s a bunch more new teams showing up.
Read more: The cost-cutting plans: refuelling ban
6. No more fuel-saving means they’re flat out all the way
If the widespread use of in-car radio in F1 has shown us anything it’s that as soon as drivers get stuck behind a rival they concentrate more on trying to save fuel – and therefore pit later and more advantageously – than trying to overtake.
I doubt banning refuelling will lead to a lot more overtaking – that problem is more to do with the aerodynamic sensitivity of the cars and, to a lesser extent, track layouts.
7. Race strategy will be more interesting and exciting
Banning refuelling does not mean the death of race strategy. Instead, Grands Prix will have a strategic dimension which has more interesting consequences for the racing.
Now it will be all about which drivers can get through the race on a single tyre stop, nursing their car in the early stages on a heavy fuel load, and which ones have to make an extra stop. Already some commentators are talking up the chances of drivers who are kind to their tyres (like the current world champion) versus those who might not be (like the last one).
When the refuelling rules were brought in for 1994 the governing body ignored the fact that this very facet of the rules allowed for one of the rare occasions when the dominant Williams of 1993 was beaten by a lesser car on a dry track. Michael Schumacher elected not to make his final stop for tyres at Estoril and clung onto his lead despite being chased down by Alain Prost in the closing stages.
There are rumours the governing body is considering making two pit stops mandatory in 2010. That would be a terrible idea as it would completely kill any potential for strategic variety. Instead, they should go in the opposite direction and remove the present need for drivers to make at least one pit stop.
8. Fairer competition
F1 has never been properly set up for refuelling, in the modern era at least. F1 pits only permit one car to be serviced at any given time, forcing teams to run drivers on at least slightly different strategies.
So on occasions where the safety car has been deployed we have seen drivers’ races ruined because they had to queue up behind their team mate before they could take on fuel.
It’s disappointing no-one tried to fix this problem in the last 16 years, but at least it won’t matter any more now.
9. Harder for teams to favour one driver
There is no question there is always one fuel strategy that is superior to another – even if the difference is only a lap here or there.
Without refuelling it’s going to be a lot harder to have those “Team X always favours Driver Y” arguments in 2010.
10. More challenging for the drivers
No-one’s saying F1 is easy. But at the moment F1 drivers have to prepare their cars to work within a weight range of around 630kg to 700kg. That range will be roughly doubled next year, leaving them having to prepare cars that will handle radically different at the start of the race to the end, with lap times falling by around five seconds during the race.
That opens up a far greater scope for variety in set-ups, strategies and performance – not to mention potential for people to get things wrong and end up with a car that destroys its tyres at the beginning of a race or can’t get heat into them at the end.
11. More exciting pit stops
The pit stops that do happen will be brief, exciting bursts of energy as teams scramble to get four tyres off and on the cars as quickly as possible.
As refuelling almost always takes longer than a tyre change the pressure on the mechanics has been less severe in recent year.
But in 2010 how quickly they turn the car around will determine how little time their man loses. In 1993 Benetton whittled their best tyre change time down to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it 3.2 seconds. Will any of the teams be able to top that next year?
Read more: A brief history of pit stops in F1
12. No more races ruined by rigs
Despite having 16 years to perfect refuelling rigs, last year faults were still causing drivers to receive too little fuel, ruining their races – notably for Felipe Massa at Catalunya.
No more will we see a closely-fought battle between two drivers spoiled because one of their races was ruined by a dodgy rig.
13. Improved safety
Just as 16 years of development hasn’t stopped fuel rigs from failing, it also failed to weed out refuelling fires. There was a spate of fires at the Hungarian Grand Prix last year and more incidents this year too.
The trade-off for that is that cars will be carrying much more fuel at the start of a race, which is potentially an increased risk. However cars today are far less likely to catch fire on impact and marshals are much quicker at arriving on the scene than they used to be. On balance I suspect we’re better off this way.
14. Overtaking will be more important
A battle for position is more exciting when it’s significant. A driver on a lighter fuel load breezing past a much heavier car is less compelling because you know he’ll eventually have to pit and, in all likelihood, lose the position again.
Next year when a driver passes another it’s much more likely to be decisive. I’d far rather see that than an occasional jumbling of the order just because some drivers have pitted to refuel.
I know some people are unconvinced about the refuelling ban – especially those who didn’t watch F1 before 1994. There are downsides to the refuelling ban but I think they are vastly outweighed by the benefits. Tell me what you think in the comments.
F1 2010 rules: Refuelling ban
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- F1 2010 rules: A return to proper qualifying and real Grand Prix racing
Image (C) Williams/LAT, Ford.com, Renault/LAT