14 reasons to love the refuelling ban

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Drivers will have to pass on the track, not in the pits, in 2010

Drivers will have to pass on the track, not in the pits, in 2010

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.

But it will at least remove an incentive for a driver to sit back and not try to overtake, which can only be a good thing.

7. Race strategy will be more interesting and exciting

Smart tyre strategy helped Schumacher win in 1993

Smart tyre strategy helped Schumacher win in 1993

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

Giancarlo Fisichella pits for fuel at Catalunya in 2006

Giancarlo Fisichella pits for fuel at Catalunya in 2006

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

Image (C) Williams/LAT, Ford.com, Renault/LAT

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154 comments on 14 reasons to love the refuelling ban

  1. sumedh said on 17th December 2009, 11:48

    I was against this refueling ban. Since, I haven’t seen any pre-1994 races.

    What I felt was that the fastest car would just run off into the distance.

    But JPM’s example is a sound one. If he couldn’t win a race from pole 7 times, surely, there are reasons to love this ban.

    But I don’t agree with no. 5 Cost cutting

    Teams still have to carry fuel rigs, how are they going to refuel the car before the race otherwise?

    • Antifia said on 17th December 2009, 15:01

      Except that the JPM’s example is the exception to the rule. In most cases the cars in front would indeed disappear into the distance. Regarding the fuel rigs, without refueling during races, the equipment could be much simpler – in theory one could make do with a bunch of jerry-cans. Putting fuel in the car has just to be done, it doesn’t need to be done fast.

    • George said on 18th December 2009, 0:20

      What Antifia said above, if you can find any pictures of refueling during testing (or I think practice too), they just have a big can like in other racing series.

  2. Icthyes said on 17th December 2009, 11:51

    Agree with every word, Keith. Also agree with PM but I’m on an iPod and can’t seem to reply directly to posts on this format.

  3. DASMAN said on 17th December 2009, 12:16

    Semantics, but, is it just me or do points 1 and 2 have nothing to do with the refueling ban? They are related to an entirely different rule change? They could make the pack qualify with full tanks and still have refueling ban.

    Initially I was against the refueling ban, but some of your points do make sense. I do think the racing will be ‘purer’, but perhaps less exciting. I have watched f1 since the early 80’s as a kid and remember some absolute snoozefests.

    I guess we’ll have to wait and see tho. F1 is pretty much always exciting to me no matter how much the FIA try to muck it up.

  4. three4three said on 17th December 2009, 12:22

    Excellent article Keith! It will be fascinating to see which drivers can better deal with the greater variables in 2010, including tyre management, performance change, braking and hopefully overtaking as you mention above. For the teams, strategy will of course be vital too.
    All in the refuelling ban is an exciting prospect.

  5. GooddayBruce said on 17th December 2009, 12:59

    I’m in favour for two reasons – one of which you have mentioned – the disincentive to follow a car and save fuel. The second is simply that change brings new interest. Since the qualifying format was settled a few years back, race strategies have become too well understood. A change in this area will cause teams to rethink their approach, hopefully with interesting results.

  6. Opposite Lock said on 17th December 2009, 13:14

    Some great comments all round, but just to throw another in I would remind everyone of the 1987 British GP. This was the race in which Nigel Mansell chose to pit for fresh tyres when teammate Piquet opted to stay out, leaving Mansell some 40 seconds or so behind the Brazilian. Mansell caught up with Piquet over the remaining laps, dramatically taking the lead with just a few laps to go. The TV cameras were shaking due to the jubilant reaction of the crowd – one of the most dramatic races in the 40 or so years I’ve been following f1. Point is, a race/result like that could never happen with refuelling. Personally I’ve been praying for it to be banned ever since it was introduced; bring on 2010!

    • Unfortunately something like that is not likely to happen since now they are forced to pit at least once so they can try both compounds.
      Piquet tried to stay with the same tyres hoping that Mansel wouldn’t catch up but he was suffering from degradation and Mansel with new tyres was able to put fast laps and catch him before the end. Now they will have to come at least once so that scenario is difficult.

  7. Antifia said on 17th December 2009, 13:17

    Going against the tide, I have to say that I like refueling. The advantages in relation to qualifying that are mentioned could be easily solved by allowing the teams to re-fuel after the qualifying. When safety and costs are concerned, I must confess that I am not a safety and savings guy when it comes to F1 – my own work is safe and relatively low cost, and nobody with a sane mind would enjoy watching two hours of it on TV. I know I wouldn’t. In relation to overtaking, one can safely say that the lack of it is due to track and aero features – while banning refueling will limit changes of position in the pits, it will do nothing to address the problem on track. But my main bone with it is that it will favor Prost-style over Senna-style drivers. Bureaucratic drivers will find themselves in a better position than the go-for-broke ones. This is a matter of preferrence, of course, but Prost was to F1 what Germany is to football: Efficient, alright, but utterly boring (if you want to have a glimpse into Prost’s racing mind, watch the 1985 review – in it the winning driver comments each race. When it is Prost, instead of comments about how fast you can go in each part of the circuit, it is all about sparing tyres, sparing fuel, sparing the viewer’s the will to live…). Anyway, good for Button: This is certainly an advantage to him vis-a-vis Hamilton…. And if you want to talk about anti-climaxes, wait till that on-track battle ends because one of the drivers ran out of fuel with a couple of laps to go – and I bet it will happen very frequently.

    • S Hughes said on 17th December 2009, 16:04

      Anyway, good for Button: This is certainly an advantage to him vis-a-vis Hamilton….

      Oh no, not this old chestnut again.

      • Antifia said on 17th December 2009, 16:38

        Don’t get me wrong here – I don’t root for LH but I find him a much more entertaining driver than Button wil ever be. But what is wrong with the analysis? Button is much kinder on his tyres than Hamilton is. Add to it that the cars will start the race much havier and this ought to translate into an advantage to Button. Furthermore, Lewis will not be able to compensate for that with an one-extra-stop strategy (like he did in Turkey 2008, for example) because, without the possibility of running lower on fuel in each stint, such an strategy is just hopeless. I still believe that LH will come up on top, but this change in the rules should close the gap between them.

  8. SaloolaS said on 17th December 2009, 13:19

    So, there’s a rule that a driver has to use two types of tyres in dry, but not in wet conditions. So imagine Monaco GP, that is much shorter than the others, and imagine rain there, with some crashes and safety cars. That would make it a no-stop race for some.

  9. Todfod said on 17th December 2009, 13:19

    I do not agree wuth a word Keith has written about how this makes qualifying and races more exciting. Fuel loads are nothing but an additional variable in the team’s strategy. Reducing it just reduces on the excitement and the mystery behind the team’s strategy.

  10. Ah the sight of driver after driver running out of fuel again… I can’t wait!

    Don’t get me wrong, I was uber-excited by the ban on re-fuelling; it will add to the spectacle plus keep the F1 nerds happy trying to figure out who’s car is set up to perform better when.

    Or will it? With the cars going into parc ferme after qualifying they will all be set up to be fastest when they’re lightest, so wouldn’t they all wallow around on hard tyres for the first fifty-odd laps then dive into the pits for a blazing bout on the softies? You might as well split it and have a feature and a sprint…

    Obviously the driver who has to carry less fuel will be the fastest under all conditions so apart from the drivers right foot what other areas unique to each driver or team affects fuel consumption?

    My guesses would be (in no particular order);
    1) engine economy – a trade off between pounds and ponies.
    2) aerodynmic efficiency – you’d think this field would be covered quite well in F1 but ironically Brawn suffered from his rival Neweys traditional hamstring of beng too slippery and not having enough mechanical grip to get heat into the tyres… a fundamental design issue that meant they had to pile on the wing angle and hence lose the speed.
    3) total overall weight – we know the tolerances are so tight at the moment that the drivers stopped just short of hacking off limbs so they could get some KERS on their car.
    4) teammates – will this signal the resurgence of team number 1’s? Look at cycling where the star in the team will cruise along behind the hole-in-air-punching juniors before breaking out the thigh motors when it’s time to sprint. These sort of tactics would make a huge amount of sense when it’s getting tight at the top towars the end of the season…

    Can anyone see anything else?

  11. antonyob said on 17th December 2009, 13:30

    so if its tracks and aerodynamics that limit overtakes how do you explain Buttons frequent overtakes when it was “do it or bust” ?

    By common consensus it is tracks and aero but that doesn’t make it so and if you add in Jensons failure to do Webber in the last race when it wasnt “do it or bust” then maybe you come to a different conclusion. Either way it is crazy to spend millions on track changes and over taking working groups and then find out oh um sorry turns out it was the drivers fault after all.

    • Antifia said on 17th December 2009, 13:55

      Look, a driver in a top car that finds himself in the middle/back of the grid for one reason or another (as Button did for 2/3 of the season) will always have an overtaking field day – except perhaps in Monaco-like tracks. It happens all the time and with an array of different drivers. That is what happened to Button: After bad qualis in a top Brawn, he would storm through the Toyotas, Torro-Rossos, Williams and so on. And you would watch it, and think it was unique, because, since he was leading the championship (and being British) he would be on the BBC screen for most of the time in the races. He did nothing spetacular – take Brazil, for example, were people say he drove and overtook like a champ. Both Vettel and Hamilton started behind him and finished ahead of him…see? nothing special about starting in a Mclaren or Redbull in 15th and 16th and finishing in the top 6 – this happens all the bloody time!

    • I think if you watch the Button webbber battle again, you’ll see it probably had more to do with Webber driving well then Button not trying hard enough.

  12. Choltz said on 17th December 2009, 14:07

    I am happy with the ban, I hope that they do as you say and remove the required pit stop, however they will probably leave it in or increase it to two so there is more exposure for tires and they can attract a tire manufacture after Bridgestone leaves.

  13. Great article keith..now somehow im convinced that its better to ban refueling..but if there is not much overtaking next year than i have to say..FIA should think of bringing back refueling in 2011.so that drivers can atleast make up positions in pits.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 17th December 2009, 15:16

      if there is not much overtaking next year than i have to say..FIA should think of bringing back refueling in 2011.

      No, I think that’s the worst criteria they could use. I don’t think the refuelling ban is likely to make a very significant difference to the amount of overtaking that happens. But like I said in the last point, the passes we do see will be more significant.

  14. antonyob said on 17th December 2009, 15:18

    calm down antifa. its a blog, your supposed to have different views. And you do have a point.

    I remember Webber nailing someone when he was angry at himself, it mightve been Rosberg and i thought with a bit more fire in their bellies the drivers may be able to do more. Theres also plenty of examples of Vettel not coming thru the field when he should do sso its not all car just as its not all driver but there is a fixation with aero sensitivity and that is undeniable.

    • Antifia said on 17th December 2009, 15:49

      Agreed – I did not have the intention to sound aggressive or something. Returning to the discussion, you might agree that one sees more passes in some tracks than one will see in others though.

  15. Dafizzner said on 17th December 2009, 15:32

    if only the cars ran on hopes and dreams, then this fuel issue could be resolved…

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