Refuelling. It’s a touchy topic in Formula 1 and it is very much on the agenda for a supposed radical overhaul of the regulations ahead of 2017. The most recent F1 refuelling era to date was between the 1994 and 2009 seasons, where the cars hit their fastest speeds to date. After refuelling was banned for the 2010 season, there has been a constant call from at least one notable person for a return to the way things were before, with smaller engine tanks and cars circulating at a quicker speed.
Do we Really need a new F1 Refuelling era?
Refuelling in Formula 1 was never a new thing when 1994 came around. Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham team utilised the potential its potential in 1983 and duly took the championship that year with Nelson Piquet. Refuelling was brought back into F1 following the surge in popularity of the American Champ Car Series, where, combined with frequent safety car or caution periods, it helped produce some shock results.
As part of a cost-cutting measure ahead of 2010 and due to safety concerns which were highlighted as recently as the penultimate race of 2009, refuelling was dropped. Lap times for 2010 in the races rose drastically, the cars were notably longer and in a Bridgestone-shod era, most races were simple one-stop affairs with the Option tyre ditched early on for the Prime. However, the majority of the changes for position occurred on the track, and not in the pit lane.
Lap times only increased even more for 2014 with the introduction of the turbocharged V6 hybrid power units. With reduced amounts of fuel also, the 100kg limit required some management at certain events. For 2017, lap times are supposedly going to reduce by five seconds, and refuelling was one quick fix to the problem.
Whilst some seem unhappy that drivers are not able to push as hard as they were ten years ago because of saving fuel and tyres, bringing back refuelling would not quash the former, otherwise there would be absolutely no lifting and coasting in IndyCar or in the World Endurance Championship, both series where refuelling takes place. That’s before we mention that it would increase (already drastically high) costs, increase danger and be detrimental to the racing.
In fact, IndyCar is a pretty useful example to use. For 2015, aero kits from the manufacturers – Chevrolet and Honda were introduced. With these proving to be costly, the entry numbers for the series dropped. Also with these aero kits came some frightening airborne accidents at Indianapolis and at Fontana, which was the last thing anybody wanted to see following Dan Wheldon’s fatal accident in 2011. Did these aero kits improve the racing? For the most part, absolutely not. If anything, it produced more dull caution periods for debris than anything. On the other side of the spectrum the cars gained a few extra seconds a lap, but at all of that cost.
The main bugbear with F1 refuelling is that it moves all of the overtaking on the track into the pit lane, which is not what we need to see. There were many complaints last season that the races were being determined via the Mercedes pit wall and refuelling would only make that sort of thing much worse. Refuelling only really works when the safety car gets involved; that has helped one team to cheat their way to a race victory in the past. With the introduction of the virtual safety car in recent years and F1 circuits having more and vaster run-off areas, in theory the usage of the safety car will become less in the near future, so any unpredictability given to us by refuelling and the safety car will no longer exist.
One other thing that refuelling could get rid of is the exceptionally fast pit stops. It is phenomenal that in F1 you can enter your pit box, get serviced and be out within three seconds. Refuelling would put an end to that, and we would see stops take more than two times the amount of time which they do now.
Whilst F1 cars needs to be a bit quicker, there are better ways of going about that which are not detrimental to the on-track product. I would like to see much wider tyres, more technical flexibility within the power unit and all cars starting with exactly 100kg of fuel and taking away the fuel-flow limit.
So do we really need a new F1 refuelling era after all?