Refueling has been banned from Formula One races for a decade, as 2009 kicked off an era of fuel-free pit stops. Has the racing been better for a lack of petroleum? I’d venture to say that it has not, and FIA president Jean Todt might agree with me, according to a recent report from Autoweek.
“Cars are probably becoming a bit too heavy,” said Todt. “That is something we discussed. I am pushing for analyzing what it would mean if we reintroduced refueling. Because if you reintroduce refueling, then you will have lighter cars at the start of the race, and you can have smaller cars.”
The ban on refueling has meant Grand Prix racers have needed to carry all of their fuel on board for the entirety of the race, removing a crucial part of pit stop strategy. It also means the cars are bigger to accommodate a large fuel cell, and heavier than ever at the start of the race.
If you watch an F1 race, you can tell that the cars are often too large for the track they are racing on. The cars have certainly bloated in all directions since I began watching the sport. This is one factor that Todt has a problem with, and hopes that a smaller fuel tank would allow the regulations to mandate smaller exterior dimensions.
Right now, all of the teams start out with the same fuel level, and aim to end the race with just a bit more than empty. If all the teams are on an equal weight and equal fuel strategy, that instantly means fewer passes will take place than if refueling is allowed.
Refueling was initially banned for safety reasons, as pit stops were getting too fast and teams were having trouble getting the fuel safely into the cars in the short time it takes to change wheels. I would argue that slowing down the pit stops with a fuel stop would actually increase the safety, giving teams more time to make sure what they’re doing is correct. And the racing might be better for another five or six seconds on pit lane, as it gives the crew time to make aero adjustments that could save someone’s race.
The FIA already has the capability to measure fuel flow rates, as it does in the WEC endurance races. Mandating a certain fuel flow for the sake of safety isn’t beyond the scope of the sanctioning body’s capacity. Is a sub-2-second pit stop all that exciting to watch anyway? If you want to promote safety, mandate fewer team members on the hot pit lane, while we’re at it.
Teams have rebuked the idea of bringing back refueling to the sport, as the cost of designing and transporting a fuel rig would be a bridge too far.
“Sometimes I hear that it will be more expensive and honestly it makes me smile,” said Todt. “When I see the size of the motorhomes, I don’t think that it’s really the price which will be a killer.“
So with new regulations looming on the horizon, Todt wants to investigate the ups and downs of fuel filling during the race. If all of these other lowly series can manage it, surely Formula One can. As a long time fan that has been bored nearly to tears during multiple Grands Prix in the last decade, I am willing to give anything a go at this point.