In modern race series like Formula One and Formula E, we have regulations. Lots of regulations. Among those many regulations are fuel limitations. In F1, cars are not only limited in the amount of fuel they can carry and use, but in how quickly they use it. Why is that?
This is a question I’ve been intending to talk about for a while, but the ever-prolific Stuart over at Chain Bear on YouTube beat me to it with a much simpler explanation and much more attractive graphics than I could have ever managed. And, as I’m sure you, fine readers, can imagine, there are a whole host of reasons why F1 has implemented this rule.
There are three main reasons as to why F1 limits the fuel flow rate, and it has a lot to do with the hybrid engines that the series mandated several years ago, all of which increase engine and fuel efficiency. First, limiting fuel flow rate is more in line with manufacturers who use F1 as a testing ground for road cars, since the average motorist is not looking for straight power at every second of the daily commute. Second, there are better ways of delivering power now that aren’t solely fuel-based (see: the instant torque you get from an electric motor). And, finally, a controlled rate of fuel burn is a lot more efficient and a lot less wasteful than if you just said “to hell with it” and let ‘er rip.
It would, undoubtedly, be a hell of a lot of fun to let drivers and teams determine their rate of fuel flow. Another element of strategy is, in my eyes, always a good thing. I mean, could you imagine the chaos that would ensue if a driver insisted upon using more than his allotted amount of fuel to chase down a rival and had to answer for his empty fuel tank later, when he puttered to a stop before the checkered flag?
Even though Formula E also contains some of the same power-limiting regulations, there’s still the opportunity for drivers to use too much power and run out of battery before the end of the race. There is, also, the opportunity for race stewards to completely bungle the battery allotment. The first instance is kind of neat, since part of the whole EV thing is ensuring that you’re using your limited amount of power very efficiently. The latter instance is awful, since it deprives drivers of their chance for legitimate competition.
But for Formula One, the goal of fuel flow rate restrictions is to force teams to extract the most power out of a limited amount of fuel. If you just let drivers push willy-nilly, you’d end up with a lot of unnecessary friction and heat, which would contribute to more wasted fuel. And it would totally negate the whole “get the most bang for your buck” goal.
It can be frustrating for viewers, since it can contribute to some of our more processional races, when drivers can’t afford to catch the car in front due to fuel. It’s part of why F1 doesn’t want to allow for the return of refuelling, which could contribute to a more wasteful approach to fuel use. But predominantly, a limited fuel rate creates more of an engineering and strategy challenge, which is more relevant to our road cars than, say, just letting drivers go balls-to-the-wall and guzzle as much fuel as they like.