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Benetton fuel fire German GP Hockenheim Verstappen

Inside Line: The pros and (no) cons of F1 refueling

Benetton fuel fire German GP Hockenheim Verstappen

Much has been written about the possible return of refueling to spice up Formula 1 races and I admit that I am a big fan of the concept.

For me refueling will add a very intersting dimension to strategy, and is far more acceptable in terms of real racing than DRS and even KERS to a certain extent. DRS in particular is a gimmick which in my opinion has no place at the pinnacle of the sport.

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How exciting is DRS? The driver presses a button and a flap drops and wow that’s exciting! And KERS? Even the live TV coverage these days omits reference of the BHP enhancing gizmo. It’s there, but no one cares.

Refueling is spectacular, a show of big balls and real teamwork which is an integral part of Indycars, WEC and Nascar. Technology to fill race cars rapidly with highly combustible liquid, very quickly, is almost failure-proof these days.

Audi fuel stop

Nevertheless the safety card is bandied about by the nay-sayers which in turn has lately prompted vigorous re-use of the Benetton bonfire that engulfed Jos Verstappen during his pitstop at the 1994 German Grand Prix.

Now this annoys me because that fire was caused not by unsafe equipment being used to refuel F1 cars at that time, but rather by deliberate tampering of the fuel rig by Benetton to seek an advantage during pitstops.

After an FIA led investigation at the Benetton factory it was found that the team, led then by Flavio Briatore, was found to have been using an illegal fuel valve without a fuel filter that allowed fuel into the car 12.5% faster than a legal fuel valve. Which translated to a chunk of time on track.

Ironically fuel stops had been re-introduced that year to spice up the show as dwindling TV figures were a concern to the powers that be. They banned it again in 2010.

2015 NASCAR Xfinity Series fuel stop

Don’t get me wrong refueling adds an extra element of danger to proceedings, but relatively acceptable considering the nature of the sport. And think of the strategy options that refueling will add to the race weekend.

No more fully fuel laden cars circultaing half a dozen seconds off their qualifying pace in the early stages of a race – instead a myriad of endless and intriguing possibilities for drivers and engineers to try outsmart their rivals. It would rock big time in my book.

Perhaps the only justifiable excuse is the expense of it all, namely the rigs and related equipment. But then is it really such a big expense for teams relative to the entire budget of a race weekend? Or a season for that matter.

I don’t buy the cost excuse, but then I am not forking out for over-priced canapes, clothing freebies, rent-a-celeb fees, entertaining shady fake investors and all those grand prix weekend essentials expenses – so what do I know?

ferrari-pitstop-f1 fuel

Also cause for thought is the fact that Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is chief lobbyist for refueling not to return. Now his team ain’t cash strapped is it? So why would he be so vehment in his crusade to have the idea shelved? Could it be he fears his Keystone Cops-like crew will blunder too often? Makes me wonder…

In closing I share some maths (at which I suck) for you to consider:

  • Hamilton’s winning time in Canada was 1 hour and 31 minutes which is an average time of 1:30 per lap. Notably for the first 52 laps he did not dip below 1:18 having started with 100kg fuel and his single pitstop time was 23.708 (pit-in to pit-out).
  • In a refueling scenario, with three stops with him starting with 25kg fuel, Hamilton would be good for lap times in the 1:15 zone, add to that the three stops of a highly conservative 30 seconds (giving extra time for refuel at say 12 KGs per second) would have resulted in a race time of around 1 hour and 30 minutes at an average time of 1:28 per lap. I rest my case.

I am sure cleverer guys will disprove my primitive calculations, but at least the whole exercise is food for thought and interesting even if you, like me, are not into maths.

But throw into that some teams opting for two stops, others one stopping and others even pushing the envelope with four stops. This opens up an intriguing element to every race weekend which is not fake and contrived.

So bring on Formula 1 refueling irrespective of what Toto and his gang of supporters have to say.

Inside Line by Paul Velasco