Team principals oppose senior drivers’ views


brought to you by TJ13’s editor in chief Andrew Huntley-Jacobs

Discussions to bring refueling back to F1 in 2017 for many in and around the sport came from way out of left field.

Prior to the strategy meeting at Biggin Hill there was an known agenda, and many of the parties had already been pitching their positions in the media. For example, the team principal’s conference in Barcelona sent out an almost unanimous message that there would be no change in the V6 Turbo Hybrid engines for 2017, other than consideration being given to increasing fuel flow.

So the meeting was in effect hi-jacked by the introduction of discussions around reintroducing refuelling, and that could only be from one of two sources.

This is either a Bernie idea, or one from Jean Todt.

The president of the FIA apparently has leanings towards Michelin returning to F1 as a supplier. However, the French tyre company have made it perfectly clear they will not countenance being instructed to build the kind of degradable tyres Pirelli are currently providing.

So, were Michelin to be awarded the F1 tyre contract in 2017, much of the current strategy would be lost – but refuelling would retain an element of that ‘chess game.’ Teams have to react to events during the race.

Yet refuelling is hardly a game of strategy played at grand master level. All the teams do is time the length of the refuelling stop of their rivals, and then adopt their strategy accordingly.

Two options are available, fuel more than the opponent, run a longer stint, forfeiting track position for now – but taking it back when the opponent pits again. Strategy option two, is merely the reverse of this.

During the refuelling era, overtaking was at a premium. Most of the switching of positions on track was done as cars made their refuelling stops.

In 1994 on the debut race of that refuelling era, Michael Schumacher was stuck behind Ayrton Senna for lap after lap. He overcame the Brazilian by switching his fuelling strategy, passed him while Senna made a stop, and went on to win the race.

At the FIA Monaco driver press conference, each panel member was questioned whether they would favour a return to refuelling – Yes or No?

  • Marcus Ericson: I like it as it is now.
  • Romain Grosjean: Don’t care.
  • Valtteri Bottas: I’ve never tried refuelling so maybe it would be nice to try.

Then three drivers who raced during the past refuelling era gave their answers.

  • Jenson Button:It’s not a question that has a yes or no answer is it? You obviously the safety aspect – the reason we went away from refuelling – and also the money, the cost. In terms of racing, I think it was great, back in the day when we had refuelling. If you had an issue on lap one, you could change your race around, you could do something different – whereas now it’s very difficult…
  • Lewis Hamilton:He did say just a yes or no…
  • JB:Yeah, I know – but it’s rubbish as a yes or no question!
  • LH:I’m going to say yes.
  • Kimi Raikkonen: (nigh on indecipherable mutter of assent)

The views of elder statesman on the grid is pretty unanimous that refuelling is a good idea. Fernando Alonso was also positive about the proposal yesterday, and so far, just Felipe Massa has voiced concerns.

Martin Brundle explained his thoughts on bringing back refuelling to SKY F1. “Refuelling – that took me completely by surprise… it makes no sense to me at all, I think its about a million and a half euros per team to cart all the kit around the world”.

Given Jean Todt’s two flag ship policies that he claimed would define his presidential term’s impact on F1 are – cost reduction and making F1 greener – surely this idea didn’t come from the FIA?

F1 takes pride in what the wise and good running the sport believe to be its USP’s. Having the fastest racing series on the planet and lightening pit stops are two of the things claimed to be unique about F1. These USP’s do nothing to ensure competitive and close racing, but are argued to improve ‘THE SHOW’.

The spectacle of a big crew of mechanics swarming around a car still moving, and in a flash changing the wheels, is often lost on TV due to the close camera angles. But from a longer perspective it is truly an amazing sight to behold.

Refuelling in days past saw pit stops where the tyres could be changed almost at leisure because the fuelling time was several seconds. Yet as Toto Wolff revealed, the proposed reintroduction in refuelling will not see pit stop time rise dramatically. So unlike all other major racing series where in race fuelling is gravity fed – F1 fuel rigs will have to be designed to pump up to 50 kgs of fuel in three seconds.

This kind of pressurised pumping of a highly flammable liquid inevitably led to a number of spectacular failures in the previous 16 years when F1 were continually develop high pressurised rigs. The inevitable result will be an occasional fire and the sight of Felipe Massa heading off at 80kph trailing 10 metres of fuel hose behind his car – which by the way probably cost him the 2008 world drivers title.

Christian Horner revealed today that the position of the team principals on refuelling is unanimous. “Certainly all the team managers who met yesterday were vehemently against it”.

This pretty much confirms that refuelling is a Bernie idea and unless persuaded otherwise, the teams will get their way on this matter.

The style of governance Jean Todt has brought to F1 is best described as passive, and for a proposal placed before the F1 strategy group to gain the 6 votes of the FIA, it would require agreement amongst the other parties.

Then again, – if the spectre of refuelling is ultimately avoided, it may be that Customer cars slips through as a lesser of two evils compromise – because after all the F1 strategy group can’t be seen to being just doing nothing 😉

(The rights and wrongs of refuelling are debated in depth on this weeks TJ13 podcast, which will be posted here later today)

19 responses to “Team principals oppose senior drivers’ views

  1. Not sure if it was actually a typo, but the quoted Kimi ‘answer’ made me laugh, a lot:
    “Kimi Raikkonen: ”
    Difficult to argue with that one…….

    • Aha ! I see the supreme power of the Editor has been wielded. Hey ho….. but I preferred it when it was left blank 🙂

  2. There is a simple solution to the problems of teams being able to second-guess strategy from refuelling time. Simply mandate a fixed refuelling period and allow the teams to vary the flow rate to suit their strategy. It will limit the options – no quick short stints, but means everyone is left guessing.

  3. JT – “Bernie, I want Michelin back in F1”
    BE – “Well I want something in return then….. hows about refuelling? (mutters to himself, that’ll nicely discredit the little frenchmans “green policy” that I so clearly dont understand)

  4. Can’t imagine the UN Special Envoy for Road Safety would propose refueling…can’t see the teams going for it at all. Refueling for me made races more boring, with less genuine/skillful overtaking and less chance of a driver earning a finishing spot above the cars potential by gaining track position and defending for all they’re worth (unless you count out of sequence refueling with a safety car, but I don’t think it more exciting to see cars that should be in 14 -17th popping up in 1st – 4th at the end of the race due to a nice non-virtual mercedes safety car being sent out at an opportune moment – there’s always Indycar for that). Only angle I see on refueling is as another stick to beat Lotus. Sauber, FI into submission on customer cars, option (a) nice cheap(ish) customer car , option (b) more costs anyone?.

    as I side note I do enjoy Indycar, but its not F1 and not what I would like to see F1 become – just say no to customer cars.

  5. “During the refuelling era, overtaking was at a premium.”

    Overtaking in the pits, you mean. Overtaking on the track dropped during the refuel era to almost zero. It rose again after the ban on refuelling in 2010 which imho says enough.

    The ultimate solution imho to spice up the race is making sure cars can drive in each others slipstream, so bring back ground-effect, bigger (and more lasting) tyres and smaller front and rear wings.

    You get the best racing (on track) when cars are equal (in weight, horsepower and grip/downforce) so the objective must be to equalize the cars in stead of introducing more variables to make them less equal on the track.

    • High downforce and durable tyres reduced overtaking, not refuelling.
      Since we have had less downforce, less durable tyres, and DRS we have had increased overtaking.
      Adding refuelling to this will aid overtaking even more.

      Refuelling is a good idea that probably won’t happen. If it does it will improve racing, passing and strategy.

      Introducing variables to make cars less equal improves overtaking as there is a difference in performance, and makes the racing more interesting.

  6. The best way to ensure competitive racing is to follow the lead of Dorna in MotoGP. Handicapping – which is effectively what we have this year, with tires, ECUs and fuel allocation being <=. It's a temporary expedient leading gradually to a level playing field next year where the differences are removed and a common ECU mandated. Watch this year's MotoGP races to see what "competitive" means. Suzuki have returned and their brand new bike is already very quick. Ducati likewise with a radically new design. Some of the independent teams and manufacturer's no. 2 teams are also back in the mix. Let's hope Kawasaki are encouraged to return as Aprilia has. As for the "customer cars" option, see what a useless farce that was in MotoGP with the so-called "claiming rule" option.

    • Suzuki left in 2011. They planned to take a small break and never stopped developing the bike after they left. 2015 bike has been in development since 2012.

      F1 already has standard ECU.

      The riders are spread out a lot in MotoGP. If you scale the times to be an f1 race distance, they get much bigger too.

  7. Just as an open question, how many fires happen at the TT ? If we did go back to a gravity system maybe that’s the answer, how many cars fill up at the pumps without a problem?, maybe its not quick but at least they would get an airfreshner and a sausage roll during the stop

  8. If the current pirellis went as fragile but have us just short of a while race on a single set, would we see closer racing.

    Caveat being car design is also based on the tyres and it’s therefore a moving target to hit and among f1 engineers are good enough to hit it blindfolded.

  9. How much will it cost to cart around 2* fuel pumps per team and pay the extra 6 team members to operate them. The pumps are not cheap. How many ways are there of fiddling the amount of fuel that a car will receive. It’s yet another Dwarf mares nest.
    Is it possible in these days of H&S, that a country (UK) could ban refuelling on a safety basis.

    * the 2nd is a spare to cover breakdowns.

  10. Bernie is scared to death, and it is obvious that the refueling option was brought in as a counter to the Michelin tires. With no refueling, and tires that last an entire race, there would be no need for scheduled pit stops.

    The costs involved to bring back the refueling rigs is going to be massive. Gravity feed systems, which are the safest, do not move fuel fast enough for F1. To keep the pit stops in the 2-3 second range, they will have to use pressurized systems. To make it safe, there will have to be a multitude of sensors and safety systems. Systems that only allow fuel to flow when there is confirmed connection with the car, only allow the fuel hose to be disconnected when there is no flow, etc. In fact, they SHOULD shut down the engines in the pits entirely, and put a safety in that doesn’t allow the car to move until the hose is completely behind the wall.
    All of this is going to cost millions and millions of Pounds, and we havent even talked about shipping yet. Putting high pressure fueling systems on a plane, even when they are empty, is a complicated and costly process. Every system will need to be flushed after every race, disassembled, inspected, cleaned, and packed. Airlines don’t like carrying anything flammable, believe it or not, and even though Bernie may “own” or “control” the company that does the shipping, he surely doesn’t own the 6 jumbo jets, and he does not have any power over customs agency’s in most countries.
    While these costs may not be much to a team like Merc or Ferrari, its going to be another nail in the coffin of the backfield.

    I really want to know what the insurance companies have to say.

    F1 stated stated back in 2000 whatever, when refueling was banned in the first place, that it was “not safe”, and unnecessary. So what exactly makes it safer now?

    After the first big fire, when a billionaire spectator sitting in the private box above the pits gets burned and sues the FIA, the team, bernie, FOM, and the track, whats going to happen then? He’s going to win using their own statements against them, and the FIA will be forced to ban refueling again.

    I say it won’t happen.

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