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)