The F1 think tank has been running on overdrive recently to come up with ways to ‘revamp’ the sport and, as always, the focus for them has been on trying to attract more viewers rather than keep the ones they already have happy. Latest in this continual remodelling of Formula 1 is bringing back the refuelling that was banned in 2009 in the hope of making the racing ‘more exciting’.
Admittedly, when refuelling was originally banned it was not a decision that I agreed with; My thinking was that refuelling added a degree of excitement to proceedings and that strategy would suffer with its loss. However, in the years since it was abolished the reasons why the choice was made became more apparent, to the point that I disagree with its re-introduction, and let me give you just a few of the multitude of reasons why:
A dull topic but, along with the obvious concern of safety, cost was one of the main reasons why refuelling was banned and is one of the main reasons should not be re-introduced. The cost involved in transporting the necessary equipment around the world for up to 20 races a year is astronomic (rumoured at around £1.5million per team per race), there are several teams on the grid which are currently struggling to stay afloat – re-introducing this will not only force these teams out of the sport, but also be yet another barrier to entry for new teams. Bernie has admitted that this is what he wants, but what about everyone else? A Grand Prix with only 10 or 12 cars would not be a Grand Prix.
For some reason, it has been suggested that bringing back refuelling will automatically mean better racing, but why is this? The question of how to make Formula 1 more interesting has been around long before 2009 –the Schumacher years were long bemoaned for being a ‘boring’ era of F1, and yet there was refuelling. I would also add that an overtake involving a car carrying lots of fuel versus a car light on fuel would be as interesting as watching a DRS overtake, which has long been criticised. It can be argued that pit-lane action would be better (though gone are the days of trying to hit a world record pit stop), but at what cost? It only takes one incident and we could be kissing goodbye to the impeccable safety record stretching back over 20 years, something that we should be proud of.
Fundamentally, the important thing to remember is that if you have a car that can get to the end of a Grand Prix on one tank of fuel, why shouldn’t it? Yes, at the moment this may bring some fuel-saving occasionally, but I wouldn’t say that drivers hold back too much because of fuel consumption – it’s usually due to tyres. It is also worth remembering that the fuel limits put in place last year seemed ridiculous when they were announced, but the teams managed it, and they will only improve further from here. Formula 1 should be the pinnacle of motorsport, and at this time the pinnacle is making the cars as efficient as possible – refuelling would go against this.
Now I know what you’re thinking: it’s all very well streaming off reasons why refuelling is a bad idea, but what should be done? Well – I’m glad you asked!
I feel that a key area that F1 can improve is around the cars themselves, cut out all the theatricals and get back to basics – as fans we want the quickest cars possible. Let’s open up the regulations on chassis development and make performance less engine-dependent, Adrian Newey has long said that the scope for aerodynamic advantage is getting smaller and smaller, and if we want to make the sport more competitive, this needs to change.
Doing so will bring back more attractive, aggressive cars. The most important thing to address is how the car reacts when driving directly behind a competitor – recent races in particular have shown drivers keeping a 1 – 2 second gap to the car in front, which is absurd for a race. You need to give the drivers the ability and confidence to attack the car in front and, though I do agree with having a certain level of tyre degradation, you cannot deter a driver from pushing as this is what people pay their money to watch. Making the front wing more stable would help, as would making the cars in general wider, with the added benefit of looking better as well. And lastly, if you’re talking about old regulations which people would welcome back, you can look no further than the bigger rear wheels – a treat every F1 fan enjoys!
So to sum up, Formula 1 needs to be more considerate about what they want to gain from regulation changes and avoid rash decisions. It is surprising that they announced the return of refuelling before the results of the fan survey that the drivers have (gratefully) taken upon themselves to conduct, but implementation of the findings that I fully expect them to find regarding chassis development would be a big step in making F1 altogether a more entertaining package.