Analysis: F1 teams unhappy that refuelling is back on the agenda

The news that refuelling is back on the agenda for 2017 has left Formula 1 teams exasperated after they successfully defeated last year's attempt to add it to the future rules package.

The bigger picture is that it reflects the ongoing confusion over exactly what direction the sport should take, as does the recent decision to take water down the plan to ramp up downforce.

That has been reined in because Mercedes and then Pirelli pointed out that the high tyre pressures required would mean reduced grip – the fact that higher downforce also makes it harder to follow the car ahead seemed to fall through the cracks.

The perception is that discussions about the future seem to show a lack of joined-up thinking, and refuelling returning to the mix does nothing to dispel that notion.

It's not clear exactly how the refuelling idea has resurfaced, but presumably it has come from discussions between Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt, given that teams had made their views clear last year, although one or two “Bernie-friendly” team principals may have been in the loop as well.

Todt on Friday made it clear that he is open to the idea, and claimed that the main objection in the past had been on cost grounds.

“We are talking about €50,000 a year,” he told Reuters. “If it is good for the show, I'm in favour of reducing the cost, but that is not a key point in the global costs of F1. At least we should discuss it.”

Bad for the show

Having been canned at the end of 2009, a return to refuelling was first tabled at a meeting of the F1 Strategy Group on 14 May last year, attended by the bosses of Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes, Red Bull, Williams and Force India. It was really just a footnote in a wider discussion of the direction the sport should take.

“There were debates about refuelling, whether that should be reintroduced,” Christian Horner said at the time. “There were differing opinions on that.

"It was a constructive meeting. I wouldn’t say that we nailed down a whole load of decisions out of it, but certainly a lot of discussion about the relevant topics at this point in time.”

A majority of the team bosses must have been at least open to the idea of discussing refuelling, given that it was one of the key points in the FIA's summary of the meeting.

However, on their return to their respective factories, they quickly found out that there was no appetite for it from their technical and engineering staff.

The main objection was not on the grounds of costs or safety – although both issues were part of the overall equation – but on the basis that refuelling does not help the show.

The subject was then discussed when the team managers met the FIA's Charlie Whiting in Montreal on 4 June. At the meeting, historical data analysed by various team strategists was presented, and it provided clear proof that refuelling would not improve racing.

They pointed out that, for example, in 2010 - the year after it was last a feature of the sport - there were twice as many overtaking moves as in the previous year.

Another topic of discussion was the fact that if refuelling came back, it would again probably have to be on the basis of drivers qualifying on race fuel. The teams felt that concept had not been successful last time around, as it did not present a true picture of who had the fastest car.

Safety and cost fears

Teams also expressed doubts over safety. A desire to have fast pit stops that depended on the tyre changing time would require much faster flow rates than previously, and the feeling was that this would present more risks.

After the Montreal meeting Whiting reported his findings back to the FIA, and the refuelling idea was quietly dropped at the next Strategy Group meeting on 1 July.

Having made their case against refuelling last year team engineers have not changed their views, and thus they will have been surprised to learn that it is again up for discussion.

They will not have been impressed by Todt's claim that refuelling would only cost teams “€50,000” a year. The cost of buying the equipment and running it is actually estimated at £1m for the first year, and £500,000 thereafter, and teams would need extra personnel.

Now that the idea is out in the open, engineers and team managers will at least have a chance to fully brief their bosses before they attend next week's Strategy Group and F1 Commission meetings in Geneva, and there is every likelihood that the idea is quickly disposed of once more.

“Who knows, maybe we will be going back to ground effect, aluminium chassis, leather caps and goggles soon,” one team insider told Motorsport.com.

“I guess we are going to have to drag out all the analysis we did last year to show refuelling is shit again and will not improve the show...”

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Article type Analysis
Tags bernie ecclestone, jean todt, refuelling