Could fuel saving be F1’s biggest headache in 2018?

Formula 1's fastest-ever cars in 2018 may help deliver some pretty stunning qualifying laps, but on the eve of the new season doubts have emerged about the negative impact this could have on the racing.

While fans relish the prospect of quicker machines and more flat-out action, in the modern fuel efficiency era of F1 such qualities do not come without a price.

The downside is that F1's heavier cars (thanks to the halo), increased downforce levels (drag) and grippier tyres mean that more of the lap is now at full throttle, and that means more petrol getting burned.

With F1's fuel limit rigidly set at 105kg for the race distance, it has opened up the prospect of an increased need for economy driving, something that doesn't produce exciting grands prix.

As Max Verstappen said: "It is not ideal for the racing itself but that is quite logical if the cars are going to be faster and faster."

While fuel saving is nothing new in F1, and thirsty tracks like Melbourne, Bahrain and Montreal have always been a challenge in the turbo hybrid era, what is unknown is just how much more difficult things will be this year.

Race simulations during pre-season testing at Barcelona left many teams in no doubt that more races would be marginal – and it could be that drivers have to perfect more their lift-and-coast techniques than their overtaking skills.

Kimi Raikkonen is unsure about the impact, but does know that it is not an enjoyable way to go racing.

"I don't think it's bigger [this year], but obviously some races are more difficult than others," he said. "It depends between the teams and all kinds of conditions.

"It's obviously not always fun, we have enough size in the fuel tanks to put more fuel to go full speed, but that's the rules and it's been like that for a while. It's a part of the game now and it's a bit more painful in some places than others."

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF71H
Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF71H

Photo by: Stefano Arcari

Some engines are more thirsty than others though, and Honda-powered Pierre Gasly is under no illusions about how difficult it is going to be at times this year.

"Consumption I think is going to be a big issue for everyone," said the Frenchman. "At the moment we don't really know how bad it is for the others.

"We know how it is on our side, but I think it's going to be quite an issue for all the guys on the grid. Apparently Melbourne is going to be a really tough track on the fuel consumption."

Video: Melbourne's magic moments

Title impact

But it is not just the quality of the action that could be affected by fuel-saving, because there is a very real chance it will impact the championship battle too.

With Mercedes believed to be ahead of the opposition when it comes to fuel efficiency, the German car manufacturer's power advantage on Saturdays could be extended by being able to run closer to flat out on Sundays.

Furthermore, as the rival Red Bull team points out, at those races where fuel saving isn't required, Mercedes can do what it has done in the past – start with less fuel than the opposition to benefit from a weight advantage.

Red Bull boss Christian Horner told Motorsport.com: "One of the advantages that Mercedes has is that their consumption is phenomenal and they can actually afford to underfill at quite some races.

"For every 10kg less that you carry – it is 0.35 seconds per lap. So if you add that up over 50-70 laps it is a significant amount. It is something that we have to manage."

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB14
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB14

Photo by: Stefano Arcari

Red Bull motorsport adviser Helmut Marko added about going flat out in 2018: "I don't think anyone with 105 kilograms will make it. But it's about certain races, not all of them.

"I'm sure it will be relevant. And that's just the question of how to approach it, whether you're hoping for a safety car or whether you're on the lift and coast."

With the season starting off with a run of power tracks that will highlight the impact of the 2018 cars on fuel consumption, there remains a chance it could become the big talking point if the action suffers too much.

And do not rule out the prospect of the situation become such that calls are made for the fuel limit to be eased - even though a mid-season rule change is unlikely.

Franz Tost, Toro Rosso team boss, already suggested that the regulations may need looking at before the action has even got under way.

"It will not be an easy exercise for the drivers, they have to lift, they will not have such big pressure on the brakes, which means the front tyres will cool down, and then there's locking," he said. "To prevent locking and to manage all this will not be an easy exercise.

"I expect on all the tracks it will be very on the limit. For racing it's absolutely not great. But this is the regulation, and we simply have to change it."

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W09
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W09

Photo by: Stefano Arcari

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Series Formula 1
Article type Analysis