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15 Jan 2016

Image: Cliptheapex.com

A picture paints a thousand words, at least that's what they tell me.  What happens when all things aren't equal though?  The Formula One rule books contains a myriad of self deprecating paragraphs that serve the purpose of bamboozling anyone that dare get lost in them.  I've lost many a day arguing with myself over how one paragraph defeats another, mostly because as Bernie recently and so eloquently stated: "They're like a Victorian house that you keep adding bits and bobs onto, rather than just tear it down and start again".

When the FIA announced their intention to "revolutionize" the sport in 2017 one of the most controversial statements was they intended to reintroduce refueling.  It was thought the plans were off the table, however, in a story run by Autosport today it appears Jean Todt is keen to re-evaluate the idea (what I'd give to be in that meeting in Geneva for those 2 days next week by the way..). 

Twitter, I use as an example as it gives immediacy, was awash with comments condemning the move when it was originally announced, swiftly followed by the passing around of the image at the top of this page.  Out of context we can see that between its arrival in 1994 and its exit in 2009 the sport saw the least amount of overtaking, whilst in stark contrast the last 5 years has seen the most.  Are we thankful for that? No, the public demand closer racing and more overtakes.

Quality vs Quantity

One of the biggest issues with lots of overtaking is that it all suddenly seems a little too easy, with many pointing to DRS as one of the sports failings.  I wholeheartedly agree that DRS is no longer what we signed up for, marginalised in favour of ease of process by the FIA and teams.  No longer do we see teams and drivers testing different wing setups in practice to determine which will give them a boost over their rivals.  Nor do we see the FIA make changes to the length of the zones as they did in the early days, something that helped to mix up the challenge.  Meanwhile, the who has the biggest balls or free use of DRS during qualifying was also shown the door, making for a metronomic approach to qualifying, rather than the edge of the seat lap we should be seeing.

Whilst I understand that the 2017 regulations have been watered down considerably, at least the rear wing design will change slightly.  Perhaps with this the FIA should reconsider how DRS is employed, as the moves that shouldn't be on the cards, like Daniel Ricciardo's in 2014 or Max Verstappen's in 2015 are the ones we wanna see..

Strategy

The problem with refueling is strategy, which inevitably leads to drivers swapping positions in the pitlane rather than on track.  I like a bit of strategy, for me it adds to the excitement but, I know it's not for everyone and likewise I do still want to see the drivers go wheel-to-wheel.  A return to refueling needs to coincide with a loss of data to the teams if it is going to scupper their thirst for controlling everything from the pitwall.  GPS is one of the tools I'd remove from their arsenal, as this will water down their ability to make decisions, we only have to look at the mistake that Mercedes made in Monaco last year under similar circumstances.


Sure, they'll find other ways, as they always do but, in the meantime we may see some plenty of errors of judgement and some good racing too.

Why now? Why the change of heart?

When the FIA announced their intention to improve the speed of Formula One in 2017 they predicted an improvement of 5 seconds per lap.  News has recently emerged that Pirelli have requested the plans to improve downforce be pegged back, owing to their concerns over building a tyre that can cope with the increased downforce and still degrade, allowing for 2-3 stops without stipulating tyre pressures around double what is currently used.  As such, the aerodynamic overhaul was to be limited to just a change in front and rear wing dimensions, countering the additional width presented by the tyres and marginalising the drag penalty that would have ensued.

Bringing refueling back to the table swallows up several of the issues currently faced by the FIA, Strategy Group, Technical Working Group, engine manufacturers and Pirelli.  Weight is a major issue for the current bread of cars, as I've discussed on numerous occasions.  Perhaps the best example: http://www.somersf1.co.uk/2015/06/lift-coast-whats-big-brouhaha.html 

Whilst the starting weight of the current cars broadly aligns with that of its predecessors, as the fuel burns off the current cars are at a distinct disadvantage.

2010-2013 Montreal - Dry weight - 642kg's + *150kg's fuel = 792kg's
2015 Montreal - Dry weight - 702kg's + 100kg's fuel = 802kg's

*Fuel weight confirmed by MercedesAMGF1 with an offset of +/- 5% between 2010-2013, based on prevailing blown diffuser trends

That means that the cars are dragging around an additional 10kg's of fuel at the start of a GP, with 10kg normally good for around 3 tenths in lap time.  Get to the end of the race and the cars will be edging toward 60kg's heavier, which should make them around 2 seconds a lap slower than their predecessors.

As we can see, weight is laptime.  Reducing the amount of fuel onboard will immediately improve the performance window of the cars and reduce the impact on the tyres too.  If, as a driver, you're no longer having to worry about the fuel weight, you no longer have a concern over your tyres either.  As such, we would see drivers pushing their cars.  Of course you'll have those that try and hang it out another few laps but if the FIA are clever with their specified tank size / weight that can be carried they can make certain of at least how many stops a race would be.

Whilst we're talking about pit stops lets deal with the process and issue of personnel, especially if refueling is going to make a comeback.  Don't get me wrong 2 second pit stops are fantastic but blink and you'll miss them.  It should be part of the spectacle of Grand Prix racing and as such I think we need to slow them down, make them visible.  Refueling would slow them down, no doubt but I'd assert that refueling the car should be done separately to the tyre changes, whilst all of this must be done with less personnel around the car, much the same way we see in other top line motorsports.

I know my views will polarise opinion but as you can see they are built on solid foundations, irrespective of that I invite your opinions too, drop them in the comments below.

If you like what you've seen here and/or what I do on a regular basis then I'd ask you to check out my Go Fund Me page - https://www.gofundme.com/yb6jn958
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8 comments:

  1. I pretty much agree with you, especially if it were coupled to changes to the tyre performances that made a 3 stop race pretty much as quick as a 1 stop race, with a wide range of available compounds. Which makes me think... What's the reason they can't run (say) soft fronts and hard rears? Why does that regulation exist? I'm guessing 'safety', but surely it must be feasable with current tyre constructions? That, and refuelling, could really mix things up a bit, as would tidying up the DRS thing you mention.

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  2. Faster cars doesn't necessarily mean better racing (most of the times it doesn't) and refuelling will lead to faster cars, but not better racing as the most overtakes will occur in the pits and not on track. I'd rather see overtakes (or at least attempts to overtake) on track without gimmicks like DRS or fast degrading Pirelli tyres.

    Imho 2010 was the best season since the introduction of refuelling in 1994 because of the ban on refuelling. There were twice as much overtakes as in the 15 years before without those gimmicks.

    Refuelling may lead to more spectacle (in the pits), but the racing itself will be worse. I rather want better racing and less spectacle, so I whole heartedly am against refuelling.

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  3. Please credit the data in the top image to http://cliptheapex.com/

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  4. If you want to make pit stops last longer, then instead of one big nut in the centre of the wheel, why not stipulate the use of four or five wheel nuts in the rules. This would slow the pit stops, with the possible added drama of dropping one and making the pit stop even slower

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  5. Yes Matt its the same as always....a lighter car is a faster car. Problem is:
    1. Do multiple fuel stops fit the image of efficient hybrid engines, conservation and the absence of "range anxiety"? 2. Will it reduce costs? 3. Will it be safer?

    The answer to all 3 must be a resounding no.

    Call me a cynic if you like but the reason this keeps coming up is partly political. In order to reduce lap times by 4 seconds as aimed for, makes in-race refueling one of the best options, giving possibly 50% of the proposed reduction. But refueling is not acceptable to to Mercedes Honda Renault and particularly the FIA (on all 3 counts above). So, refueling is in there still for 2 reasons: Firstly, it gives engineers more scope for expensive engine and aero changes in order to make up for the "lost" refueling, and second, if all else fails blame an inability to get the 4 second reduction on taking refueling out as an option.

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  6. I agree with Rob.D points!
    Refueling is not the answer. No refueling will push the PU manufacturer for more efficiency, hence less fuel consumption and therefore less weight.

    I think combining 2017 suggested changes and removing or downgrading some telemetry data like tire temperature monitoring (suggested by Pablo Montoya) would help better races.

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Whilst I'm trying to keep atop of the blog you may have noticed of late that there is less content appearing. For those of you that haven't realised, most of my work has now been moved over to Motorsport.com where I'm working with Giorgio Piola.

I'm still doing the technical image gallery for each GP with the continued support of friend of the site Sutton Images. However, as always my time is limited and so this might not be updated as quickly as it once was, so keep checking back.

As some of you may have found out already I'm also working with the Missed Apex crew on their podcast from time-to-time, either doing race reviews or dedicated 'Tech Time' shows.

I've embedded the latest version of the podcast below and will update this a frequently as I appear. However, please head over to Itunes if you want it to appear in your player when episodes are available. The show is great to work on and has a great lineup of 'regulars' but has also enticed some bigger names recently too, with Will Buxton and Bradley Philpot on shows during the summer break.


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