Formula 1: Should Refueling Make a Comeback?


refueling williams

After years of being the norm, in-race refueling was banned for the 2010 Formula 1 season. Around the same time, the global economic crisis had finally reached F1, and the refueling ban- along with an emphasis on hybrid and KERS technology– was meant to help F1 teams cut costs and make the sport, itself, appear more relevant to carmakers and casual fans alike.

Even so, refueling is back on the ballot along with a host of other proposed changes to the sport for 2017 and beyond, prompting some team owners to make their opinions on the matter known publicly. Most notably, Claire Williams, who came out strongly against the measure just a few hours ago. “I am very much against refuelling,” said the Williams team boss. “The manufacturers have spent hundreds of millions on these hybrid power units, which are relevant to the road and the debate about energy efficiency. I think to go back to a gas-guzzling F1 is entirely the wrong message.”

Keepers of the “bring back refueling” fire would, likely, point out that smaller fuel tanks wouldn’t become necessary- only possible. Further, on tracks with longer-than-average pit time deltas, the cars equipped with larger tanks may have a tactical advantage, making fuel efficiency a key part of a winning race strategy. That said, no discussion of the Formula 1 rules regarding refueling would be complete without this …


Benetton Refueling Fire


… which, along with scenes featuring the tragic death of Ayrton Senna and the mad rush of the crowd swarming Nigel Mansell’s Williams after his triumphant drive at the British Grand Prix, has to be one of the most iconic Formula 1 images of the 1990s.

Certainly, however, not everything about refueling in racing is bad. Craig Woollard, over at the Last Word on Sports, points out that refueling has created some of the most dramatic moments and victories in both the World Endurance Championship and in IndyCar. “Whilst some seem unhappy that drivers are not able to push as hard as they were ten years ago because of saving fuel and tyres …” he write, “bringing back refueling would not quash the former, otherwise there would be absolutely no lifting and coasting in IndyCar or in the World Endurance Championship, both series where refueling takes place.”

Woollard, however, doesn’t seem sold on refueling. Not necessarily because he wants F1 to foster an environmentally friendly image or because of the costs and risks involved, but because it will make the series boring. “The main bugbear with F1 refueling is that it moves all of the overtaking on the track into the pit lane, which is not what we need to see,” he says, justifiably. “There were many complaints last season that the races were being determined via the Mercedes pit wall, and refueling would only make that sort of thing much worse.”

What do you guys think? Is all the hybrid tech and Formula E-derived power boosting essential if F1 wants to keep calling itself the pinnacle of motorsport, or should the sport just push for faster and faster lap times and more challenging cars, regardless of how they get there? Let us know what you think in the comments section, below. Enjoy!


Sources | Images: Autoweek, Last Word on Sports | BBC.

About the Author

I’ve been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.

  • ilikecake

    All they have to do is BAN THE RADIOS. No help from the pitwall whatsoever. The driver manages his tires, the driver manages the brakes, the driver decides when to pit, the driver drives the car. The cars could only be as complicated as the driver’s ability to operate them.

    • Steve Hanley

      Kiinda agree with that!

    • That … that would be pretty cool, actually.

  • Steve Hanley

    I have no problem with refueliing. Start the race with light tanks or heavy tanks? Adds another layer of strategy, which is good.

    But it needs to be done right. No races to see who can shove the fuel in fastest. Set a minimum pit stop time – say 1 minute. Or prohibit changing tires/working on cars until refueling is complete. This idea of slamming highly combustible fuel in at 8 gazillion psi is where the problems start.

    • Just do a gravity feed, like in Indycar/NASCAR.

      • Steve Hanley

        That’s OK. But I would still set a minimum pit time to keep the teams from doing something stupid with those gravity feed cans or hoses. It’s the speed of the pit stop that is dangerous, not the refueling itself.

        A minimum pit stop time would apply equally to all competitors, so there would be no incentive to cram the fuel in a fast as possible.

        Although I must admit that watching Felipe Massa tearing down pit lane with a flaming fuel hose attached to his car WAS rather exciting!

        ; – )

        • Hmm. I don’t like the minimum time- that eliminates the “team” aspect of it, for me. What about limit the number of guys over the wall to, say, 4 or 5?

  • Red Baron

    i would say make ALL cars equal,then it’s down to the driver and mechanics to get the best out of the car.

    • Steve Hanley

      This is known as “one design” racing. It is used all the time in sailing and produces some incredibly close and exciting competition. The Volvo Ocean Race last year was one of the most exciting sporting events I have ever witnessed. I was in Newport, RI when the first and second place boats finished less than 3 minutes apart after 6,000 miles of blue water racing. It was pulse pounding stuff.

      Some dismiss this idea as “spec racing”. Formula E started off as a spec racing series. IndyCar today is much like a spec racing series today. NASCAR races are all the same under the decals. I watched a Spec Miata race at Road America some years ago that was far and away one of the best motor races I have ever witnessed.

      You will never get agreement between those who favor one design formats and those who don’t . But if Formula One went with with a spec chassis and eliminated all radio communications with the pit wall, I would watch!

      • Red Baron

        Fully agree with all you say,my friend.I would definately go back to watching F1 again.

  • Terrible idea.

  • smartacus

    well i do see two people benefiting from No Tire Changes and No Refueling:

    Jensen Button was known as the master tire saver
    Nico Rossberg’s lift-and-coast technique came directly from his father Keke who raced during the very-low-fuel-at-the-finish era.

  • Cecil Peska

    Who cares about gas guzzling the amount they us eon the actual track is minuscule compared to the fuel used moving the whole show around the world.
    if its fuel you want to save then have every event in the same place and make the cars diesel.

    F1 is supposed to be the fastest cars on earth battling on the limit now its about saving fuel .
    Get rid of false overtaking with DRS . It was far more fun watching when refueling was in place and no DRS .
    Yes there was less ovbertaking but the battles to try overtake were far more exciting than using DRS along the straight to overtake.
    Basically whats happened is that the battles are gone but now there is more overtaking but along the straights how is that better ?.