Green, Cost, Safety: F1’s Impossible Trinity

FIA president Jean Todt said last week that the concept of refueling mid-race in Formula 1 was on the table again but according to reports, the topic has been shelved yet again in favor of cost savings.

Todt had said that the cost of refueling would be around 50,000 per year but according to Williams technical director, Pat Symonds, that’s a tad off the mark:

“One needs to be careful with disinformation,” he said. “Refuelling is an expensive thing to do as well as its effect on racing.

“Jean Todt said it cost €50,000 a year. He’s an order of magnitude out. That’s worrying.

“Freight costs for shipping equipment is £175,000 and it’s probably £200,000-250,000 to buy and service the kit in the first year and ongoing cost of servicing it.

“There is also one dedicated salaried person for looking after it so the costs are very significant.”

Todt, along with F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, have a mandate to fix the series and while the teams seem to have agreed upon a cost-cap for engine supply contracts that will take place in 2018, it leaves two more years of exorbitant costs for small teams to afford engines.

If you consider a $20-30 million fee per year from 2014 through 2017, then sure, the manufacturers are probably fine with reducing the cost of their engine supply contracts as a brunt of the R&D has already been paid for. Further engine development is limited after this year and one can imagine that rate of return on intellectual investment will start to slope downward give the teams cannot re-develop large portions of the engine after 2016.

The thought of refueling seems to have been scuttled as the albatross of cost has been hung around the neck of F1 once again. Costs are becoming the new “safety” trump card for not doing anything in F1 these days. Of course Symonds, who is a fan of Todt’s hybrid engine gambit, sees things through that eco-sensitive lens as well:

“My personal opinion is that the manufacturers have just spent 100s of millions on hybrid power units which are more relevant to the road industry.

“So to bring back refuelling and make F1 appear as a gas-guzzling sport just completely steps on that message. I’m very anti it.”

So now that Todt is keen to make drastic changes including a possible cheap alternate format engine and refueling, he’s having to eat crow over his insistence that hybrid engines are the future of F1 having it thrown back in his face when any proposed change might remotely become ensnared in the same zip (postal) code as social responsibility, safety or costs.

Honestly, I’ve said it a thousand times; there is nothing wrong with being good stewards of the resources we have and if F1 is running on 1/3rd less fuel then why would we be concerned about the image of refueling?

If the engines are road relevant and Todt demanded them, Renault and Mercedes threatened to leave the sport unless the series adopted them—and now pick and choose who they will supply and what kit they will provide—and you couple all this with the specter of safety on the heels of the tragic death of Jules Bianchi, you can start to see three serious trump cards that all F1 pundits will use to manipulate the series in a way that features their better interests. Using these trump cards may seem like they are bigging up each issue but in the end, it marginalizes cost, green and safety. They become red herrings to the overall support of the sport that is now a shadow of what it once was.

No one is against saving money, being as safe as possible and being a good steward of resources. It’s like getting upset if your best friend isn’t wearing a pink ribbon…as if anyone is FOR cancer?

Is being green important to the Mercedes road car division and their customers? I’m not sure, I haven’t queried their clientele. Is it important that F1 echo Mercedes and Renault’s customer base or are F1 fans overwhelming adamant that the racing series they watch be green? Who should F1 care more about? F1 fans or Mercedes customers because most of the folks I’ve spoken with that own Merc’s have no clue to who Lewis Hamilton is or that they even race in F1. Are fans livid at the use of fuel during a F1 race? Are they outraged by the increasing cost of F1? Are they furious over the lack of safety in F1? Are Mercedes customers? Where the hell are we going with all of this? If you ask me, I think fans are more outraged by the lack of great racing than they are fuel, costs or safety.

Refueling would be a welcome addition to F1 if we ditched DRS and HD tires as the engines and aerodynamics have created a racing series of dirty air and lift & coast. A sort of fast endurance race where nursing your car to victory has replaced charging your car to victory. The old canard about F1 always being about nursing tires and fuel is really a non sequitur. Sure, tire and fuel management have been a part of F1 for a long time but the main part and overwhelming approach to race craft.

If these hybrid engines are capable of producing the same power as the V8’s did, then show us by letting them run wide open for the entire race. Is there any chance that the holy grail of 5-second faster lap times sought in 2017 could be down to the style of racing with these constructs or is it that they simply aren’t generating the same power as many say they are? Is it possible that the impossible trinity have finally buckled the knees of F1?

In 2015, pole position at the Belgian Grand Prix was secured with a 1:47.197. A far cry from 2002 when Schumacher claimed it with a 1:43.994 and if you watch the video below, you’ll see what a difference it makes. More than 10 years ago, we had some good racing and incredible cars. No one doubts the tech in these 2016 cars but as I have said for years, doing technology for technology’s sake is wrong. Just watch the car around this circuit:

In the end, F1 needs to sort itself out and if Todt, a champion of the hybrid road-relevant engine format, feels we need to consider cheaper engines, bring back refueling and increase mechanical grip in order to improve the sport then you have to consider that he’s trying to look beyond the impossible trinity and toward good racing. Perhaps he’s being chaperoned by Ecclestone in the effort but regardless, something has to give whether Pat Symonds likes it or not.

There was always a saying in F1 that engineers would add or adopt anything that made the car lap faster. The Fan Car, dual-diffusers, J-dampers, blown diffusers you name it. This is the first time I can recall engineers purposefully putting things on a F1 car that make it lap slower. It is completely antithetical to F1’s DNA. Make the cars slower with electric engines, add a construct like DRS so as to penalize anyone leading in order to overcome your dirty air creations and then throw in high-degradation tires to make the tactical element appear to replicate the tactical challenges of old (like refueling and short-fueling for pace advantage).

None of that can take the place of short-filling a car for the first stint on durable tires so it runs like a bat out of hell and trying to tactically gain enough advantage to cover the undercut and have a chance to battle in case you didn’t cover it.

I love F1 and the new cars are really incredible tech, no doubt about it. I like that they are running less fuel and as safe as possible. All that’s good but has all of that become the Achilles hill of good racing in F1?

I have never had an issue with some races being processional, that happens in F1 from time to time, but I have never liked meretricious racing and F1 is allowing the impossible trinity to become three trump cards to get us closer to that reality.


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Paul KieferJr

The problem here is that we have a demonstration of anything and everything forming a tyranny, be it for good or for bad, and that’s a bad thing. It all starts with at least one person demanding something. When there’s “demand” (i.e., “I demand that you do >x<"), then you have a tyranny. Anything can become a tyranny, from the smallest subatomic particle to the entire universe. We have 10 billion such tyrannies right now, or any combination thereof. Some tyrannies think they're trying to do good…and that may be their intention. However, when they "demand" the good, that's another… Read more »


With regard to refuelling, I would rather it didn’t come back. I want to see drivers pass on the track, not in the pit lane. Mansell’s pass on Piquet at Silverstone in 1987 wouldn’t have happened if refuelling had been allowed. Some Marshals that I have spoken to would like to see refuelling return for safety reasons, pointing out the risk of a car full of fuel having an accident causing a life threatening fire is so much greater when the fuel tank is that much larger. Containing the fire risk to the pit lane means that the necessary safety… Read more »

Roger Flerity

Great points!

Negative Camber

And we saw two of them? :)


Excellent editorial Mr. Camber. You’ve presented a nice summary of the background atmospherics that are presently crippling F1.

The CGP videos made me a little sad. The differences between CGP 2004/2005 and what I saw there in 2014 are really just night and day.

Roger Flerity

I am not clear where this imagined “golden age” of F1 being lamented existed. Was it the 5 years Schumacher dominated? Perhaps the period when McLaren/Honda was unbeatable? Maybe the 4 years of RBR dominance with Vettel? Is it when each season took the lives of talented drivers in the sport as it did through the middle of the 20th century? Perhaps it was the periods when competition was so weak that the championship was won on the whim of one race and a single point? It’s hilarious to see the turn around in opinions of periods previously criticized heavily… Read more »

Negative Camber

I’m not holding 2003 as a golden age rather just showing the difference in the cars. Clearly there wasn’t prolific passing in some of those years but I’m not a F1 fan who believes that F1 has to have 43 passes per race in order to be good. I’m also not turned off by domination such as Williams, McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull or Mercedes. Having said that, I’ll not allow the trump cards to be used as a litmus test to prove that today’s F1 is the best it has ever been. Hybrid super cars are one thing, F1 racing… Read more »


In 1952 & 1953 the World Drivers Championship was run to F2 regulations. This was because Ferrari had noted that the 4.5 litre normally aspirated Talbots of 1951 were much more fuel efficient than the 1.5 litre supercharged competition. The 1951 Ferrari worried the opposition so much that no one else built a car to the F1 regulations. Currently drivers are limited to 100kg of fuel for the race, yet the fuel usage figures displayed during the race indicate that they are choosing to use less that this. There can be only one reason for this, it is faster to… Read more »

Roger Flerity

Actually, F1 and Grand Prix racing has always been a mix of road car brand and image, as well as tech and independent efforts. It has always had teams spending more than the rest, and teams going under. In fact, there are more teams that have gone under in the sport than survive, it is the way of the sport. Why all of a sudden its a big deal is a mystery to me. In fact, the survival rate, as in years still in the business, today is higher than its been in the past. There have been a great… Read more »


Technology marches on in road car development, has done, and will continue to do so with or without Formula 1. It is true that auto enthusiasts are embracing high-tech supercars, but to somehow connect that (or any other popular road car technology) to Formula 1 is something of a stretch. I’d suggest that nowadays many enthusiasts don’t even follow Formula 1, or certainly not close enough to connect it to the Porsche 918 – technologically or otherwise. Enthusiasts are embracing modern supercars because they are, well, supercars – and fast as hell. If Ferrari were able to produce a new… Read more »

Negative Camber

It’s a point I’ve made on the podcast several times, road car divisions were and are doing just fine without F1’s technology and innovation. In fact, speaking with teams in Austin, the innovation was in reverse coming from road car divisions to F1. That’s no surprise as they have some brilliant engineers over there. I’ve often been offended for road car division engineers when F1 fans suggest they’d have no innovation or clue if it weren’t for F1. That’s simply not true. You’re also correct in that F1 hasn’t always been the bleeding edge of tech. It’s only been that… Read more »

Roger Flerity

I suggest the opposite is true. F1 exists only to serve those involved as constructors as a marketing tool or source of income first – the racing being tight or hotly contested is a by-product, not the singular goal for those putting cars on the grid. That is why it has always been about the constructors in payout, and title, as this is a sport about them competing with one another from the roots of GP racing, by demonstrating their ability to overcome technical challenges outlined by the rules. Take the marketing away from them (force them into using hardware… Read more »

charlie white

I, for one, don’t want to see re-fueling to return either. But if engine efficiency and power is a measure of progress, then remove the fuel flow limit and let’s see it on-track. To Todd’s point of comparing lap times between now and 10 years ago, I don’t think it’s valid on one central point: the sport was in the middle of a vicious tire war and that made a huge difference in performance


Too many cooks spoil the broth.

Exactly what is the issue right now. F1 is trying to be all things to all men and is failing miserably. What the sport needs is a leader with vision, integrity and most importantly total control. While it may sound crazy its what needs to happen. Too many outside influences are skewing the vision. You have teams, sponsors, investors, and special interest groups that driving the sport rather than those with the vision to run the sport properly.


At the 12Litre/second fuel flow rate previously used when refueling was allowed, and the current fuel economy of the cars, I don’t see refueling extending current pit stops by any appreciable amount to make it any more “exciting” for fans in terms of the undercut overtake. What’s exciting is the overtake that occurs under braking or acceleration approaching or exiting a corner. To take a line from Max Mosley’s autobiography, sticky tires and high cornering speeds don’t allow that to happen. Slower cornering, higher straight line speed, and tires that run flat-out for a full race (without refueling) ought to… Read more »

Roger Flerity

Carol Smith once stated that the best racing happens with cars that are less capable than the drivers. In other words, cars slipping and sliding around, that demand the drivers skill to complete a quick lap will always deliver exciting racing. Watch go-kart racing to see this play out. Lots of tight battles, massive balls-out passing attacks, no pit-wall strategic undercuts, etc.. When the cars are too stuck, and too fast, with big billowy aero wakes behind them, racing suffers. Maybe its time to pull the wings off, get rid of the floor and diffuser, hand them one set of… Read more »

Paul Riseborough

Adding fuel stops would likely stop the practice of ‘lift and coast’, however adding these longer stops will reduce the amount of on-track overtaking as it increases the opportunity to undercut. It should also be noted that the practice of ‘lift and coast’ is not being done because the cars are otherwise incapable of racing to the end on 100Kg of fuel (they do not fuel to 100Kg for most races), it is because it is FASTER to lift and coast than it is to take on the weight of the extra fuel. I don’t have a problem with that.… Read more »