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.
Hat Tip: AUTOSPORT