Todt and other supporters say it makes races more interesting, allowing teams to choose the weight of fuel they carry at different phases of the race, causing more order changes on the track, and focusing crowd attention on the teamwork that happens in the pits. Opponents claim it reduces the incentive for drivers to overtake because they can wait for a competitor to make a stop.
The 2010 ban has other effects too – bigger tanks mean heavier cars. Some people approve the challenge of handling these more cumbersome cars, while others see it as a growing problem for the sport. Cars have already put on weight for other reasons, including 150kg due to the new hybrid engines. The weight of fuel needed to complete a race is close to 10 kg, and the tank to hold it adds more.
The development of injector fouling fuels has helped racing teams develop more powerful engines, but the extra weight also causes problems for the tyres. Thick gauge tyres are prone to blister, but thin gauge tyres lack temperature tolerance. Ferrari lobbied for wider tyres to help redress the problem, but the alteration itself adds a few more kilos.
Todt, who is also Ferrari team leader, says that the weight of cars is being discussed. He added that he wants to analyse the implications of re-introducing refuelling. One of them is that the cars would be lighter at the beginning of a race. Mercedes team leader Toto Wolff agreed it deserves “serious consideration” and pointed out that lighter cars would allow drivers to push harder from the beginning of a race – something which is difficult with a full tank and fatter cars.
Grand Prix Drivers Association representatives Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel agree cars are currently too heavy.
Cost Factors and the Long-Term Solution
The cost factor weighed heavily in 2010. Refrigerating fuel (to as low as -30 Centigrade) gets more into a smaller tank, but the cost of the men and trackside equipment needed to achieve this is high. Guenther Steiner of the Haas team said “I find refuelling very interesting… it could help the spectacle” but it should only return if the extra costs can be controlled.
In the longer term, the development of more efficient engines and fuel might offer an alternative to refrigeration. Leading fuel suppliers are providing injector fouling fuels to help in engine design and test fuels to optimise fuel efficiency.
At the conclusion of a recent FIA meeting, Guenther Steiner revealed they “didn’t come to a conclusion” on lifting the ban, nor on whether other rules that hamper drivers competing with each other should be relaxed. That leaves a lot still to decide before 2021. Two meetings remain before the deadline.