F1’s Strategy Group reconvened earlier this week and the six teams incorporated in the body certainly had a productive meeting, with a number of proposed changes for the 2017 season securing column inches on Fleet Street’s back pages. The most notable proposal will see refueling return after initially being axed at the end of 2009 – an announcement which has divided the sport’s fanbase. In addition, allowing the team’s to choose their own tyre compounds before the start of a race weekend and the introduction of higher revving engines, are both accompanying proposals. However, it is the aforementioned refueling return which has fueled current debate.
Fundamentally, the raft of policies currently emerging from the Strategy Group are to improve the show. After a handful of races which have been rather uninspiring in 2015, it seems that the sport’s legislative panels have become more willing to administer changes. However, I have reservations regarding the headline alteration.
Firstly, refueling was outlawed for a reason – two reasons, in fact. Perhaps the most prominent of the two factors was the safety implications of refueling during a race. Major incidents in the pit lane were more often than not, caused by fuel related accidents. The quite frankly terrifying images from the German Grand Prix of 1994, where Jos Verstappen’s Benetton was engulfed in flames after a fuel spill, became a case study of the dangers surrounding a pit stop. Meanwhile, drivers were far from immune to driving away from a pit stop with the fuel rig still attached. Such a case posed obvious dangers to not just the pit crews, but also the media personnel who also have to operate in the pit lane.
In addition to safety, the cost of refueling during a race was also an unwanted extension to teams’ expenditure. Transporting heavy refueling rigs around the world was an expensive endeavor. To compound the logistical headache, development of the technology was also a budget-pincher. Of course, in the wider context of F1 expenditure, these were small-ticket items, but additional costs nevertheless.
I find it bizarre, that at a time when cost capping is a high priority to half of the grid, a policy is introduced which will raise the bar even higher in terms of spending. I am sure that the Strategy Group will cite entertainment as the main incentive and undoubtedly, adding an extra strategic factor into a race has the potential to add intrigue, but allowing the team’s free choice of tyre compounds has the potential to solve the entertainment question without requiring further financial commitments.
All of the Strategy Group’s proposals will require consensus from the F1 Commission and the World Motorsport Council before they are signed into regulation for 2017. With the F1 Commission featuring all of the sport’s cash strapped outfits, (with Force India being the only member of this club on the Strategy Group panel), refueling is by no means a guarantee for 2017 and I have my doubts as to whether the remaining panels would agree with the proposal.
Image Credit: "SingTel Singapore GP - Felipe Massa, Ferarri" By Jimmy Liew via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND-2.0]