After meetings held to discuss and postulate rule changes to the format of Formula 1, bosses at the FIA and F1 consultants have decided that refueling will now be reintroduced into the sport from 2017.
The clause is one among many designed, according to those within the organisation, to make the sport more ‘exciting’ as viewership of the sport, in person and on television, has dropped significantly.
According to Toto Wolff, team principal of Mercedes, the aim is to reduce overall time considerably – looking to reduce pit time and refueling to a total of around 2-3 seconds. Not only does this seem like a massive ask given the amount of human involvement and precision, it also seems extremely dangerous for both driver and pit crew.
However, I describe why I think this is an unwise move:
There have been multiple incidents involving pit crew as recently as the recently concluded Spanish Grand Prix. The first involved Fernando Alonso, driving in his home race, and the McLaren pit crew, who were nearly in the path of his vehicle following a major brake failure that forced Alonso to retire from the race.
The second involved engineers from Lotus, who were directly in the path of a speeding Romain Grosjean. The front jack-man was seen to suffer the most severe injuries of the lot, receiving injuries to his leg and groin.
Refueling will necessitate more work needing to be completed in less time, providing a far wider berth for accidents – accidents that have happened before. Watch what happened to Felipe Massa at the Singapore Grand Prix, 2008:
Later analysis found that in the split second the pit crew had to refuel, a crew member accidentally pressed a button signaling it was okay for Massa to drive. Human error is a major factor, and cannot be discounted or entirely blamed considering the miniscule time frame available.
This incident is by no means isolated, sadly. Take a scene nearly 15 years prior – this time, featuring Dutchman Jos Verstappen at the 1994 German Grand Prix, driving for Benetton.
Verstappen drove into the pits; while refuelling, some fuel was accidentally sprayed onto the hot bodywork of the car. Catching on a spark from the right rear brake disc, it ignited and engulfed Verstappen’s vehicle in a ball of flame.
The Dutchman escaped the incident with burns around his eyes, as he had his visor up during the pit stop. This was in spite of the fire lasting only 4 seconds.
Luckily, no other crew-members or any persons were very seriously injured.
Finnished: Heikki Kovalainen and Kimi Raikkonen had their own incident with refueling at the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2009, although it was Kovalainen's car that was to blame for the incident.
Kovalainen, driving for McLaren-Mercedes, planned to make an early pit. His pit crew gave him the all-clear before they could detach the fuel hose, and the McLaren ripped the hose from its base, spraying fuel all over the lane, directly in the path of fellow Fin Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari, whose visor was open. Kimi fought on in spite of the fuel in his eyes and finished the race in sixth.
Refueling is a dangerous proposition, even more so in Formula one where motor decisions and pit repairs need to be incredibly precise and down to the last hundredth of a second. Adding refueling to the dangerous mix of motor fuel and human error in a sport where officials are considering allowing car engines to go up to 1000hp is a dangerous, unwise proposition that needlessly puts human life at risk to, in the words of FIA officials, make the sport more ‘exciting’ for the spectator.