By Alan Baldwin
BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) – Formula One has performed a U-turn and put mid-race refuelling, banned in 2010 and voted against by teams only last year, back on the discussion agenda among other proposed changes for 2017.
International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Jean Todt told Reuters on Friday that refuelling, dropped for reasons of cost and safety, would be discussed at a meeting of the sport’s core Strategy Group in Geneva on Monday.
“We (will) re-address (the subject of) is it right not to have refuelling?,” he said.
Formula One is currently discussing ways to make cars faster, louder and more aggressive-looking in what has been billed as a rules revolution for 2017 to improve the show and make it more exciting for fans and drivers alike.
The idea of bringing back refuelling had stemmed from a desire to increase engine horsepower, which would require more fuel and either bigger tanks or the chance to put more in during the race.
The topic appeared to have been ruled out last year when the Strategy Group decided refuelling would not improve the show and would only increase costs at a time when some teams were struggling financially.
Todt suggested the objections could be overcome, however.
He said technology had improved since the days when highly inflammable fuel was pumped under pressure into a racing car with red-hot exhausts and brakes in a pitlane overlooked by spectators.
“We are talking about 50,000 euros ($54,825.00) a year,” he said of the additional costs of freight. “If it is good for the show, I’m in favour of reducing the cost, but that is not a key point in the global costs of Formula One.
“At least we should discuss it.”
Williams technical head Pat Symonds remained opposed and questioned Todt’s figures.
“It costs a hell of a lot more than 50,000 euros per team to bring back refuelling,” he told Reuters. “It wouldn’t even pay the freight, let alone buying the equipment and maintaining it.
“And you’ve got to have one person looking after that equipment. There’s your 50,000 euros gone and more before you’ve done anything else.”
Symonds said a return to refuelling would also negatively impact on strategy.
“When we had refuelling the strategies were far more deterministic than they are now,” he said. “At the moment, you can alter your strategy just based on what your tyres are doing and vary things as you wish.
“The moment you’ve got refuelling, you can’t vary your strategy. You obviously can’t stop any later than you are fuelled for and if you stop earlier, you are paying a ridiculous penalty.
“When we got rid of refuelling, I think you got a lot better racing as a result. I’d be very sorry to see it come back.”
Formula One’s commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone and Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne have both voiced support for refuelling.
The Strategy Group includes Ecclestone, Todt and the sport’s six leading teams. Any decisions taken by it then go to the broader Formula One Commission for approval.
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(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)