HOCKENHEIM, Germany — Formula One drivers are in support of a return to in-race refueling, as they see it as a temporary fix to one of the championship’s biggest problems — overweight cars.
F1 is in a crucial period of evaluation and negotiation around its next set of rules, which will come into force for the 2021 season. Racing chief Ross Brawn is determined to improve the spectacle with better racing and a closer pecking order.
This year, concerns about the product reached new heights after the dull French Grand Prix, although entertaining races in Austria and Great Britain followed. But not everyone shared the opinion about the Silverstone race, which featured a thrilling battle between Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc in the early stages.
Haas driver Romain Grosjean, the head of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (GPDA), which all 20 drivers are a member of, pointed to the fact the two Mercedes were still battling on their own out in front.
“Silverstone I cannot agree [it was a good race],” he said. “One-two was there for the whole race.”
When asked if it was difficult for F1 to find out what was bad at the start of the season, and separate that from the elements which provided entertainment at the last two races, Grosjean returned to a theme he and Haas teammate Kevin Magnussen have grown tired of talking about this year.
“I think — sorry — but it’s all down to tyres,” Grosjean said. “Because we didn’t suffer big overheating in Silverstone, meaning we can actually push, slide a little bit on the tyres and they’re not going away. It’s probably a combination of the tarmac, the tyres and the temperature that worked well.”
This year the drivers have been brought into the rule-making process for the first time in F1 history, something reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton has been positive about. Grosjean revealed the GPDA has gone with a specific list of items.
“Out of four points from the GPDA, number one is the tyre, number two is the aero, number three is the weight, number four is money between the teams,” he said. “So I think if you solve those four points, I’m sure the racing is going to be f—ing good.”
That led the conversation to what is becoming a hot topic in the paddock again — refueling. That process was banned from races after the 2009 season, primarily for safety and cost reasons. That means modern race cars, which have been made heavier with recent regulation changes, start races with a full tank of fuel.
FIA president Jean Todt recently confirmed refueling is back on the agenda for 2021, although there is a split of opinion on whether that would be positive. Critics point to a reduction in overtaking done on track during the refueling era, with teams often looking to pass rival cars in the pits and through strategy.
Grosjean said the return would help F1 solve the GPDA’s top-priority issue.
“Yes, we want it,” he said. “Not because we think it’s great for racing but because we need to bring the weight of the car down to help Pirelli. It’s a temporary fix for the car to be 70 kg lighter or 60 kg lighter. It’s one of the reasons we are overheating the car like crazy.”
When asked if it could improve racing, he said: “Yes. It will help the tyres which is the big weakness.
“When I started and drove in 2009, [the cars] were 605 kg, and now it’s 7-something, 40 or whatever. 140 kilos [extra] and you can feel the car, in the low speed corners, they’re very heavy, and at the start of the race, even more. It’s 850 [fully fueled] or something like that.
“We just feel it’s too much for a Formula One car. The 18-inch tyre, which is another 25 kg, the standard brake system, which is another 8 kg, so you’re actually adding and adding and adding while the only thing wrong is to bring the weight down.
“[Refueling] is the easiest and cheapest way to bring 70 kilos off the car.”
Williams’ Robert Kubica, one of a handful of drivers to have raced in the refueling era, said the practice should not have been banned in the first place.
“If I had the decision, I would never remove it,” he said. “I still think, of course, as always there is different angles and different reasons, from different perspective, but I think from driver perspective it can be only positive, the cars will be lighter, which this will give easier life for the tyres because you can split up the fuel loads you are bringing in different ways. This can also spice up a bit strategies.
“Now you are led by tyres on where to stop and it’s quite straightforward strategies. If someone is undercutting you, you come in a lap later, so it’s a chain. Whenever you have fuel load, you can always mix a bit cards with the fuel effect, stuff like this, so I think it can be something that is an additional factor that can have a positive influence on racing.”