Motor Racing: How and why: Refuelling may be playing with fire in Formula One

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At a seven-hour meeting at last year's German Grand Prix, when teams argued about highly controversial restrictions on technology, the governing body proposed a reintroduction of refuelling. It was very late on the agenda, and tired team owners accepted the idea. Later, when they tried to undo the decision, Ferrari blocked the move. The Italians stand to benefit most because, with fuel stops, their thirstier V12 engine will not be at such a disadvantage by having to carry a greater weight of fuel at the start.

Why is it considered dangerous?

Refuelling druing grands prix was banned in 1983 on safety grounds, following fears about the risks facing team personnel working under pressure with a highly flammable liquid. Moreover, many circuits locate sponsors and the media directly above the pit garages. There is also the worry that with extra traffic in the pit lane, there is more potential for collisions. Some team owners fear the worst. 'The chances are there will be a conflagration,' Ron Dennis, McLaren International chief, says. 'When the inevitable happens, will it be controllable?' Frank Williams adds: 'Despite our misgivings we're going to give it a shot. Obviously we'll try very hard not to have an accident.'

How will it be done?

In the past two men were needed to refuel, one to grip the hose, the other to hold a special bottle which vented the fuel tank. The risk of blowback was the main hazard. Both men are now needed to hold the six-inch diameter hose. This is two pipes, one within the other, with fuel flowing down the centre and air venting through the outer pipe. With a flow rate around 20 litres per second, refuelling should take the same time as the best tyre stop, around five seconds.


Standard refuelling rigs will be supplied to each team. 'The system looks well designed,' says Dennis. 'If is is manufactured to the required standard, the process should be made safer than has been achieved in other forms of racing.'

Race strategy

'Teams will contribute a great deal more,' says Dennis. But he is not optimistic about safety. Many teams expect to make at least one, possibly, two, fuel stops. They will change tyres then, too. Cars will run with lighter fuel loads and fresher tyres, so should run faster than they did in some 1993 races. Patrick Head, Williams design director, is more optimistic. 'Races could be sprints from beginning to end. They'll be more exciting and entertaining.'

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