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Do F1 Cars Refuel? When Was Refueling Banned?

Refueling in F1 has long been a subject of great debate. Allowing F1 cars to refuel has advantages, but it also comes with disadvantages. But if you’re a new fan, you might be wondering if F1 cars can refuel, and how the use of refueling has changed in the sport.

F1 cars do not refuel during a race. Refueling was banned in 2010 for safety and cost-cutting purposes. Since its ban, F1 teams have had to adjust their strategies to focus more on tire management where fuel management was once a main component. Refueling is unlikely to return to F1.

Below, we will outline why F1 cars do not refuel and describe the reasoning behind it in detail. We will also discuss racing strategy following the ban and whether F1 cars are allowed to refuel during qualifying. Finally, we will reveal whether F1 will ever reinstate refueling. 

How Much Fuel Does An F1 Car Use During A Race?

F1 cars consume up to 110 kg of fuel during a race. While fuel in F1 is measured in weight, the fuel cell can hold up to 30 gallons (136 liters) of E10 fuel. This amount of fuel is enough to let F1 cars race at speeds beyond 200 mph for about 190 miles (305 km) at every Grand Prix.

Since F1 cars burn through their fuel so quickly and they need to travel at such high speeds, you may have guessed that fuel pumps through the cars through a complex infrastructure. This infrastructure includes tubing and a variety of pumps to keep the car running at peak performance. 

Teams will fill their cars up with the minimum amount of fuel they can for a race based on their calculations and simulations. Keeping the weight to a minimum allows the car to go as fast as possible, but they must factor in at least 1 liter left over at the end of the race to be sampled by the FIA.

Can F1 Cars Refuel During A Race?

F1 cars cannot refuel during a race, as this practice has been banned since 2010. This is in stark contrast to series like NASCAR and IndyCar, which allow refueling in the middle of a race. This lack of refueling means F1 teams must strategize almost entirely based on tire wear.

F1 pit stops last a fraction of the time of those seen in IndyCar and NASCAR. You see dozens of team members surrounding the F1 car in a pit box that they share with their teammates, and one of the major differences between F1 pit stops and those of the American racing series is the lack of refueling. 

When Did F1 Ban Refueling?

F1 banned refueling in 2010. This ban on refueling has been debated heavily, with some believing that refueling added a layer of unpredictability to the races. However, refueling was also banned in F1 in 1984, before being allowed once again in 1994, where it remained a practice for 15 years.

The ban on refueling became the subject of much debate, as with any new rule that took away one aspect of the sport that some within F1 spheres believed to be an important part of it. Refueling allowed teams to create various strategies, running their cars on less fuel at the race start to go faster but needing more pit stops, or filling up at the start to avoid pitting as much as possible.

Why Was Refueling Banned In F1?

F1 banned refueling to cut costs and improve the safety of the sport. Carrying an abundance of fuel all over the world costed more than $1 million per season. In addition, there was a higher chance of an accident happening during refueling sessions, with several fiery pit stops occurring.

Aside from the high costs, refueling also puts drivers at a higher risk of an accident. Since fuel is flammable, there were many incidents where an inferno would break out during a refueling stop. Some drivers accidentally pulled out of their pit stalls before their team could completely refuel their cars, causing massive spills. Other times, fuel leaks would lead to chaos in the pits. 

The 1994 German Grand Prix

One such incident played out during the 1994 German GP. During a refueling stop, a fire broke out in Jos Verstappen’s pit box when fuel spilled into the car. By looking at a video of the incident, you can see fuel splashing into the driver’s cockpit, and a fraction of a second later, the spill set the car ablaze. 

While a huge fireball initially made the incident look like a serious one, fire crews burst onto the scene immediately and extinguished the fire. They also pulled Verstappen out the second the fire started, and the fire injured no one except for slight burns on Verstappen’s face. However, Verstappen’s car was charred in the event, and his race was over. 

Following this unfortunate event, F1 instituted a new rule to include a fail-safe cutout system to the fuel hose since a disconnected fuel hose was to blame for the fuel spilling into Verstappen’s car

F1 Brazilian Grand Prix 2009

During the 2009 season, Heikki Kovalainen exited his pit box too early, with the fuel hose still connected to the car. The ensuing spill nearly engulfed fellow Finnish competitor Kimi Räikkönen’s car in a fireball. However, Räikkönen’s car only went up in flames for a fraction of a second before he realized he could continue on. 

Räikkönen recalled the incident, confirming that fuel hit him in his eyes and that he nearly stopped the car to escape the would-be fire until he realized the blaze stopped as quickly as it had begun. This allowed Räikkönen to continue the race. And despite sore eyes from the incident, Räikkönen managed to race his way to a sixth-place finish. 

How Refueling Affects Strategy In F1

Refueling in F1 allowed teams to form different strategies based on how much fuel they put in the car at the race start and during the pit stops. This meant teams could prioritize going as long as possible without pitting by adding more fuel to the car at the start of the race. If they wanted to keep the car lighter but pit more often, they could use less fuel.

Since F1 banned refueling, it created obvious changes in strategy during a race. This forced drivers and teams to manage their tanks of fuel throughout the race, rather than relying on being able to top them up in the pits. But it also meant that they had to focus more on tire management than ever before, as now the tires were the limiting factor in terms of the car’s speed.

KEY POINTS

• F1 banned refueling in 2010 to save money and make the sport safer

• There were several fiery pit incidents that illustrated the dangers of allowing refueling

• Refueling allowed for various different race strategies to be used

• With the ban on refueling, tire management is the key driver in race strategy

How Do F1 Cars Not Run Out Of Fuel?

F1 cars do not run out of fuel because the amount of fuel put into them at the start of the race (maximum of 110 kg) is carefully calculated by the engineers based on the car’s past performance and free practice runs. F1 cars never usually run out of fuel during a race.

F1 engineers are the ones who make sure that the cars don’t run out of fuel. They analyze past races and free practice sessions down to the smallest detail to understand all of the conditions that will be affecting fuel consumption during a race, and so they load up the cars with the exact right amount.

Throughout the season, these engineers pay close attention to detail through data collection regarding races at each track. By analyzing past events at the track and how the car is reacting before the current event through data collection and calculations, F1 engineers will know exactly how much fuel their car needs to be successful on race day

Riding The Fine Line

F1 teams cannot add too much fuel to the car, as the added weight will slow it down. Instead, they need to add just enough fuel to ensure the car sees the checkered flag at the end of the race. However, they also cannot mismanage this by adding too little fuel because if that happens, then the driver could run out of fuel before the race ends. 

Once the car hits the track, the hard part of the engineers’ jobs is finished, and it is now up to the driver to conserve enough fuel to finish the race. Race engineers will instruct the driver on preserving fuel where necessary, and they might ask the driver to use techniques like lifting and coasting in order to save some fuel. 

There also needs to be at least 1 liter of fuel left at the end of the race for sampling by the FIA. We saw Sebastian Vettel break this rule after achieving a second place finish at the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix. Because there wasn’t enough fuel left in the tank, Sebastian had his podium taken away from him as he was disqualified. 

Can F1 Cars Refuel During Qualifying?

F1 cars do refuel during qualifying, but only in between their hot laps in their garage. This is because the team will fill up the car with just enough fuel to do a few laps, so the car is as light and therefore as fast as possible. This means the cars will be topped up with fuel every so often.

Because the average qualifying session simply involves a driver leaving the pits, doing a warmup lap, recording a timed fast lap (often called a hot lap), and then doing a cooldown lap, the car only ever usually needs a few laps’ worth of fuel in it. This means the team will refuel the car – but not to a full tank – each time the driver comes into the pits, keeping it as light as possible.

Some qualifying sessions require more warmup laps, and if the session is really close in terms of the lap times of all the drivers, the teams will fill the cars up with more fuel so they can stay out and do more fast laps without coming back into the pits. This is because refueling in the pits takes time, and F1 qualifying sessions are subject to a time limit.

FUN FACT: F1 teams cannot refuel their cars in the garages at a fuel flow rate of more than 0.8 liters per second. This isn’t much faster than your average petrol station fuel pump, and when compared to some trucks and other large vehicles it’s actually much slower!

No Refueling In Sprint Races

Outside of normal qualifying, when a Sprint race occurs, there is no refueling. Because this 30-minute race involves no scheduled pit stops, there wouldn’t be any refueling even if it wasn’t banned in the sport. But since it is, even if a driver does have to pit (to repair damage for example), they can’t refuel. The cars are therefore filled with enough fuel to run the duration of the Sprint race.

How Do F1 Cars Refuel?

F1 cars do not refuel during a race, but when they did, teams brought out a fuel hose and placed it onto the fuel cell, where it would rapidly pump fuel in, usually taking between 6 and 12 seconds. During qualifying and before a race, F1 cars refuel in the garage at a rate of 0.8 liters per second.

During a typical pit stop in F1, teams nowadays only need to worry about changing the tires (and the front wing if it’s damaged). This often takes teams mere seconds, often between two and three seconds if only the tires need to be changed. With refueling involved, you can guess that it took cars a substantially longer time in the pit box. 

The Refueling Process

Refueling in F1 started with teams taking out a fuel hose and placing it into the car’s fuel cell. Teams could not remove the hose until it emptied, which often took between 6 and 12 seconds. Teams then had to disengage the fuel hose completely before signaling the driver to leave the pits. 

Nowadays, the only refueling F1 cars do is during qualifying or practice sessions, or before a race when they’re really being fueled, rather than refueled. Complex fuel pumps are still used, but the teams can only add or remove fuel at a rate of 0.8 liters per second. This makes the process much slower than it was during a high-speed pit stop.

FUN FACT: With this maximum rate of refueling, it takes several minutes to fill an F1 car’s fuel tank completely

Will Refueling Ever Return To F1?

Refueling may return to F1, but it isn’t likely, as the concerns about safety take priority above all else. In addition, there are also concerns about cost and maintaining a path towards carbon neutrality. F1 plans to be carbon neutral by 2030, and budget caps make extra spending on fuel unlikely.

One of the main reasons some people would like to see refueling return to F1 is the variability of race strategy it brings with it. With a higher number of strategies with refueling allowed, reinstating it could potentially make races more fun to watch. Combining variable fuel loads with tires that wear at drastically different rates could make for some very exciting racing.

The Safety Aspect

The main downside, however, is to do with safety. While cost was one reason F1 decided to do away with refueling, so was the fact that refueling was dangerous. So while the benefits of refueling would definitely add to the excitement at an F1 race, a major cost would be the risk involved. 

F1 also has plans to bring the sport’s overall carbon footprint down to zero, and by refueling, this could give off a negative impression regarding the waste of non-renewable resources. For this reason alone it’s unlikely F1 will bring back refueling, even when they do start using sustainable fuels.

Final Thoughts

F1 cars do not refuel, as this practice was banned in 2010. There is no indication that refueling will return either, as there are concerns about the high costs involved and the inherent safety risks. Refueling added unique strategic elements to F1 races, which many fans and drivers miss.