Formula One Refueling Ban Will Get Someone Killed

D-BoyCorrespondent IFebruary 10, 2010

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 02:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Williams comes in for a pitstop during the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix at the Interlagos Circuit on November 2, 2008 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Since announcing the refuelling ban, F1 has been applauded by both teams and fans for improving safety and taking fuel strategy out of the equation.

Both of the above are appalling—particularly the teams supporting it. They should know better than this—they WORK with this stuff after all.

I've been saying this since the day it was considered, and I've always been considered nuts for believing it, but I firmly believe that this refuelling ban will get somebody killed. With luck, something will happen to wake us up to this fact before it actually happens, and refuelling will be reintroduced.

Here's the simple truth: While fire in the pits is a serious danger when refuelling is allowed, a fire in the pits is far safer than one on the racetrack. When a fire occurs in the pits, firefighting gear is on it within seconds. In the last 20 years, I'm not aware of any deaths occurring from pitlane fires. Injuries, yes. Deaths, no.

Look at Tony Kanaan's fire at Edmonton last year. It took a few seconds to get water on it, but due to quick reactions, no injuries. De Ferran Motorsports' pit fire at Mid-Ohio in 2008 burned the refueller's hands and wrists—that's all. The fuel hose incident in the F1 race at Brazil burned itself out before it could do any real damage.

In a pit lane fire, there is a very limited amount of fuel to burn. This makes the fire easier to put out and also lowers the temperature at which it burns.

On the track, there is no guarantee of firefighting gear getting to the car quickly enough to put out the flames before serious injuries can occur.

"But today's fuel cells are pretty much invincible!"

24 Hours of Daytona 2009. Didn't a Mazda RX-8 have its fuel cell ripped open by the KERBING on the track, causing a rapid spilling of the car's fuel? Those fuels cells are built the same way and to the same safety specs as the ones in an F1 car. And now you're going to tell them to put a BIGGER fuel cell in the car? A bigger fuel cell is more susceptible to damage in a crash, which raises the risk of serious incident.

CART always required refuelling because they knew a pitlane fire was less dangerous than having massive fuel tanks in the cars—even with the best fuel cells available.

As of last year, a full load of fuel in an F1 car provided enough fuel to run about half the race. They've had to double that size. Actually, MORE than double the size, since the start of the race will require the cars to burn more fuel to keep their speed up while the car is heavy.

I'm all for removing fuel strategy from the equation, but here's a safer way:

Mandate a smaller fuel cell—say one that should last about one-third of the race distance. Require the race to be started on a full fuel load and for the fuel cell to be COMPLETELY refilled during a pit stop. Telemetry can be used to verify compliance.

Still stuck on the issue of pitlane fires? We can take that out of the equation, too. That F1 hasn't thought of this before is rather surprising. Actually, considering most of their safety innovations were adapted from other forms of racing to begin with, it's really NOT terribly surprising.

Anyhow, after the aforementioned de Ferran Motorsports' pit fire, Honda Performance Development realized something had to be done about the problem. What'd they do? The Acura ARX-02a had a system that prevented the starter motor from turning while the fuel hose was connected to the car. It was very easy to implement since in Le Mans racing the engine has to be turned off in a pit stop. The system is being implemented on the ARX-01c, as well.

How do we adapt that to F1? Again, HPD has the answer: Beginning this year in the IZOD IndyCar Series, a system is being implemented in which the computer will stop the car from being shifted out of neutral until the fuel hose is clear of the car.

Are you going to sit there and tell me that installing a giant fuel cell is safer than that system? I didn't think so.

It's one thing to have no refuelling in ladder championships that run short races with small fuel cells, but I can only hope that the FIA will come to their senses and adapt a system like my much safer proposal BEFORE someone gets killed.

But based on how safety progress in the racing world tends to go (in general, not just in F1), it's not likely.