Matters of moment, August 1985

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Formula One rules – Farcical, or acceptable? 

In recent Grand Prix races we have seen leading cars run dry on the last lap, even within yards of the finishing-line, because fuel is restricted at the start to 220 litres each. This can be as disappointing for the spectators as it is frustrating for the drivers and entrants of the cars that stop from lack of fuel before the race is complete.

If there is any logic in a fuel-limitation rule it must be to aim towards more efficient engines; there may well be thought of a closer step in the direction of reduced exhaust-pollution, because to conserve petrol the engine must burn all the fuel it can, as efficiently as possible. But, in the age of nuclear weapons, it seems probable that inevitably the end will come from atomic fallout, so pollution from innocent ic-engines becomes of less moment, apart from which it does seem rather droll for racing-drivers, exerting all their many skills, to be asked while so doing to have to watch petrol-gauges as well as rev-counters. . . .

Fuel-restriction rules in Grand Prix races have an historic background. It was tried for the French Grands Prix of 1907 and 1913. In the former year the competing cars were restricted to 30 litres of petrol per 100 km, necessitating a consumption of at least 9.4 mpg. The idea was presumably to hope that more efficient engines would result, or that the public be persuaded that way, after the 1906 GP had been contested between giant cars of 71/2 to 18i/a litres, with a distinct bias towards the larger ones. Although it was not altogether a popular move, some thinking that the race might be spoiled by worthy cars running dry, and it necessitated hauling the cars to the fuelling point behind horses, in fact it worked out quite well, the winning Fiat still having an engine capacity of over 161/4 litres, but finishing with 11.26 litres of fuel in its tank — although this would only have taken it about another 20 miles, after racing for 477 miles. The second car home, a Renault which had an engine size of almost 13 litres as in the 1906 race, finished with 301/4 litres left. After this the fuel-consumption ruling was not reintroduced until 1913, and then only in an attempt to enable the up-and-coming smaller-engined racers to get a look-in among the larger ones. This time 20 litres of fuel were allowed per 100 krn, requiring the cars to do at least 14.1 mpg, and weight limits were also imposed. No-one who mattered ran dry, but wisely Peugeot had drastically reduced the size of their twin-cam engines, and they came in first and second. However, the fact remains that if neither race had suffered from the fuel-limitation ruling, there was relief when, for the 1914 GP, it was changed to a restriction on maximum engine capacity. Indeed, as Kent Karslake says in his invaluable book “The French Grand Prix — 1906-1914” (MRP, 1949): “Boillot’s Peugeot finished the 1913 Grand Prix with 22 litres of petrol still in its tank, or almost exactly twice the quantity which remained in Nazzaro’s victorious Fiat in 1907, and not one of the competitors failed to cover the full course for lack of fuel. And yet the fact remained that the consumption limit was unpopular with drivers and not particularly interesting to manufacturers. The truth of the matter was that it seemed for the moment to have no very important lessons to teach . . . it might just unwell be abandoned with all its complications . . . Almost everyone concerned was extremely well pleased with the change.” (A 141/2 mpg limit was used from 1929-1930 but by then GP racing was in the doldrums.)

In 1985, with turbocharged GP engines, the ruling has resulted in too many front-runners going dry, to the detriment of race results. Unless a very good case exists for the retention of a fuelconsumption limit, would it not be preferable to have, instead, a maximum weight limit, encouraging designers and engineers to aim for lightweight cars if they desire to carry more fuel? Another odd aspect of modern GP racing is the way in which the results are calculated. There to a no race was won until a car had crossed the finishing-line. At the end, the leading cars would be flagged in the placings they occupied as they crossed the line and after an interval the remaining runners would be flagged off. Any cars that failed to cross the finishing-line would be deemed to have retired. One can see that this was tough luck on, say, a driver who might retire a half-lap or so from the finish, when those perhaps several laps further back would count as having been placed or flagged-off; except that a retired car might well have been overdriven whereas more tactical driving would have ensured a place neat least a finish. These days such logic has gone overboard. As we saw in the San Marino GP, the official top placings, after Prost’s disqualification, were: de Angelis, Boutsen, Tambay, Lauda, Mansell, Johansson. But D.S. J observed that the realistic placings were: Senna, johansson, Prost, de Angelis, Piquet, Boutsen, which seems to show his opinion of the fuel-restriction ruling. And in former times the placings would have been: de Angelis, Boutsen, Tarnbay, Lauda, Mansell, Brundle. Are Championship points affecting matters; are today’s GP rules farcical, or acceptable?

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