Why Can’t Formula1 Cars Refuel During the Races?

Every few years, the rules and regulations for Formula1 races change. They adjust to improve the driver or pit crew experience, enhance safety protocols, and sometimes just to make the sport better overall — like the ban on using tobacco product sponsors. What happens in a pit stop can be greatly affected by the changes, and while the quick whirlwind that is a few seconds of extensive replacements on the car occurs, perhaps you stopped and wondered why Formula1 cars don’t get refueled during the races.

Refueling Formula1 cars

According to Formula1-Dictionary, refueling during pitstops became banned in the early 2010s, leaving it limited to the quick change of the tires. This may seem like a concerning tactic, but there were several safety reasons that led to this decision, but it also affected the driving ability of the vehicles in a way you may not have expected.

Carlos Sainz driving his F1 car on the track at the G1 Grand Prix in Brazil
Carlos Sainz of Spain driving the (55) McLaren F1 Team MCL34 Renault in the Pitlane during practice for the F1 Grand Prix of Brazil | Charles Coates, Getty Images

In the pits and out of them

If you’re an avid Formula1 fan, you know how much of a difference switching between the hardness of the tires can make for a race. It’s such a big factor, in fact, that the teams make strategic choices in when they chose to have drivers pit for new tires and what tires they use. Just like tires, the weight aspect that fuel brings to the table can also affect cars greatly, making it one more variable that once had to be skillfully and tactfully organized.

An orange Formula1 racecar sparking as it races down the track
BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN – MARCH 31: Sparks fly from the front wing of Carlos Sainz of Spain driving the (55) McLaren F1 Team MCL34 Renault on track during the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 31, 2019 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

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A new factor to calculate

Safety was the first and foremost reason why the decision to stop refueling during races was made by the FIA. Of course, there was also a cost factor to take into account as well. The cost was one factor that had to be looked at, where teams would now have to spend more and more capital to keep up with ever-changing safety regulations — a cost that larger teams such as Ferrari and Mercedes probably had no issue with, but smaller teams like Haas and Williams would struggle with.

Handling fuel in the open air can lead to potential leaks, and of course, fires. While crew members and drivers wear fire-resistant clothing in case of this emergency, it added an unnecessary level of danger to the races. The refueling process can only go so quickly, and there is a lot of pressure to leave the pit stop in as little time as possible, leading to potentially hazardous situations.

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While cost did play a factor in the decision to end refueling Formula1 cars during the race, the first, and most important reason, was for driver and crew safety. In such a dangerous sport, minimizing risk factors such as this are what allows the sport to continue to thrive without becoming an overwhelming hazard to everyone involved.