Will Gray

Fuel changes positive

Will Gray

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The new Formula One regulations to be introduced in 2010 are set to create significantly different challenges for the teams - but as the sport continues to seek ways to improve overtaking is it going in the right direction?

The biggest factor next year is the scrapping of F1 refuelling. This major change will lead to a significant adjustment in the approach to strategy planning over a race weekend, starting right from the grid-deciding qualifying session, where cars will run on light fuel loads and line up on the grid in order of true pace as race fuel strategies are removed from the equation.

Back in 2002, a lack of running in the opening minutes of the session and a desire to 'mix' the grid up led to several iterations of qualifying 'improvements' before the current knock-out system was introduced, in which Q1 and Q2 are run on low-fuel before the 10 drivers in Q3 run on race fuel.

This put race strategies into play in qualifying and while many say it creates a pole position that is not 'real' (as the true fastest car may qualify further back depending on the team's fuel plan) it does lead to mixed grids that can increase the potential of overtaking.

Next year, aside from the occasional surprise knock-out, all teams will qualify in pace order once again, removing one of the elements of speed differentiation and unpredictability that initiates the potential for overtaking.

And because all cars will be starting on similar fuel loads the fuel weight differences that have made for some frantic opening laps this year, will no longer be there.

But with negatives come positives.

An F1 race always runs to around 300km and although fuel consumption varies track to track, stated averages suggest an F1 car uses around 180kg of fuel over the course of a race. Generally, this year, fuel weights for the start of the race have been around 40kg-100kg, depending on strategy, next year cars will be starting much heavier.

That will mean larger fuel tanks, which will likely increase the height of the centre of gravity and the cars will have to be designed to be as well balanced at their heaviest weight as they are at their lightest - something that will challenge the engineers to the max and is likely to see some cars behaving better on heavy loads and others better on light.

In addition, fuel consumption will come into play more significantly, as the teams that can create more power from less fuel will obviously be able to load up with less fuel (so less weight) from the start.

This is not just a factor of engine efficiency but also aerodynamics and the potential use of KERS - which, instead of this year's 'boost' design could be used to supply constant extra power throughout the lap, reducing (if only a little) the amount of fuel-sapping power required from the engine on each lap.

Tyre wear has also been an important differentiating factor this season and that is likely to continue to affect relative performance in 2010, while teams will also not be so fixed on when they have to stop, creating larger pit stop windows that allow more flexible strategies to be brought into the mix.

So although the return to low fuel qualifying removes one of the unpredictable elements from the sport, it will bring back meaningful pole positions - and hopefully all the other unpredictable elements will suffice to improve overtaking more naturally.

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