Refueling and Competition

Refueling and Competition
by Bill Doolittle
U. S. A.

Refueling will once again be a part of Formula One in 1996. Debates are sure to rage over its pros and cons until the flames rage in the pits leaving everyone an opponent and no proponents with whom to debate. In the interim, however, refueling will contribute an interesting dimension to competition. Indeed, this article itself, is an anomaly among competitors.

Magazines don't usually make a habit of encouraging readers to look at other publications covering similar topics. For example, I can't ever recall seeing an article in either TIME or NEWSWEEK which suggested reading an article in the other. Accordingly, this piece is quite out of the ordinary. I, I implore, that every Formula One fan, and especially those in the United States, read the article titled "Strategic Thinking" by Kurt Borman in the March 1996 issue of RACER (vol. 4, no. 11, pp. 46-50). This is simply the best article I have ever read that deals with the issue of pit stops. It is a thorough examination of all the factors that must be taken into consideration. The article is based on facts and figures and not emotion or personal preference. It is a systematic study that is a real eye-opener. I cannot do this article justice by attempting to summarize it here, so I won't. However, here are two excerpted paragraphs that outline the premises on which the analysis is based.

"In most types of racing, pit stops are a sort of necessary evil, without which the car cannot continue. Viewed from that perspective, they are managed more by tactics than by strategy--that is to say, more by reaction to the events of the race itself than by a pre-planned schedule. This is particularly true in American oval racing, where the inevitable (but un-predictable) yellow-flag or caution periods offer the opportunity to stop while the competition is circulating at much reduced speed and, upon returning, to close up with the pack before the restart.

In modern Formula 1, however, full-course yellows are extremely rare, and pit stops are, in fact, not so much a necessary evil but a performance-enhancing opportunity. Remember that before refueling was allowed it was specifically prohibited; this as a result of its first incarnation in modern F1--in the 1980s--that arose spontaneously from teams seeking an overall performance gain by taking advantage of refueling, which was not prohibited at that time."

Read this article before the season begins, before we start seeing chronometers timing cars stopped in the pits, before we hear commentators talk about lap-in and lap-out times and asking if one driver has enough time to catch-up and overtake another. Most fans look at pit stops as something in and of themselves, a rather narrow view. Borman looks at them in the context of the entire race, as do the teams themselves. He demonstrates how two stops can be quicker than one stop. In so doing, he provides a valuable perspective that will make 1996 even more interesting than it already promises to be.

Bill Doolittle
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