How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Fuel Limit

Much digital ink has been spilled fretting over this year's top road racing series (F1 and LMP1), particularly with respect to the hybrid power systems and the method of limiting the cars on their fuel usage. The big worry is that this will prevent the drivers from racing. This is why we have nothing to worry about.

Let's get this out of the way first. Yes, the 2014 engine rules for both series are a significant reduction in fuel allowed, and that means less power (even though most of the deficit is made back with the hybrid units). Yes, we all love more power in our race cars, but we're just not going to see four digit power output again. So, we'll make due with what we have. And in the case of F1, we have torque.

F1 fans have complained for years that the solution for the lack of passing in the series is more torque, less downforce, and narrower tires. Longer braking distances, less aero penalties when following other cars, and a tougher to drive car.

That's exactly what we have with F1 this year.

Significant downforce has been lost, the tires are harder, and the engines end up making more torque as a combination of the turbo and lower rev limit. Top speeds will be higher, and because the cars have less grip and more grunt we can expect to see more cars getting sideways and muscling out of the corners. Good for TV, and good for the racing.

For LMP1, the changes have manifested as variety. We find a 3.7L V6 turbodiesel, naturally aspirated 3.4L V8, and a 2.0L Turbo V4 as the selected engine configurations. That's before the variety of flywheel, super-capacitor, and lithium battery energy storage methods. All this gets added to even better hybrid power systems than the cars were using last year.

But the crux on the matter is, we've been down the fuel limit road before. This isn't the first era for F1 or prototypes built upon fuel limit. In fact, the cars with the limited fuel were pretty awesome.

Group C and the turbo F1 era were both built upon fuel limits.

Say what you want about fuel restriction, but the eras we all get rosy eyed for and wish we had return were based on the same principle as today. That the only way to control the costs and excess of race engineers with a turbocharger was to give them a finite quantity of fuel. Turn the wick up as much as you want in qualifying, but the fuel limit is an effective method to require the teams to show some restraint.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Fuel Limit

(Credit: David Merrett)

But the racing! The fear is that the fuel limit will turn the races into economy runs. That didn't really happen in F1, though, where teams still went balls to the wall, racing hard enough they often ran out of fuel rather than back off. For the prototypes, the ACO has learned their lesson and made the fuel limitation a per-lap requirement so nobody needs to slow down for the last 5 laps. Fuel limits may reign in the cars, but not the drivers.

So will the 2014 regulations herald a new golden age of racing? Only time will tell. However, the fears and worries of boring racing have been grossly overestimated. Once these cars get their technical glitches worked out and the drivers are able to give them the beans, we'll see racing every bit as good as always. Maybe even better. The fuel limit formula worked before, it will work again.