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Kate Walker: Fuel madness

21 March 2014

Back in the dark days of winter testing, when teams were seemingly incapable of completing race distances and we were all sniggering about the phallic look of the new generation of F1 cars, Crash.net was the first outlet to talk about possible problems with the fuel flow sensors introduced to the 2014 regulations.

As was the case when that first article was written, problems relating to the fuel flow sensors designed and supplied by Gill Sensors, were sub judice, or subject to legal proceedings. As a consequence, those in the know can hint, but not discuss. Nothing has changed there.

What has changed is that the Gill sensors are now on the tip of the tongue of F1 fans around the world, few of whom understand just why the sensors were even necessary in the first place.

Yes, F1 has entered a brave new world of hybrid engines and fuel economy. We were only a few years late to the party started by the World Endurance Championship, but who's counting? (Except everyone.)

But why on earth was it necessary for the FIA - for anyone - to monitor the rate of fuel flow? The message of a leaner, greener F1 was plain to see in the 100 kilogram limit set by the FIA for 2014, a reduction of 33 percent on the previous maximum allowed for a race distance.

By adding additional regulations mandating the rate of fuel flow, the FIA – and the teams, for they also have a voice in regulatory changes – added an entirely unnecessary layer of complexity to what was already going to be one of the most technically complex seasons in F1 history.

It is now no longer a secret that the teams were aware of (and wary of) accuracy issues relating to the sensors before winter testing even began. For those journalists with sources in the motorsport supply chain, the sensors were a problem waiting to happen even before Sebastian Vettel secured his last world championship at the Indian Grand Prix.

For some unknown reason, however, the powers that be elected to press ahead with the problematic sensors, which come with an accuracy guaranteed shelf life of a mere 30 days – shorter than the window between Jerez and Melbourne, never mind the twists and turns of an entire F1 season.

We now find ourselves in the frankly embarrassing situation of having screwed up the first race of what should have been F1's season of glory, the year in which we reclaimed the mantle of most technologically advanced sport in the world. Instead we find ourselves struggling to explain just why a piece of technology smaller than a cigarette packet deprived Daniel Ricciardo of his just desserts following an excellent debut for Red Bull at his home grand prix when the gadget itself was entirely irrelevant to the image we're trying to sell.

Scrap the sensors and restore sanity by keeping teams to a 100kg fuel limit per race. After all, the weighing scales in the scruntineers' office have been working perfectly for years.


Kate Walker

Kate Walker is a senior F1 writer for Crash.net. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, she keeps an eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes Formula One a political melodrama.


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