Esteban Ocon, Force India, Circuit of the Americas, 2018

Why Ocon and Magnussen were disqualified for fuel errors

2018 United States Grand Prix

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Formula 1’s V6 hybrid turbo era got off to an unpromising start four years ago when Daniel Ricciardo was disqualified from the 2014 Australian Grand Prix for exceeding the newly-introduced fuel flow limit.

Concerns the rule might prompt a wave of further disqualifications as teams grappled with the new technology proved misplaced. No further drivers were disqualified under the same regulation.

Until last weekend, when Esteban Ocon was stripped of eighth place at Austin for breaking the same rule. Remarkably the driver who initially inherited his position, Kevin Magnussen, was then also disqualified for a fuel irregularity.

How has F1 gone for so long without a disqualification of this kind and then suffered two in the same race? It appears to be a coincidence.

Magnussen’s disqualification is the more straightforward of the two. He did not exceed the limit on fuel flow, rather the restriction on how much fuel drivers can use during a race. This is set at 105 kilograms.

FIA race director Charlie Whiting confirmed Magnussen only exceeded the limit on the final lap of the race. Magnussen leant hard on his fuel load early in proceedings as he tried first to get ahead of Sergio Perez, which he managed, then to jump Ocon, which he did not.

Soon afterwards his race engineer began urging him to “lift-and-coast” though at first this was just to “drop our tyre temperature”. Later in the races Magnussen received more urgent instructions to save fuel:

To Magnussen:We are really critical on fuel. You can use K1 to defend.
To Magnussen:Now save as much as you can. You can use K1 just on the straight.
To Magnussen:Lift off on the straight as much as you can, it’s really important.
To Magnussen:Use K1. You have SOC [state of charge] available.
To Magnussen:Lift off, lift off, lift off as much as you can. No throttle. Chequered flag.

Magnussen’s plight worsened as race leader Kimi Raikkonen did not lap him before the end of the race. Had that happened, Magnussen would not have needed to complete the final lap, and wouldn’t have exceeded the 105kg limit.

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Normally when a racing car uses too much fuel it gives a telling signal that even the newest racing fan can comprehend: Its wheels stop turning. But F1’s rules make it possible for a driver to use too much fuel without running out of it.

The 105kg fuel limit applies “from the time at which the signal to start the race is given to the time each car crosses the line after the end-of-race signal has been given.” Therefore Magnussen had enough fuel to finish the race, complete a victory lap and give a post-race fuel sample – then be disqualified.

Guenther Steiner, Haas, 2018
Steiner is unimpressed with F1’s fuel rules
Haas team principal Guenther Steiner was scathing about the effect F1’s fuel rules have on the racing. “With a refuel race we could have had such a good fight between us and the Force Indias because they had to fuel-save as well, it’s the same for everybody.”

The maximum fuel allocation will be increased to 110kg for the 2019 F1 season. “I hope with the regulation next year that means we can race, without always saying we have to lift, lift, lift. Are we getting lapped, are we not getting lapped, it depends how fast we can go.

“We want a good show but then make sure you put a regulation [so] that you don’t get one.”

A Virtual Safety Car period earlier in the race gave Magnussen and the other drivers a chance to save fuel. Whiting said Magnussen’s violation was “really hard to understand”.

“I don’t quite understand how you can go over because you’ve got warnings on the dash. What the fuel flow is measuring is being shown precisely on the dashboard every minute of every lap if you want it, and it’s colour-coded and all this sort of thing. I believe he was being told to save fuel quite often in the race as well.”

This is the second time this year one of the Haas cars has been disqualified: Romain Grosjean was thrown out of the Italian Grand Prix for a floor infringement. On that occasion Haas was swift to announce an appeal but none has been forthcoming for Magnussen. The rules clearly state that “other than in cases of force majeure (accepted as such by the stewards), any driver exceeding this limit will be disqualified from the race results.”

While Magnussen fell foul of the rules on the final lap, Ocon’s violation came at the start of the race. He was found to have exceeded the peak fuel mass flow rate of 100kg per hour during the first lap of the race. This is the same rule Ricciardo transgressed in 2014.

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Force India team principal Otmar Szafnauer admitted there had been a “spike” in Ocon’s fuel flow rate during the first lap but that over the whole lap he was compliant with the 100kg/hour limit.

Charles Leclerc, Romain Grosjean, Esteban Ocon, Circuit of the Americas, 2018
Despite his high fuel flow, Ocon lost out at the start
“It was a spike and then a trough and you look at it over one lap, it’s the only time it happened, it was neutral. We were maybe even a little worse off because it took a long time to recalculate.”

Whiting admitted he wasn’t sure how this had come about but indicated Ocon was over the limit “for a large part of the first lap.”

“I’ve no idea how that can happen. It seemed to then right itself. Whether it was a setting the team had forgotten to make, I don’t know.”

Force India has also not indicated it will appeal. However Szafnauer believes the case is “unprecedented” and said Ocon, who fell behind both Renault drivers on the first lap of the race, did not gain an advantage from being over the fuel flow limit.

“For example, there’s track limits and if you go outside the track limits, which you shouldn’t do, if you haven’t gained an advantage then they do nothing. If you have gained an advantage then they do something.”

While that reasoning is often used for sporting decisions, it tends not to be the case when it comes to complying with the technical rules. But these latest disqualifications are unlikely to win F1’s contentious hybrid turbo power units any new fans.

“It’s like you want to drive fast but save fuel,” Steiner grumbled. “It’s called racing, no? If you want to fuel-save, you do something else.”

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Keith Collantine
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49 comments on “Why Ocon and Magnussen were disqualified for fuel errors”

  1. Normally when a racing car uses too much fuel it gives a telling signal that even the newest racing fan can comprehend: Its wheels stop turning.

    Stop making me laugh out loud at work!

    Also, thanks for this piece to summarize and differentiate the two fuel-related infringements. It would be good if you could also call out or highlight relevant comments from the earlier articles, since there were some people who made some very good points on these topics.

    1. They are all cheating the fuel flow regs hence the constant power improvements, it is about being caught! to me red bull where on to this back in 2014 Mercedes know it so much so they could believe ferrari had a more powerful engine hence the battery queries. The sport cannot keep track of technology this advanced as even the manufacturers spending millions every year to high oil burning, probably burning antifreeze as well… brake fluid next!

  2. Interesting article. It indeed is a bit weird that after Ricciardo’s DSQ from the very first race of the hybrid era followed by a long period of nothing unusual happening concerning fuel usage then suddenly two instances of irregularities regarding fuel usage happen in the same race. I never saw these most recent race-result DSQs coming nor did I foresee Grosjean’s exclusion from the Italian GP any better. I still find it a bit weird that it’s actually possible to go over the maximum tank capacity, i.e., exceed the 105 kg limit. I had thought it’s only possible to use as much fuel as there’s capacity in a tank. #YouAlwaysLearnSomethingNew

    1. That was mentioned in other articles. You’re only allowed to use 105 kg during the race (“from the time at which the signal to start the race is given to the time each car crosses the line after the end-of-race signal has been given.”). You still need extra fuel for the grid formation lap, the warm up lap, getting the car back to the pit lane after the race ends and supply a 1kg (if I remember correctly) fuel sample to the FIA for analysis.

      1. The FIA could sample the fuel before the race and do away with having to to have 1 kg left after the race. They could even mandate a spec fuel for all I care.

        I thought these cars had an FIA-certified device that limited the instantaneous fuel rate, in which case going over 100kg per hour would be the FIA’s problem. Perhaps the device only measures the instantaneous flow, but that device would have +/- accuracy specs in actual use, and I seem to recall that when Ricciardo was penalized it was reported that these devices varied quite a bit from car to car due simply to manufacturing tolerances.

        Seems as if the technology is still somewhat iffy for fuel flow rate measurement if you are going to disqualify a car for a single instantaneous spike rather than flow rate over a lap. If the regulation specifies fuel flow in kg/hour, maybe the you need to determine the flow rate average over a 60 minute interval. Or just drop the stupid regulation and be done with it. Raising it from 105 to 110 is not going to solve anything since teams will just continue to skate as close as possible to the new limit as they did with the old limit.

        1. @gwbridge:

          Your second suggestion is correct: the FIA sensor measures the flow rate, it doesn’t restrict it. And as I recall one possible reason why Ricciardo’s could have “varied quite a bit” was that Red Bull modified them to fit into their car!

          The object of restricting the flow rate is to cap peak power, so it should ideally be instantaneous. Measuring in kg/hour does seem clumsy, kg/s would feel more normal. Measuring in kg/hour also makes it more confusing for me because of the apparently close relationship between “105 kg” and “100 kg/hour”, when they’re measuring completely different things.

          I agree that increasing the allowed fuel won’t solve anything. And I find Guenther Steiner’s outrage rather unconvincing; they’ve signed up to play by these rules for years now, so suck it up and do your job!

          1. Capping the fuel flow is ok in my opinion.This will limit the peak power, but still give an engine developer to eak-out more performance than his competitor.
            But a limit on the total amount of fuel used should be removed, this will give the driver to fight the entire race without having to lift and coast half the race.

        2. @gwbridge, as has been noted in the article, this is the first time under the current regulations that we have seen something like this happen (in the case of Red Bull and Ricciardo, the FIA pointed out that even the evidence that Red Bull tried to use to defend their case – the flow through the fuel injection system – also proved that they were breaking the fuel flow regulations, so it was a pretty clear cut and systematic breach of the rules there).

          It is also worth noting that the WEC uses the same type of fuel flow sensor – in fact, it is a fairly commonplace and mature design that is used fairly widely in the motorsport sector – and other series have found that it works fairly well if used correctly.

          In the case of Red Bull, one of the reasons why they were having erratic readings was because they were were modifying the connectors and mounting points of the sensors, damaging them in the process. It was also compounded by the fact that their particular fuel mixture contained a trace chemical that was damaging part of the sensor as well, a problem that seems to have been unique to them.

          It is notable that, once the FIA insisted that the teams stopped trying to modify the sensors and used them in the way that the manufacturers told them to, the number of problems dropped off noticeably – suggesting that some of the teams might have been blaming the manufacturers for problems that they were in fact causing themselves.

          1. They use non contact sensors, iirc they are ultrasonic and measure the flow through the fuel pipe without impeding it so there is no way the fuel could damage it.

            There is an article on F1 website and I’m sure Craig cothered it too.

    2. I actually think it is explained clearly in the article that it it technically easily possible to go over 105 kg during the race exaclty because that 105 kg is NOT the maximum tank capacity at all @jerejj, as @warheart mentions, they put in maybe some 120-130 kg in a race where they expect to need the full fuell limit (quite often cars use less in a race) to make sure they have enough fuel to get to the grid and back within the regulations.

      1. @bascb @phylyp That’s what I figured. I had lived to the thought the 105 kg figure precisely refers to the maximum tank capacity.

    3. I think having an abstracted fuel limit is a good thing; had Magnussen ended up with an empty tank we might have had a safety car out. We could have missed that fantastic scrap between Hamilton and Verstappen at the end. However, that abstraction should be based on the actual capacity of the tank, not some arbitrary “road-relevant” number.

  3. I still find it a bit weird that it’s actually possible to go over the maximum tank capacity, i.e., exceed the 105 kg limit.

    @jerejj – that’s right – the “tank capacity” is greater than 105 kg. It has fuel for the formation lap + a max of 105 kg for the race + fuel for the cooldown/victory lap + 1 liter fuel sample.

    And yes, after appearing like a solved problem all this time, it’s interesting to see this having cropped up again. It is reminiscent of how we expected wheel-related issues in 2017 due to the change in sizes, but it was all good that year, and it is 2018 that we saw a spate of issues early on (I’m sure teams were trying to optimize things chasing that elusive tenth or hundredth of a second).

  4. I don’t even want to read the article. The whole fuel saving thing is utter nonsense. I can understand – but won’t ever accept – the fact that they restricted usage of engines, gearboxes etc. to reduce costs. But fuel restrictions are too stupid to be true.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely closed to changes, I’m almost always open to the evolution of this sport and there are a lot of things I dislike but accept (Halo is one of them) because I understand the underlying reasons. I still haven’t found a good reason for this, that’s all.

    1. Even if you allow a 1000 kg per race, you will regularly get fuel saving @m-bagattini quite regularly, just like they have been doing all the way back to the 1950s. The thing is, a team will always only put as much fuel in as they really need, because at many tracks an extra few kg of fuel can cost them several tenths per lap. They will put in less then they need for the full race in a place like singapore, for example because they expect at least several laps of SC running, which uses less fuel.

      1. @bascb I think letting the team decide is a completely different thing

        1. I really fail to see the difference. Maybe emotionally it feels different. And it will mean the teams won’t be bashing the FIA for installing a hard limit. Instead they will bash them for something else and you will complain about it.

          The fuel limit is just something to limit the amount of fuel one can throw at winning. Just as the limit on the amount of tyres, they are meant to keep a check on one aspect of pay to win. Realistically towards the end of the V8 times teams hardly ever used the higher limit, and they still blamed the FIA for having their underfuelled cars running lean in races. They would have made tanks smaller (to save space and weight) already if not for the FIA being involved in defining the fuel tank. I actually think that the fuel limit is something everyone who drives a vehicle can relate to, as we all have to deal with that on trips.

          1. Just as the limit on the amount of tyres, they are meant to keep a check on one aspect of pay to win

            That’s just silly. I’ll go into my own pocket to top off any F1 team that can’t cover their fuel bill…

            Additionally, I was under the impression that tyre regs are in place to introduce a strategic element to races, not as some cost-saving measure.

          2. @knewman, there is a cost cutting element to it as well – in previous years, a fair chunk of the costs were being offloaded onto the teams by the tyre manufacturers (for example, when Bridgestone were around, who do you think paid for the private tests they ran? It was the teams that had to bite the bullet and pay for much of those costs). The current rules are intended to spread out the costs more evenly across all of the teams and to reduce the cost of participating in general.

          3. @bascb
            I can’t see how they can be the same thing. If a team loads too few fuel it’s their fault, while FIA enforcing their limit is FIA’s fault.

            With FIA limiting, teams can fail in two ways: by breaking the rule or finishing the fuel. With FIA not limiting everything is on them. Plus, with the limited flow one can’t decide to use more fuel to attack, then consume less later on; without restrictions, more strategic scenarios could be used.

            Also, performance is not strictly proportional to fuel consumption and I can’t believe fuel price – the difference between the current roof and what teams would load, maybe few liters – can really be a cost to cut.

            In the end, it all goes down to “the pinnacle of motorsport”: is it really a motorsport? I’m all in for additions/limitations that take the “motor” further and beyond: fuel limitation doesn’t help in this sense. Moreover, it’s an unuseful complication for fans, engineers and drivers. At this stage, “the pinnacle of motorsport” is more “the pinnacle of saving things”, fuel, tires, engines and whatsoever.

            (@knewman @phylyp @drmouse)

          4. It is both of those @knewman. The fact that we change tyres at all (mandatory) is there to both help make races more interesting and increase visibility of Pirelli’s products. The limit on amount of tyres is mainly about how many sets the tyre supplier has to produce and bring to races. It has huge influence on the bill for the tyres as @anon mentions.

            In effect it is a way to cap out budgets. Something similar happens with the fuel, although there the presentation of the sport also plays a big role – it is part of the strategy to make F1 more focussed on efficiency.

            As with everything @m-bagattini the technical rules are there to limit spending – be it by directly lowering the cost, or by closing avenues that teams would want to try out, thereby spending money testing whether it would work. All these things (marginally) help the smaller teams, because the big ones get enough money to try out more or less anything they want anyway. But the smaller teams need to think carefully how they spend their money.

      2. @bascb – exactly.

        I don’t mind seeing the fuel flow limit being lifted, but I have no problem with the maximum limit for a race staying on.

    2. So, you’re not even going to read the article or try to understand the reasons (hint: the fuel flow rate has nothing to do with fuel saving). You’re just going to say it’s wrong, and even facts won’t convince you otherwise.

      Sounds like a rational way to deal with things to me…

  5. Ocon’s problem sounds like an unfortunate glitch which they have to be strict on. Glitch or not you can’t have a loophole like that because teams will gladly exploit it for momentary gains.

    Haas though just sounds like incompetence and this isn’t the first time they’ve cried fowl because they haven’t been allowed to break the rules. The clues in the name, it’s ‘Formula’ 1, there’s a set of rules to follow regardless of if they aren’t popular, they know how much fuel they can use and if they can’t manage to adhere to that then tough luck, you lose your result.

    1. this isn’t the first time they’ve cried fowl because they haven’t been allowed to break the rules

      @philipgb – quite true. I think Mr. Steiner needs to tone down his complains, and look inwards to the team’s operations and processes, because they seem to be having a lot of growing pains as they mature into an established team. Combined with their hit and miss drivers, this is leading to too many points (and too much prize money) being lost.

    2. Yeah, the Ocon thing clearly needs a bit more investigation to see what exactly went wrong, a mistake in the engine settings, a glitch in the fuel flow, a sw glitch or whatever.

    3. @phylyp & @bascb

      If my memory serves me correctly, Ricciardo’s DQ in Australia came as a result of a very similiar glitch that was traced back to the manufacturer of the flow meter. Whiting said pretty much the same thing that the data was available to the driver but it seems that when the issue shows itself, momentary or not, there isn’t anything that the driver can do since he committed the infringement when the flow peaks over the limit.

      It sucks, we all know it. But if the fuel flow issue came as a result of a setting or a heavy right foot and not an issue with the flow meter then we need to let the penalty stand and FI need to work on fixing whatever it was that the team did.

      1. If my memory serves me correctly, Ricciardo’s DQ in Australia came as a result of a very similiar glitch that was traced back to the manufacturer of the flow meter

        @docnuke – ah, so that was confirmed, was it? I remember back then that Horner alleged that the FIA sensor’s readings were not matching their own (or Renault’s) additional sensor. More recently, I read that RBR have bought hundreds of FIA-approved sensors to test and install those that gave the most consistent and favourable readings.

        1. Hm, I remember that a bit different @phylyp – I remember that Red Bull actually got a lot of sensors to pick out those that would allow them to trick the system but the FIA interfered with that

          1. @bascb – ah, ok. I might have misunderstood what I read, and like you say, they might have attempted it but were stymied by the FIA.

          2. @bascb, @phylyp
            I didn’t know about RBR buying loads of sensors, but I do recall that they modified the ones they did use in order to make them fit into their cars. Until the FIA told them to stop doing that, at which point the readings agreed….

      2. @docnuke

        I’m fairly sure in 2014 Red Bull challenged the accuracy of the standard flow meter and/or how the software calculated flow and decided to go with their own equipment’s measurement. They were quite confident they hadn’t exceeded the limit despite the standardised sensor showing they had but were unsuccessful in their challenge.

        1. @philipgb, the thing is, part of the reason why they lost the appeal was the fact that the FIA did then look at the data which Red Bull used – which came from the fuel injection system – and pointed out that even that data confirmed that they were in fact breaking the rules.

  6. In the F1 videgame (which seems to ignore these rules), i always put an extra 3-4 laps of fuel in and drive most of the race in high fuel mode. It might not be quicker, but its a lot more fun.

  7. Please add this to the ever growing list of reasons that fans are turning off F1. Ridiculous rules. There should NEVER be a time when the driver cant go all out on the throttle, ever. Its not Formula Hypermiler!

    1. There has never been a time when a driver could go all out from start to finish. Remove your rose tinted specs please.

    2. @careypatrick reducing pace to save tyres, brakes, engine, fuel or whatever needs saving has been a part of F1 since forever and it’ll keep going. The main difference is that the fuel flow and the fuel consumption is regulated now, but it’s always been a deciding factor in the overall performance of the car. There’s no reason why a team would overfuel a car if it cannot do the whole race distance quicker than a low fuelled car.

      1. @fer-no65 @careypatrick

        The main difference is that the fuel flow… is regulated now

        Can we get something straight once and for all: The fuel flow limit has nothing whatsoever to do with saving fuel. It is a way to control engine power, just like the cylinder capacity limits and RPM limits.

        In a NatAsp (non-turbo) engine, the RPM and cylinder capacity define the amount of air going into an engine which, in turn, define the amount of fuel going in and the amount of power produced. In a turbo, you can cram as much air as you want in using stupidly high boost pressures. The fuel flow limit could have been accomplished using a boost limit or a mass airflow limit, but the fuel flow is easier and more accurate to monitor and control.

        If we get rid of the fuel flow limit, we may as well get rid of the RPM and capacity limits. It is there for the exact same reason.

        1. I know, I know; its just annoying that’s all. I tried to explain the current technical rules to a buddy who doesn’t watch F1 anymore. By the time I got to DRS, he stopped me and said that this was why he can’t watch anymore(and his wife hates racing!), because between the hybrid engines, DRS, tire allocation rules, etc, it just wasn’t racing to him anymore, and I get that.

          I get that the manufacturers wanted a formula that made their investment relevant to the cars they actually produce, and the hybrids must provide some sort of schooling of the engineering for today’s modern engines. I’m sure that they are all learning new things that will someday make cars be more efficient.

          What I don’t like is not being able to fill the car with as much fuel as I would like to lug around and use it as I see fit. Set displacement, boost, and RPM, and thats it. Its just too much I think.

        2. @drmouse I know about fuel flow limits, all I said is that they are regulated now and you have to stick to them. In the old days the manufacturers could tinkle with it to find their sweet spot, some would use more fuel than others. But now there’s a limit and it’s part of the game.

          1. @fer-no65, the thing is, in the past there was still effectively similar restrictions – they were, as @drmouse notes, effectively limits on the mass airflow (by restricting the size and shape of the air intakes) instead.

            Even then, there were also other indirect restrictions on the fuel system – for example, restrictions on the rupture strength of the fuel hoses indirectly restricted the maximum pressure of the fuel system, in turn placing an indirect restriction on fuel flow rates. In some ways, what CareyPatrick is complaining about feels more like a complaint that what had been an implicit rule is now explicit.

  8. Thanks for such an elaborate article! it explains a lot…

    I do wonder how Haas managed to go beyond the limit. There was a VSC period, that should’ve help them! A big mistake from team and driver, assuming he has all the tools available to monitor the fuel consumption. But it’s short sighted to look beyond themselves for reasons to this DSQ! blaming the rules seems to be Haas motto these days.

    1. Haas thought that Magnussen would be caught by the leaders, and therefore hat to run one lap less

      1. Very good point. That does make the most sense – they allowed Kevin to run his engine harder on that assumption, which turned out to be flawed.

        @fer-no65 – see above, for what seems to be the most reasonable explanation of how this happened

        1. Also Magnussen was in a sandwich between Ocon and Perez which also made it difficult to fuel safe as Magnussen could not pass Ocon but Perez was often within DRS at the same time so Magnussen had to defend. I guess you in such circumstances cross your fingers instead of giving up a place to Perez.

    2. @ Fer no 65, I’m pretty sure they are aware they screwed up their calculations internally and will be trying to avoid it in the future – it’s just so obvious to them they don’t even need to talk about it – but the rules are still a case of misplaced “green energy bio-sustainable veggie’-intentions impeding the sport unnecessarily for little or no gain, and this was a relevant moment to voice their opinions about it.
      Replace the diesel trucks with Tesla Semi’s and remove the racing restrictions and the sport would be less about admin and more about racing, while the environmental effect would be something genuine.

      1. It’s about progress in technology, not being green per se.

  9. It is a paradox that Magnussen used too much fuel (100 g equal to less than 100 meters) primarily due to trying too overtake Ocon who was disqualified due to an infringement on lap 1. Had Ocon been disqualified during the race then Magnussen proabably would not have spent too much fuel as Ocon then had not been a factor in the race

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