Refueling to return, faster laps to make F1 more attractive

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PARIS (AP) — In a bid to become more attractive and win back disgruntled fans, Formula One will reintroduce refueling in 2017 along with more aggressive-looking cars, louder engines, and faster lap times.

F1's strategy group — consisting of leading teams such as Ferrari and Mercedes, governing body FIA, and F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone — met to discuss the new measures this week.

Last weekend's Spanish Grand Prix highlighted some of the problems faced by the series: Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg won almost unchallenged from pole position, and Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel — Mercedes' main rival — crossed 45 seconds behind Rosberg, and 28 behind second-place Lewis Hamilton.

Refueling, in order to maintain a maximum race fuel allowance, was ditched five years ago.

Fans have also been unhappy at the quieter engines, which were implemented as part of the last set of rule changes before last season, because the aggressive roar of an engine is part of F1 folklore. Spectators will now hear "higher revving engines and increased noise" from 2017, the FIA said in a statement.

The design of the cars, considered somewhat too narrow, will also change to "a more aggressive look," and become faster.

Despite major advances in technology, lap times have dropped as drivers prioritize tire management over driving at full throttle. In order to increase the speed, cars will improve their aerodynamics with wider tires and less car weight, which the FIA hopes will lead to laps being "five to six seconds" quicker.

As from next year, teams will be allowed a free choice of the two dry tire compounds — out of four — that each can use during a race weekend, bringing with it an air of unpredictability and greater use of strategy.

Along with Ferrari and Mercedes, the four other teams at the meeting were McLaren — which has made its worst ever start to a season — Red Bull, Williams, and Force India. In order to increase input, engine manufacturers were also represented.

Red Bull and McLaren are having major issues with their engines this season.

Since rekindling its formerly successful partnership with Honda, McLaren has been riddled with reliability problems and has yet to score a point after five races.

Red Bull, the dominant force in F1 from 2010-13 when Vettel won four straight world championships, has fallen way off the pace. Both of its drivers, Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Daniil Kvyat of Russia, are already on their fourth engines. Each driver is allocated only four per season, then faces grid penalties if they use more.

Despite teams reaching a verbal agreement for a fifth engine at the Malaysian GP in March, the strategy group rejected the move on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the engine rules implemented last year, which introduced turbo hybrid engines and a fuel restriction, will remain stable for the time being, so as not to dissuade any new entrants and give them maximum visibility.

All changes still need approval by the F1 commission and the FIA's World Motor Sport Council before becoming official, which the FIA hopes will be "as soon as possible."

Cost reductions were also discussed, but this remains an ongoing and thorny issue, although the FIA is confident that "a comprehensive proposal to ensure the sustainability of the sport has emerged," and that strategy group members will discuss ideas with the other teams over the next few weeks.

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