Despite being the sport producing some of the highest emissions possible, in a world focused on sustainability at its forefront, Formula One (F1) has unveiled plans to become carbon-neutral by 2030. As part of this, one of F1’s aims are to achieve fully sustainable fuel by 2026. Pat Symonds, Chief Technical Officer for F1, has explained the thought process behind this and how it will reduce the sport’s carbon footprint, calling it “the new revolution.”
Since 2021 E10 petrol has become the new standard grade at all petrol pumps; a combination of 90% fossil fuels and 10% ethanol. This carbon-efficient fuel (producing 2 to 5% lower CO2 emissions than regular, unleaded petrol) has also become the one powering F1 cars since last season. Even this in itself has proven to be a challenge, as explained by Shell’s Motorsport Delivery Manager, Dr Valeria Loreti; who explains that while blending ethanol may seem like a simple enough feat for most cars, “how it behaves in an F1 power unit has been a very long journey of learnings.”
It seems inevitable that the transition from the current E10 fuel to fully sustainable fuel within the next 3 years will be a complicated one as well. To achieve this, F1 teams are aiming to create a drop-in fuel. In essence, this is a synthetic substitute for conventional petroleum-derived hydrocarbons such as gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) has in place quite strict regulations in regard to fuel content. Hence it will also be necessary for F1 to change their hybrid engine regulations and specifications from 2026 if teams are to introduce vehicles which are primarily powered by an electric powertrain.
The challenge posed by this type of manufacturing are great, but the benefits to arise from the transition towards fully sustainable fuels will undoubtedly be worthwhile if F1 truly seeks to become a cleaner and more sustainable sport. Maintaining the road transferability needed for F1 with a new type of drop-in fuel could prove risky for the sport’s image. But despite the enormity of the task at hand, Symonds has confirmed that F1 are “on target” to achieve it by their goal of 2026.
Perhaps controversially, however, F1’s cousin series F2 and F3 have been a sort of test bed for this new type of sustainable drop-in fuel. Years ahead of F1, these two series have just recently run with 55% bio-sourced fuel from the beginning of the current season in March 2023. They aim to have 100% fully sustainable fuel from 2027, just a year later than F1’s target. During pre-season testing, F2 and F3 drivers completed over 8000 laps while running on the new 55% sustainable fuel, proving its efficiency as the future of motorsport fuel.
With clear targets, methods, and careful planning, it seems that F1 and its sister series are right on track to reach their ambitious goals of achieving carbon-neutrality by 2030. Thereby demonstrating that motorsport does have a place in the sustainability race.