While automakers around the world are investing heavily in electric vehicles, Formula 1 is not ignoring the huge benefits that can be gained globally by pioneering the use of carbon-neutral, plug-in fuel to help power the world’s two billion internal combustion engines that will continue to drive on the roads for decades to come.
But while F1’s new engine and fuel rules for 2026 are something that the sport’s bosses are excited about, there are those who don’t understand why it will take so long to make the change.
Sebastian Vettel, who has been very active on environmental issues in recent years, said in a lengthy interview last year that he would like to see F1 racing adopt sustainable fuels as soon as possible.
“We have an engine for next year [in reference to 2022] and we are going to have a content of only 10% of electronic fuels in the single-seater, which from a technological point of view is not a revolution,” he declared then. Vettel.
“As a customer, you can already buy that fuel at gas stations for several years around the world. So it’s not new.”
“I don’t think it’s in line with the kind of ambition Formula 1 has to be a technology leader. So we’re really just reacting, rather than being proactive and leading the change.”
He went on to explain that waiting until 2026 to introduce sustainable fuels meant “another five years of no progress”.
“I think that will put enormous pressure on our sport, because I think in those five years there will be a lot of changes that I hope will apply all over the world, and that will put pressure on those who have not applied any changes.”
But despite what the Aston Martin driver thinks on the matter, and the fact that other FIA championships, the WRC and WTCR, have already switched to sustainable fuel, F1 sticks to its plan to wait. until 2026.
The reason is not that he does not see how important the change would be, but rather that it is based on reasons of fairness among the current participants.
Given that F1 is such a competitive arena, and that individual manufacturers have spent hundreds of millions on their current engines to work in perfect harmony with their oil and fuel suppliers, curbing all that now by introducing an entirely new fuel could upset the things unfairly.
Making an instant switch to a sustainable fuel will likely affect different engine manufacturers differently, leaving some winners and losers.
And for those who lost performance, considering we’re in a period of engine freeze, it would have been three years of guaranteed suffering before we could do anything different for 2026.
F1 is clear that it wants to give all current teams and engine manufacturers the same opportunity to get the most out of the new fuel, so waiting until 2026, when the new engine regulations come into force, makes much more sense.
In addition, Formula 1 will test the switch to fully sustainable fuels in Formula 2 and Formula 3 next year, helping the series and its oil partner Aramco better understand its impact. It will be a good base to make sure that everything will work when they finally make the change.
F1’s general manager of motorsports, Ross Brawn , told Motorsport.com: “I think when you introduce a fuel, you’re never sure what impact it’s going to have on different engines.”
“That’s why we’re holding back in F1, to tell the teams and the engine manufacturers that when we introduce the new power units for 2026, it will be on sustainable fuel.”
“It means there will be no advantage or loss for a driver compared to the engines we currently have. It would be unfair to introduce a sustainable fuel now because the characteristics are a bit different, and F1 is always at one extreme of technology.
“It is possible that with a sustainable fuel someone has less potential than others. But with the new engines, everyone will start from the same base and so they will worry much less about that aspect.”
Brawn admits that the technology around sustainable fuels, especially synthetically created ones, is evolving rapidly and what seems cutting-edge today may not be so in a few years.
That’s why he thinks it’s essential that F1 and the FIA be flexible to ensure that whatever comes in 2026 works for manufacturers and meets the goal of driving knowledge.
He considers that it is very valuable to start with Formula 2 and Formula 3 to understand the impact of sustainable fuels in high-level cars.
“Fuel regulations have developed and fuel regulations will have to reflect technologies that are evolving quite rapidly in the next few years,” he said.
“I think with Aramco, working with F1 and with the FIA, testing it in F2 and F3 will be a laboratory to make sure the rules are fair. If there is any challenge or any difference from the starting point, or if they start to evolve, it may be reflected in the regulations”.
“Until these fuels start to be used in a racing environment, that’s not going to happen. So it’s a perfect proving ground to test these fuels and make sure we have the right regulations for when we’re going full throttle in the F1”.
Brawn is also aware that in an environment as ultra-competitive as Formula 1, rival oil companies are not trying to undermine the good intentions of the sport with bogus ideas that only serve their own sporting interests.
“I think what benefits us from Aramco is that it gives us real, proper knowledge,” added Brawn.
“That way, when someone comes to us with a complex solution claiming it’s the only way to do it, we know if it’s true or not.”
“F1 teams will always be looking for a competitive advantage, and the FIA will have to make sure that is controlled and that any technology that evolves is fair and available to all entrants.”
“We’re especially sensitive about making sure there isn’t a single technology that’s only available to one oil company, because that won’t encourage all companies to put in the effort and resources to match it.”
One thing that Brawn is absolutely clear about is that the benefits of sustainable fuel in F1 will be far-reaching, and that is exactly why new car manufacturers like Audi have jumped on the bandwagon.
“We believe that it is one of the solutions to the environmental challenge,” he said.
“We’ve mentioned it several times, but there are 2 billion internal combustion engines on the roads. They’re not going to go away.”
“But if we get a carbon-neutral plug-in fuel and start distributing it all over the world, we’ll have a solution for today’s engines and also, frankly, a solution for places where the infrastructure for electric cars doesn’t exist and isn’t available.” will build in a few years”.
“We are championing an alternative technology. And I think the equipment and engine manufacturers see the value in it and that’s why they are happy in F1.”