Formula 1 has the most efficient engines in the world. But they are too expensive, too complicated and not well marketed. With a new set of rules from 2026, everything should get better. The premier class builds a bridge for the established manufacturers and attracts new players.
The road car is changing. From the combustion engine to the electric car. But there are certain areas of application where electrification will be difficult or probably not possible at all. For example in the aircraft industry. With heavy batteries on board, an overseas plane cannot get off the ground. Top motorsport is also opposed to full electrification. Formula E threatens to wither in the shadow of the mightiest tree in the motorsport universe: Formula 1.
Audi and BMW are gone. Mercedes exits after the eighth season. The marketing value is way too low. The learning effect (with standard battery) too limited. Motorsport has to be seen, smelled and heard. Formula 1 is making itself too attractive not to join. Liberty Media has turned it into a business model. With a budget cap for the chassis and a coming one for the engines. Expenditures and income can be calculated precisely.
Formula 1 could not and cannot let the electric train pass it. Driven by politics, the entire auto industry is working toward this. Therefore, the new drive should be balanced: 350 kilowatts of electrical power (like Formula E from season 9), 350 kW from the combustion engine. That's 476 hp each, to stay with the familiar size. This will result in a larger battery and therefore more weight, even as technology advances. The 1.6-liter V6 turbo engine remains, but runs on 100 percent sustainable fuel.
Formula 1 versus football
"I think we are the only international sport that has taken a clear path towards the future. With an eye on sustainability," says F1 boss Stefano Domenicali. It has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030. For the 2019 season, Formula 1 put its emissions at a CO² equivalent of 256,551 tons. For comparison: According to FIFA, total emissions of almost 2.2 million tons of CO² were calculated for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
There's no point in pointing fingers at others. That's why Formula 1 itself is going on the offensive. With the introduction of a sustainable fuel. Some say it will be too late in 2026. But maybe it's smart to take one step at a time. Because this shot has to be right in order to be sustainable and not vulnerable. The future will show if the hesitant approach was the right one. In any case, the synthetic fuel should save 65 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
The production in the laboratory consumes a lot of energy.A general point of criticism is that it is therefore much more efficient to work with electric drives. Domenicali dislikes playing off techniques against each other. "These discussions take the approach of the war of religions. My mentality is different. We talk about the footprint. If we question that of today's electrification, it is better that I remain silent. We are taking a different course to try to find the right way to reduce emissions. I believe this technology is much more efficient in the short term."
There are more than a billion fossil fuel cars in the world. It certainly wouldn't be efficient to scrap them and swap them for new ones. One would have to calculate the emissions for such a "re-railing" alone. Many people could not even afford a new car. Or to put it another way: the combustion engine will be around for a long time. The highlight of F1 petrol: It should be compatible with road cars: stop, refuel, just stop with the artificial fuel.
Costs have to go down
With this strategy of e-offensive and e-fuels, Formula 1 is building a bridge for the manufacturers involved. It attracts new players like Porsche and Audi. Increased electrical power means increased learning effect. An existing fleet can be made cleaner with synthetic fuel – in markets where electromobility will not make a breakthrough in the foreseeable future.
Even if it has to be said that production facilities first have to be set up and the industry does not yet see a real business model in e- or bio-fuels. Only a small percentage could actually be cared for in the beginning. Sports car for example. On the other hand, e-charging stations must first be built across the board. And without green electricity, the e-car is useless.
The new drive is cheaper due to simpler technology, more standard parts and the elimination of the MGU-H. The unit price should fall from two to 1.3 million. The slimmed-down tech should make it easier for newcomers to quickly become competitive. That's the snag on the current engine regulations. Honda got in late and took years to get to the top level.
Active aerodynamics should reduce air resistance on straight lines - and thus consumption. A purely electric drive would obviously be the wrong approach for top motorsport. The energy storage devices cannot cope with rapid charging and discharging in this form. Long distances are out of the question for the foreseeable future. Formula 1 does not want to repeat one mistake: hiding its product. Everyone should see and understand why it is needed as a development laboratory - and as motorsport for the fans.