At the end of December last year, The FIA delivered the first barrels of a brand new sustainable fuel to the manufacturers of Formula 1’s power units. The intention behind this was due to the fact that F1 is committed to becoming net zero carbon by 2030. There is no doubting that this is an ambitious environmental strategy plan aimed at reducing the environmental impact of motorsport. As such, Ferrari F1 boss Mattia Binotto says the switch to sustainable fuels “is a big deal”.
2022 has many an F1 fan excited due to the fact that new regulations intend to level the playing field and bring the grid closer together in terms of performance. However, a mere three years later, in 2025, an even greater change arrives with F1’s new power units running on 100% sustainable fuels. With so many big developments coming, motorsport.com spoke to Scuderia Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto to get his thoughts on the matter.
“It is certainly a big deal. It's essential for the roadmap of Formula One becoming sustainable,” Binotto remarked. “F1 has always been a platform of innovation, not only for performance, reliability, and technology, but it can be innovation for sustainability. Full-electric is not the only solution. We believe that there are other solutions like hybridization with fully sustainable fuels.
“In terms of the engine design, it will be quite a significant change in terms of know-how, I think there will be a lot to learn on fuels of a new generation, fuels that are not known well today in the environment of motorsports. We are introducing E10 fuel, 10% ethanol in 2022. But what we will obtain in the next five years is certainly a lot different from the first step of 10% ethanol. It's fun, because you've got the challenge, and it's a learning curve, but it’s innovation. The challenge is to get the most performance out of a fully sustainable product. The difficulty will be to try to be the best because it's a competitive environment and competition is all about relative advantages.”
Formula One is not a sport to stand still and rest on its laurels and it already drew its detractors when hybrids were introduced in 2014 and the roar of an F1 engine was considerably reduced. At this stage of development, a hybrid engine meant that F1 engines had become over 50% thermally efficient. This feat made a Formula One engine the highest thermally efficient engine in the world. Unfortunately though, for the majority of fans all they cared about was the sound of the engine. At this stage, we are reminded that F1 is innovation but also entertainment. Therefore, what other changes should fans prepare themselves for in 2025? According to Mattia Binotto, he doubts a typical racegoer would even recognize the development.
“I think it will not be visible from outside,” stated Binotto. “When moving from the V8 to the hybrid V6, the sound changed at the time. But if you look at the shape of the cars I don't think that for the fans it made a lot of change. And if you consider the power unit we've got today, hybrid, very high thermal efficiency, I don't think that the fans are fully aware of it, and I think it will be again down to us to explain and to emphasize the achievements on the sustainable fuels. So in terms of change, I think that for the technicians, the teams, for the power unit manufacturers, it will be a big change and a big challenge. But I don't think that it will be so visible to the fans.”
Jean Todt, FIA President, has previously spoken out on his intention for biofuel in F1:
“FIA takes its responsibility in leading motor sport and mobility into a low carbon future to reduce the environmental impacts of our activities and contribute to a greener planet. By developing fuel made from bio waste that can power Formula 1, we are taking a new step forward. With the support of the world’s leading energy companies, we can combine the best technological and environmental performance.”
Motorsport.com also spoke to Scuderia Ferrari’s F1 fuel partner István Kapitány, Shell’s Global Executive Vice president for mobility, to see how the role of F1 will impact the motor industry as a whole.
“Incredible advances in battery technologies were achieved in recent years,” Kapitány reaffirmed. “But liquid fuels have a greater energy density, giving us tremendous opportunity to produce high performance. That's one of the reasons why it is important for us that we work together with Ferrari.
“To get to a sustainable fuel, there are different kinds of ways. And Formula One is the right testbed for these kinds of activities. We are already producing second-generation ethanol in commercial quantity. It's not produced from the edible part of the sugarcane but from the agricultural leftover. We also have a patented solution called IH2 Technology, which is producing drops in quality fuels from agricultural or household waste. And we are no stranger to e-fuels, synthetic fuels, synthetic components, and also the power of liquids.
“Sustainable fuels represent another alternative to EVs. EV's are very good, and they're coming and they will be part of the portfolio. But we also need to be making sure that we are offering different solutions, a mosaic of solutions for our customers and that's the reason why we are so keen to work in this world.”
F1 has always had development of road car technology at the heart of all it does. Therefore, if F1 has its way the technology developed in the pinnacle of motorsport will soon find its way onto the forecourts. In doing so, this revolutionary technology will become implemented into the billions of cars already on the road around the world. To paraphrase the words of Mattia Binotto, such an outcome would certainly be a very big deal.