Sustainable Motorsport Round-Up for July 26, 2021 Part 2 – The Future of Formula 1 Engines, Small Steps and more

This week’s Sustainable Motorsport Round-Up is a continuation from Part 1 last week in that I just had too much material for one installment and I did not want to wait until a few weeks to get it all out so let’s get started!

Formula 1 and their next engine in 2025 and beyond

Sustainable Motorsport Round-Up for July 26, 2021 - Part 2, the Future of Formula 1 Engines and more

Debate has started in earnest about what the next Formula 1 engine should be for 2025 (or is that 2026?). Formula 1 has already committed to run hybrids with 100% sustainable fuels by then, a reasonable move considering how the manufacturers involved are in major transitions with regards to their propulsion plans but what should that engine resemble? And should manufacturers determine the future of Formula 1? These are the hard questions being debated now.

I don’t think that Totto Wolfe of Mercedes and Christian Horner of Red Bull disagree on the bigger picture of sustainability in F1 but more on the details. All agree that the next generation of F1 engine should be less complicated, less expensive, more sustainable and more “emotive.” Does this mean an increase of the electrical element as Wolfe has stated? Or should the emphasis be more on the ICE part of the hybrid calculation as Horner has argued?

Increasing the electrical component would fit more with the direction that manufactures are pursuing but as Mario Ilien argues, why should F1 be beholden to them at all? As I mentioned in last week’s Sustainable Motorsport Round-Up, there are legislative moves to restrict the sales of ICE-based cars starting in 2030 but as many manufacturers have argued, the future is not necessarily an exclusively electric one. Mercedes admitted as such when they talked about their recently announced electrification plans that would be rolled out “where market conditions permit” which is arguably a realistic proposition as not all markets will be able to transition to electric at the same time. Not only that but not all markets, such as agricultural machinery, freight transportation, shipping and aviation would be ready to transition to an electrical future until some major breakthroughs in battery technology occur. Regardless, the current trend is towards full electrification, a trend that may not be in Formula 1’s best interests.

It is clear that the 2025 engine will in a lot of ways be a place-holder solution since the changes that are occurring in the automotive market are developing so rapidly that by 2030, the landscape will have changed completely. So for 2025 the options are:

  • Keep the same basic hybrid engine but using 100% sustainable fuel, eliminating the MGU-H and increasing battery regeneration or some other technical way of increasing the electrification component of the engine and/or battery. This could possibly entice VW and others to get involved, perhaps even to the point of VW buying the new Red Bull Powertrain operation. Even if the manufacturers move to a 100% EV powertrain for some markets, they could use F1 for its immense marketing potential, much like the approach of Alfa Romeo with their recent re-signing with Sauber. This is most likely what will happen, especially if VW indicate they want to get involved.
  • Ditch the electrification component and run an ICE fueled by 100% sustainable fuel. While this would be a highly doubtful move, it would allow F1 to engage with independent engine builders and tuners again with manufacturer participation welcomed but not required. According to Mario Illien, the engines could theoretically be loud, open to various technical designs and would be less expensive to develop since the technology is well understood and the sustainable fuels would essentially be a drop in replacement for the current fuel. It would also take care of the power requirements needed to run an F1 car at top speed for the duration of a Grand Prix, something an electric motor currently can not do. Additionally, without a battery it could allow teams to reduce the weight of an F1 car. And what about the cost of and availability of sustainable fuel? While this would divorce F1 from the need to be “road relevant”, how many independent manufacturers on the list below would be able to produce a competitive engine and ensure all the teams have access to one?
    • Cosworth
    • Gibson
    • AER
    • Mechachrome
    • Mugen
    • Ilmor
    • Judd Power
    • Zytek
    • AVL
    • Spiess
  • Open up the engine to any and all technology subject to some basic input and output requirements much like they do in sportscars. Theoretically this would allow F1 to become an R&D lab for manufacturers with the best technology winning out in the end. The problem of course is the cost. Nobody wants to embark on a massive engine development spend only to find out that you are hopelessly noncompetitive requiring the manufacturer to either begin again or worse, withdraw from the sport completely.

What about 2030? There are some that feel that hydrogen could be the savior of the internal combustion engine. Ross Brawn has mentioned that hydrogen might just be F1’s long term sustainability solution arguing that fully electric could not feasibly power an F1 car while allowing F1 to retain its “noise and emotion” but it is nowhere near ready technologically. While it is difficult to predict what will happen in the future with such rapidly changing developments in battery and hydrogen technology, he is wise to hedge his bets and there are rumors that the FIA has some big hydrogen-related news to come. Toyota are huge proponents of hydrogen power and the ACO supports the introduction of a hydrogen category to Le Mans for 2024 but it is early days yet. That being said, we have 9 years for the technology to progress to the point where it could be considered feasible. And if you are wondering what a hydrogen-powered car sounds like, have a listen to this:

Ultimately, I agree with Illien in that Formula 1 needs to be sustainable but how they achieve that should not be dictated by the manufacturers who have completely different needs to F1. There is also the argument that the FIA itself should not be dictating how F1 achieves its sustainability goals but I will leave that to another discussion.

The next few years will be fascinating to watch as F1 will be forced to ask and answer some very serious questions as to what they want to be. Do they want to be “road relevant” (a dubious term if there ever was one) or do they want to be a loud, exciting sporting spectacle that is also green?

Formula E News

Sustainable Motorsport Round-Up for July 26, 2021 - Part 2, the Future of Formula 1 Engines and more

As Formula E prepares for the transition to its Gen 3 car, another manufacturer has committed to the series as Jaguar have announced that they are all in. Michael Andretti has also signaled that they are 100% committed despite BMW’s withdrawal at the end of this season. I believe that only leaves Mercedes as the last to commit with many believing that their concerns center around the marketing of the series as well as the budgets to race, something that the FIA is keen to address.

The organizers are also keen to grow the footprint of the series as their return to Canada has proven but they are also looking to make small but interesting changes to the trackside experience. While a sustainable bar may seem frivolous in some ways, this is exactly the kind of move that the fans in the stands will identify with. Small steps by many people always result in big changes collectively.

Formula E has also announced a partnership with The Climate Group whose first initiative is EV100, a “leading transportation initiative bringing together companies committed to making electric transport the new normal by 2030. Based on new data from the Climate Group’s RouteZero report “Fleets first,” fleets globally can cut three billion tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2030, similar to the annual emissions of India, the world’s third highest emitter.”

In driver news, FE driver Lucas Di Grasi argues Why the time is right for an electric junior series while André Lotterer recently talked about electric race cars and mechanical watches over at Watchonista.

Other Series News

Sustainable Motorsport Round-Up for July 26, 2021 - Part 2, the Future of Formula 1 Engines and more

When Audi announced their decision to leave Formula E it raised a lot of eyebrows, especially with the corresponding announcement that their sustainable initiatives would be centered on the Dakar Rally Raid. This week they previewed their new RS Q e-tron electric-powered Dakar challenger and it looks like it is quite the beast, electric or not!

Over in Exterme E, Nico Rosberg’s Rosberg XE team has partnered with the UN on a climate initiative called the Sports for Climate Action Framework which “works to promote greater environmental responsibility via education and communication.”

Also in Extreme E, The World’s Most Extreme Battery charts the journey of Williams Advanced Engineering and Extreme E to create the battery that powers the series’ Odyssey 21 off-road race cars.

More Sustainable Motorsport News

  • It looks like a lot needs to be done at race tracks around the world to increase their sustainability according to a recently released report. While at first this may be discouraging, tracks like Circuit de Catalunya, Circuit Paul Ricard and Mugello have shown what can be accomplished and it is early days yet.
  • Almost all modern racing cars are constructed of carbon-fiber, an extremely strong and extremely expensive material. The company Bcomp is developing a sustainable carbon-fiber alternative that is already attracting the interest of Porsche Motorsport and McLaren Racing.
  • The debate over Formula 1’s new sprint qualifying race (or not a race) has had many debating its pros and cons but Lewis Hamilton feels that it would allow F1 to move to a more sustainable 2-day race weekend. Whether the track promoters will agree is of course a major sticking point.
  • Check out this insane electric motorcycle which has a giant hole running through it so that it can reach 250 MPH!
  • I talked a lot about hydrogen in this post. As the Olympics is in full swing while I write this, this is the part that hydrogen has played in powering Tokyo’s Olympic Games.

Small Steps

Sustainable Motorsport Round-Up for July 26, 2021 - Part 2, the Future of Formula 1 Engines and more

As I mentioned above, small steps taken by many people can result in big changes, something that we all need to keep in mind when we are criticizing things like F1’s anti-plastic stance. Yes, there are sponsors and businesses involved in F1 whose impact on the environment are harmful at one end of the scale and outright destructive at the other. That extreme where on the one hand you are doing good and on the other hand you are involved with partners that may not be singing from the same songbook can to a cynic make you question “why bother.” In my opinion, it should not prevent you from starting the conversation with these partners on the one hand while doing something concrete on the other. The hope is that your actions will resonate with your partners and inspire them to follow suit.

Sebastian Vettel staying behind to clean up the trash at the recent British Grand Prix in the bigger picture will not change much, but by setting a positive example he may very well encourage and inspire others to take a small step to sustainability. As J.R.R. Tolkien said “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”

Mark Boudreau
Author: Mark Boudreau

Mark is the publisher of Motorsport Prospects. As a former lawyer, he applies his legal background to assist race drivers in finding the resources they need to make their motorsport careers happen.