Jean Todt claims that his sanction on the Ferrari Formula 1 team isn’t just a proverbial slap on the wrist, but includes a “substantial contribution for alternative fuels” – but is that really new, or indeed a punishment?
In the press release issued just minutes before the end of the 2020 Formula 1 winter tests, the FIA had specified that it had concluded its investigation into the Ferrari 2019 power unit,
In it, Todt confirmed that the FIA had reached an agreement with the Italian team, but it was covered by the confidentiality clause.
The final part of the document spoke of an unspecified commitment by Maranello’s men to the FIA’s research into carbon emissions and sustainable fuels.
Federal President Jean Todt recently returned to the subject in an interview with Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport in which he was asked to answer a very specific question from Michael Schmidt:
“Part of the sanction spoke of a contribution to research into alternative fuels. Many consider it a symbolic sanction, just a tiny ‘peanut’ or a drop in the ocean for a giant like Ferrari. Is it really peanuts?”. Todt strongly rejected the suggestion: “No, it’s a substantial contribution”.
But here lies the question, is that actually a punishment, or really a gift?
Aside from the current Covid-19 pandemic crisis, Formula 1 was to be set on a trajectory of dramatic development and change that would see a focus on engines and specifically fuels in an attempt to bring ‘green’ credentials.
Currently, the fuel used by Formula 1 is ‘conventional’, as in it’s mostly made from the traditional sources, namely oil.
The FIA is significantly invested in switching to alternative fuels, whether they are produced entirely in the laboratory or from biomass in an attempt to be completely CO2-neutral. It’s only real hope to keep the public image in check, and perhaps keeping manufacturers interested in the sport.
Currently, the only fuel company researching this fully synthetic fuel is Shell, a long term partner of Ferrari. This research has a significant monetary contribution by Ferrari, set to increase due to the 2019 Power Unit sanctions.
When engine expert Mario Illien was interviewed by Auto Motor und Sport last month, the Swiss man warned of a potential arms race in this area. If synthetic fuel would be fully adopted, the combustion part of the current or future power units would be the main area of performance gain.
“Synthetic gasoline would require an adaptation of the combustion process. The good thing about this is that in the lab you can bend the fuel to the way you need for optimal combustion.” says Illien,
“In theory, these fuels could be made more anti-knock, which would allow for more efficient combustion. We could even eliminate some components that are in conventional gasoline that do more harm than good, specifically Sulphur”
Then Illien warns: “The specification would have to be the same for everyone. If everyone is allowed to tailor their fuel, there will be an arms race that will really cost money and get out of hand.”
Much like when Mercedes started their hybrid engine development ahead of everyone else back in 2009, could this moment be a similar watershed period? The irony of the FIA ‘punishment’ being the icing on the cake.