The FIA has set Formula One on a path to achieve net zero carbon emissions by the year 2030. The full details of the plan are sketchy and the final push will surely see the sport resort to planting a gazillion trees in a carbon offset programme which many believe is not truly ‘net zero’.
The 2022 regulations saw F1 switch fuels to one now E10 based with a 10% ethanol mix that produces less carbon dioxide.
F1 hybrid future questionable
Formula One committed to a hybrid future back in 2009 with the introduction the V6 1.6l turbo hybrids being introduced in 2014. This decision was the FIA’s first steps to the big sustainability targets now set for the sport, but their big idea for F1 was somewhat hijacked in 2014 as Formula E was launched with fully electric racing cars.
Many environmentalists question the green credentials of hybrid automotive technology given at present it is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels one way or another.
Another significant change is planned for F1 in 2026 which will push the sustainability envelope even further. The cars will deploy 50% of their power from electrical charge and the fuel utilised will be 100% sustainable.
Lighter more nimble F1 cars
The manufacturers signed up are well under way with the design of the new power units and whilst on board with the FIA’s push for sustainability, ex-F1 racer Karun Chandhok believes there’s a better way of going about the green agenda.
The Indian F1 presenter responded to a video of an Ayrton Senna qualifying lap at Silverstone in 1991 on social media with his view of a different Formula One future.
Chandhok questions the wisdom of building ever bigger and heavier vehicles to accommodate huge batteries as an approach to reducing carbon emissions.
Automotive hybrid technology is in fact the worst of all worlds given the vehicle has to accommodate the dimensions and weight of the internal combustion engine together with the electrical motors and energy storage units too.
Hamilton believes F1 going in wrong direction
Karun observes of the Senna video, “This kills the theory that ‘older shaky onboard cameras make the cars look faster’.
“Regulation weight for these cars was 505kg without driver so probably 575 versus 798kg now. Modern cars are much bigger in size. Smaller, more agile cars just look faster.”
Lewis Hamilton also believes the ever increasing dimensions and growing weight of the modern Formula One cars is just wrong.
“I don’t understand why we’re going heavier,” he said. “I don’t understand particularly why we go heavier when there’s all this talk about being more sustainable – just as the sport is going in that direction,” Hamilton told motorsport.com in 2021.
Hybrid less energy efficient
“By going heavier and heavier and heavier, you’re using more and more energy. So that feels that’s not necessarily in the right direction or in the thought process.”
Hamilton has driven a number of the classic F1 cars during his career and is consistently impressed with the way the cars handle and their speed in the low speed corners.
“The lighter cars were more nimble, were nowhere near as big, naturally, and so racing, manoeuvring the car, was better,” he said.
“On the tracks we’re going to, they’re getting wider. In Baku it’s quite wide in places and of course it’s narrow in other places.
Chandhok calls on FIA to ditch hybrids
“Monaco was always relatively impossible to pass, but now the cars are so big that it’s too big for the track. And, as I said, as we get heavier and heavier, that’s more energy we’ve got to dissipate – bigger brakes, more brake dust, more fuel to get you to the locations. So, I don’t fully understand it.”
Karun Chandhok is calling on the FIA to rethink its long term strategy for Formula One. The green agenda is great in that it has encouraged blue chip corporate sponsorship for whom climate change is an issue for their shareholders.
“As I’ve said on several occasions – I think it’s time for F1 to ditch the hybrids with the heavy batteries. Light cars with V10s screaming on sustainable fuels would be brilliant.
F1 point of differentiation disappeared
“Le Mans is pushing hybrids, FE is doing Electric, F1 can lead development in sustainable fuels.” But he went on to acknowledge: “Sadly, the manufacturers will never let it happen!”
The glimmer of hope on the horizon for F1 is the ongoing development of hydrogen power. As this technology becomes more automotive friendly it could prove to be the point of differentiation Formula One can make when compared to competing racing series.
But for now Formula One is committed to at least a decade of cumbersome hybrid powered cars, with a glimmer of hope one day the modern behemoths can be replaced with smaller more nimble machines.