Formula 1’s Sustainable Fuel Solution

Category: Blog, Finans, Impact Investing Date: 27 April 2023

Formula 1 has long been trying to attract automotive giants to the sport in order to be financially sustainable and to boost its own brand. The aim has been to facilitate the entry of new automotive brands into the sport, with restrictions on on-track testing by teams to reduce costs and on budgets from 2021 onwards, so that the research and development of vehicles is carried out mainly through computer simulations in factories. 

Another radical change to attract automotive giants came in 2014 with the transition to hybrid vehicles. In order to maintain its role as the pioneer of innovation in the automotive industry, Formula 1 has moved away from internal combustion engines and introduced an obligation to add turbo and electric components to the regulations. With all these innovations, emissions directly from vehicles have been significantly reduced.

Click here to read the blog post on Formula 1’s “net zero” target, the operations that cause emissions within the organisation and the measures taken in these areas.



In the modern hybrid Formula 1 cars, electricity is generated in two ways. Firstly, the heat released from braking is collected and secondly, the heat from exhaust gases is used to turn a turbine and pressurise the engine. This second system, which keeps the turbine revving even when the drivers are not pressing the accelerator, has helped the power units used in F1 to reach unprecedentedly high thermal efficiency values, but unfortunately it has not been a highly popular innovation. This is not only because it is incredibly expensive to equip vehicles with this technology, but also because it is not an innovation that can be applied easily to the cars we use in daily life, which is an obstacle to attracting giant car brands into F1. As a matter of fact, shortly after the decision was made that this component would not be used from 2026, Audi announced that it would enter the sport as an engine manufacturer.

However, even if electricity-generating components are added to the regulations and the ratio of their performance in the engine is increased, it is not legally possible for Formula 1 to switch to fully electric vehicles until at least 2039. The Formula E racing series, founded in 2014, has exclusive rights in this area for a long time.

On the other hand, although car manufacturers are in the process of switching to fully electric vehicles, the existing infrastructure in many areas is not yet ready for this transition. In 2030, it is estimated that there will be 1.8 billion vehicles on the roads, of which only 8 per cent will be electric vehicles.

There is also still room for improvement in electric transport. According to a study conducted by the Fuels Institute, the manufacturing process of electric vehicles generates twice as much carbon emissions as that of vehicles with internal combustion engines. 30 thousand kilometres need to be travelled in order to compensate for this difference. Add to this the fact that the technology that enabling heavy vehicles such as lorries, cargo ships and aircraft to operate with electricity is still under development, it seems that there is still a long time to go before electric vehicles are widely used.

Formula 1 management suggests that, at this stage, until electric vehicles become more widespread and the production process causes less carbon emissions, fuel-consuming vehicles will remain mainstream in the short and medium term. F1 is positioning itself to lead the automotive and transport sectors by making developments in the field of sustainable fuel due also to the legal restrictions they face. 


With the transition to the hybrid era, the amount of fuel consumed by the cars during the race has decreased from 160 kilograms to 100 kilograms, and the aim is to reduce this value to 75-80 kilograms in the coming years. Formula 1 management is taking steps on how these vehicles can have an impact in the big picture rather than reducing their emissions.

Biofuels are generally divided into three different classes. First-generation biofuels use crops such as maize grown for fuel production. This has negative implications, however, both in terms of ethics and impact. Not only do crops grown to be used in fuels take up land that could be cultivated to grow food and drive up the price of some staple foods, but the process of converting these crops into biofuels also generates an incredible amount of carbon emissions – so much so that there are studies showing that first-generation biofuels are more damaging than fossil fuels when the production processes are taken into account. Second-generation biofuels are produced from household waste, including food and forestry waste. Finally, third-generation biofuels include synthetic fuels produced in the laboratory.

It is aimed that the sustainable fuel developed within Formula 1 can be used in internal combustion engine vehicles without requiring any modifications. Since 2026, the cars that will switch to sustainable fuel produced in labs from 2026 onwards and, as part of this transition, have been using a mixture called E10 since 2022, which consists of 90 per cent fossil fuel and 10 per cent ethanol. The ethanol used in the blend utilises second-generation biofuels, which are derived from household, food or forestry waste.

David Bott, Head of Innovation at the Society of Chemical Industry, says that this amount does not make any difference in terms of emissions. In order to make use of this formula equally, you need to consume a larger quantity of it to make up for the difference in energy compared to fossil fuels. In fact, he states that a simple calculation reveals that these two factors cancel each other out. As for the “100% sustainable fuel” to be used from 2026 onwards, the general opinion is a little more positive, as it is predicted that greenhouse gas emissions will be 65% lower than fossil fuels.

With close to 2 billion vehicles in the world using fossil fuels, the idea of Formula 1 leading the research into a carbon neutral alternative to fossil fuels has incredible potential. That’s why the goal is not just to find a formula that can be used in high-performance Formula 1 or supercars, but one that can be used in the cars we see in everyday traffic, without the need to modify the engine. Pat Symonds, F1’s Chief Technology Officer, added that even though the aim is to develop a fuel with a higher octane rating than in daily use, they are aiming for a mix that is closer to the 95 octane petrol used in daily life than the special high-performance fuels currently used in racing.

If Formula 1 can successfully implement the roadmap it has drawn for itself in this regard, it could have an impact on an incredible scale. However, beyond the development of this formula, it is also important to set targets for the mainstream implementation of this sustainable fuel formula. Considering that biofuels contain less energy and have lower energy efficiency than fossil fuels, the cost of the new formula used should be at least at the same level compared to fossil fuels – and the costs of production processes, especially at the beginning of the supply chain, should be kept at a certain level. It is also important to measure how much of the development and mainstreaming processes of sustainable fuels can be attributed to the work of Formula 1 and how much progress could have been made in this area without Formula 1’s work.

While the ambitions of Formula 1 management in terms of sustainable fuels are ambitious and exciting, emissions from the cars’ power units account for less than one per cent of F1’s total emissions over a calendar year. Some of the decisions being made in other aspects of the organisation’s overall operation, from team factories to logistics, which produce far more emissions, raise questions about whether the ambitious “net zero by 2030” target can be achieved.


READ MORE: Formula 1’s “Net Zero” Target: Should We Approach with Caution?