Could Motorsport Say Goodbye To Fossil Fuels?

Historically, almost all of the biggest motorsports in the world have relied heavily on fossil fuels to provide the speed, noise and action that an audience of millions have come to expect.

However, an interview with Ross Brawn, Managing Director for Motorsports for the Formula One Group, suggests that the unthinkable change away from fossil fuels not only might occur but is likely to occur this decade.

The main dilemma that remains, however, is determining which carbon-neutral solution would replace fossil fuels, and how that can match the other demands the motorsport world has in providing entertainment, spectacle and the most powerful cars in the world.

 

The Road To 2030

In November 2019, Formula One announced their plans to be carbon neutral in a decade, which would require every aspect of their business to be part of this plan.

Not only did the cars need to have a net-zero impact, but the huge logistics operation needed to avoid ruining the work set in designing efficient cars, as well as offices, surface grinding facilities, factories and other amenities being powered purely by renewable energy.

Even with ambitious goals such as these, if F1 plans to continue to use fossil fuels it has admitted that it would need to rely heavily on offsetting the carbon dioxide emitted from the cars.

Unlike consumer cars, which are set to phase out petrol and diesel engines in the UK by the same goal year of 2030, F1 has not pledged to get rid of fossil fuels.

In fact, Ross Brawn noted that the cars rely on fossil fuels to provide the 1000 horsepower turbo-hybrid engines that have been in the rules since 2014.

This, in effect, rules out the use of fully electric engines, which have been used to power F1’s sister series, the FIA Formula E championship.

Ross Brawn specifically noted that due to limits in range that have led to the rather odd and complicated rules in Formula E (a sport where at one point a driver needed to switch cars halfway through a race), electric vehicles are not viable and lack the spectacle of loud combustion engines.

Biofuels are a solution that F1 has been interested in for quite some time, with the 2022 rules requiring that all fuels used by teams be made up of at least 10 per cent biofuels.

Providing that the biomass used to make the fuel is sustainably grown and replanted and that the refining process does not use too much energy or cause too much pollution, biofuels can be sustainable.

There is also interest in moving to hydrogen fuel cells if the technology becomes feasible for an entire 90-minute race.

However, Ross Brawn did emphasise that decisions do need to be made to avoid F1, and motorsport in general, becoming a “dinosaur”.

This problem has been seen at several points in the past. Technologies that are standard issue on even entry-level cars, such as traction control, anti-lock brakes, stability management and active suspension, have been banned since 1993.

This has led to cars that are slower than they could be and no longer come close to resembling road-legal cars. This is a problem that has also been seen in other racing series such as NASCAR and DTM.

However, to reach their ambitious 2030 goals, F1 needs to be dramatic with the changes they make, and whilst they have tried to be gradual with changes to fuel and relied heavily on efficient engines, more drastic changes are expected to be required.

 

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