Formula 1 targets net zero with new engine design and ‘fully sustainable’ fuels but questions remain about its sustainability strategy. Rivalry with Formula E highlights the challenges it faces.
F1 is changing the design of the engines used in its cars, incorporating more electrical power, and using only fully sustainable fuels. The move is also expected to bring costs down by banning the use of expensive materials, and using less fuel.
A commitment to becoming net-zero carbon by 2030, its wider sustainability strategy includes a pledge to make its events sustainable by 2025, and increase interaction with local communities where it stages its events.
F1 expects its innovations to benefit the sustainability goals of the wider global transport sector, similar to its development of hybrid power units, light-weight materials and energy management systems.
Formula 1 (F1) has approved a new engine design for 2026 which uses more electrical rather than hybrid power, and will also use ‘fully sustainable fuels’, in a bid to become more environmentally friendly and sustainable. F1 has also committed to being net-zero carbon by 2030 as part of its wider sustainability strategy.
As a high-profile sport, F1 is having to innovate the way its cars are built and run to comply with demands on high emitting industries to reduce their carbon footprint. The next generation of F1 cars will use a new engine with a larger electrical component, and it also plans to use sustainable fuels to reduce its carbon footprint.
The new engine is expected to still provide over 1,000 horsepower, similar to the current engines, and may even be louder. Shifting from a maximum mass flow rate to a maximum energy flow rate, the 2026 cars will require just 70 kg fuel, as opposed to 100 kg needed in 2020, and 160 kg in 2013, implying increased fuel efficiency as well.
While these innovations are aimed at improving the environmental profile of F1 racing, it will increase the challenge for drivers by making the cars harder to control on corner exits.
Formula 1 track record of innovations won’t hide scant sustainability goals
F1 sees its role in society as more than just the premier auto racing and sporting event – it believes its innovations also benefit the wider global transport and mobility industry. It cites the development of hybrid car engines, the use of light-weight materials in cars, and developments in vehicle energy management systems as past examples of this.
Similarly, it sees the new design 2026 changes benefiting the advancement of low-carbon fuels, electrical batteries and autonomous vehicle technology.
But the advanced synthetic fuels being proposed by F1 requires a chemical conversion process by either carbon capture or non-food biomass. As with sustainable aviation fuel, this would make the fuel extremely costly, and the processes involved would need a lot of renewable energy to justify the targeted carbon footprint.
Among its sustainability goals, the F1 aims to improve diversity in its sport by 2025, yet it is the only major auto racing format that has not had a female driver since the 1950s.
By contrast, Formula E announced its first female driver in June 2022, while the US-based IndyCar Series has had eight women drivers since the turn of the century.
Formula E closer to driving the future of sustainable mobility
Formula E was founded with the purpose of counteracting climate change, and claims to be the world’s first sport certified net zero carbon since inception. It is the first sport in the world to join the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and the Business Ambition Pledge for 1.5°C commitment. It targets a further 45% reduction in emissions by 2030.
In addition, it has also reduced tyre allocation by 25%, and has ensured the recycling of damaged chassis parts since its first season. Through its FIA grassroots programme Girls on Track, Formula E has hosted over 1,500 girls on race sites.
Formula 1 can attribute its popularity to an attraction to speed and power, and has had many innovations that have helped the transport and mobility industries improve the efficiency and emissions of their products.
However, as long as it remains dependent on internal combustion engines, a key differentiator with Formula E, its ability to drive sustainability in transport will be limited.