F1 internal combustion engine 'far from dead'

LONDON • Carmakers and governments are calling time on the internal combustion engine as they switch to electric but Formula One sees plenty of life in it yet as the sport races towards a zero-carbon future.

Current grand prix cars use a highly efficient 1.6-litre V6 turbo hybrid power unit, a far cry from the gas-guzzling V12 and V10 monsters of old.

A new "powerful and emotive" one is due in 2025 to run 100 per cent on sustainable fuels and F1 hopes to set the specification by June.

"While many people might think the internal combustion engine is dead, I would argue it is far from dead," chief technical officer Pat Symonds told a Motorsport Industry Association conference.

"Sustainable fuels is our big push in Formula One and it's something I think we'll have to roll down into other formulas (too)."

The first samples of 100 per cent sustainable fuel, from second-generation biowaste, were delivered to F1's power unit suppliers in December for testing.

The current fuel has a 5.75 per cent biocomponent, increasing to 10 per cent sustainably sourced ethanol from next year.

F1 aims to achieve a net zero-carbon footprint by 2030 but the high-tech sport faces questions about its relevance in a world increasingly focused on clean energy and climate change.

Britain, with a flourishing motor racing industry and home to most of the 10 F1 teams, plans to ban the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars from 2030.

Formula E founder Alejandro Agag has suggested F1 will eventually have to merge with his all-electric series that began in 2014.

But others argue battery technology is not the solution for all forms of motor sport, even in the longer term. Combustion engines, quite possibly two-stroke, using fossil-free fuels could provide F1 the necessary performance and speed while also retaining the sound fans love and that electric racing lacks.

"We have a huge amount of history and tradition based around internal combustion and it's just not going to go away overnight. Nor do we want it to," said Iain Wight, business development director for Williams Advanced Engineering.

Former Audi Sport engine head Ulrich Baretzky also sees that hydrogen combustion engines are a future route for F1 as well as endurance races like Le Mans, which has plans for a hydrogen category in 2024.

"In 2025, we will (still) see combustion engines (at Le Mans), because the (fuel) energy density is unbeatable at the moment with any technology we know today," he said. "Five years later, I hope we will see a mix between hydrogen, combustion, fuel cell."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2021, with the headline 'F1 internal combustion engine 'far from dead''. Subscribe