Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Formula 1 give green light to ‘drop-in’ fuel

Posted on 14 October 2021 by Will Rogan

Last week, Formula 1 announced the use of a new ‘drop-in fuel,’ to be used from 2025 to further their commitment to becoming Carbon Net Zero by 2030.

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Environmentally sustainable electric vehicles are at the forefront of motoring innovation. Formula E now has an exclusive FIA licence until at least 2039 to run full electric motors and the new Extreme E rally series is bringing the ecological responsibility of motorsport to the fore.

To keep up with the times and maintain its accolade as the pinnacle of motorsport, it is essential that Formula 1 changes its behaviour to become more sustainable. The announcement of a new fuel is part of their project to achieve this. In a statement on their official website, they said:

‘This 100% sustainable ‘drop-in fuel’ – meaning it can be used in a standard internal combustion engine without any modification to the engine itself – will be laboratory-created, using components that come from either a carbon capture scheme, municipal waste or non-food biomass, while achieving greenhouse gas emissions savings relative to fossil-derived petrol of at least 65%.’

The 2022 season will see F1 move to E10 fuel, a mixture of 10% ethanol and 90% fossil fuel. A new generation of F1 engines will be put in place in 2025, and the aim is to develop a 100% sustainable fuel. There are also plans to make the fuel generally available to consumers worldwide. Heavy transport, shipping and aviation are all in need of a different solution, according to the statement.

Inside the paddock, the mood surrounding the new fuel source is cheerful. McLaren F1 mechanic Mike Naylor had this to say:

‘I definitely think the new fuel planned for 2025 will work as planned. F1 is the pinnacle of automotive engineering so to be able to produce a sustainable fuel with the same performance is a huge step in the right direction to becoming carbon neutral by 2030.’

When asked if he thinks F1 will maintain its position at the forefront of motorsport, Naylor said: ‘Absolutely, the manufacturers are pushing the boundaries of technology in F1 to try and gain as much performance as possible with the intent to transfer the technology to road vehicles. This makes it very difficult for other motorsport organisations to try [and] compete with F1 because they don’t have the same resources [or] budgets available to them.’

Formula 1’s self-awareness of its own place in the industry is evident. This only increases the impetus and pressure for the brand to work toward environmentally worthy causes using their considerable platform, technological capabilities, and investment power.

The reaction of fans and those outside the garages is also important to note. Tom Bellingham, founder and content manager of WTF1, a fan channel with over 800,000 followers on Instagram, had this to say: ‘It could be seen as hypocritical from the outside that a sport which essentially race cars driving round in circles around the world wants to help with the environment, but it is simply something they have to do for the sport to survive and I think it’s a very good thing to be doing.

‘F1 has been responsible for a lot of the biggest innovations in the automotive industry so I have no doubt they’ll be able to make a difference. 100% sustainable fuel will be a challenge but it’s something they have to achieve not just to help the planet but for the sport itself to survive.’

Almost simultaneously with the announcement of the new fuel initiative, it was confirmed last week that the first scheme recommended by the Hamilton Commission will be implemented. The Commission’s objectives were to investigate the lack of black representation in British motorsport and was written in light of 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests around the world.

The scheme is designed to recruit more Black teachers for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) subjects in disadvantaged areas. Further schemes recommended by the report will be implemented in due course. The key question is though, how well Formula 1 will be able to follow the World Champion’s example.

Social change and environmental awareness can be cagey topics for a sport as traditionally elitist as F1 to engage openly with. The favourite sport of the world’s yachting playboys in Monaco has a lot to do to turn around public opinions on its accessibility as a truly global sport.

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Hamilton remains the only Black driver to ever have driven an F1 car in a competitive race, though the launch of the #WeRaceAsOne initiative shows a commitment to promoting diversity. The effort on the fuel front, it must be said, is admirable from a sport that is facing down the barrel of its own obsolescence in a world whose environmental consciousness is increasing every day.

The challenge for them now is to maintain this conviction or risk becoming completely defunct. The burgeoning Extreme E series championed by Hamilton seeks to use its rally stages to draw attention to worldwide habitats at highest risk from climate change and has gained significant investment and traction in its nascent season.

Hamilton himself is a proud vegan and very environmentally aware – he posts stories of global disasters and human stories connected to climate change to his Instagram following of over 24 million people. He is also a vocal supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, attending protests in London in June last year.

Although the implementation of a new fuel type is a good step in the right direction, it was somewhat disappointing to read that it is simply their ‘aim’ rather than a promise. Are Formula 1 able to afford to simply ‘aim’ to becoming Net Zero Carbon by 2030? Can they continue their globetrotting oil-guzzling worldwide circus whilst sticking to their environmental ‘aims’? A brand with as much power and influence in a sport that relies on significant financial clout can surely do more, and they must be continually held to account. Their commitment must be total, viable, and constantly in touch with shifting dynamics.

The socially aware Lewis Hamilton will no doubt continue to press on with important social issues of this kind even after his retirement, and F1 would do well to follow their favourite son as closely as possible. He is already a global icon, but F1 is at risk of being outstripped by him completely. This is a danger that the motorsport industry cannot afford, lest it be left behind for a greener world.

Will Rogan

Co-written with Vicki Merrick