When it comes to Formula 1, advanced engineering and cutting-edge technology are the top priorities. This is why Formula 1 cars are considered the best of their kind—there is no other car that is as well-designed and well-engineered.
Boasting its cutting-edge technology, you’d think Formula 1 cars have everything. And there’s one recurring question by fans, old and new alike—Are Formula 1 cars electric or petrol powered?
Let us save you time by answering that question right now, right here: Formula 1 cars are petrol-powered and they will be at least for the next few years.
Why are Formula 1 cars not electric?
Car manufacturers—from Audi to Volvo—are starting to go all-electric as preparation for the future. But why not bring this technology to Formula 1? Let us try to explain why through simple science.
In Formula 1, a race distance is about 200 miles. The amount of energy it takes to complete a Grand Prix that long is just not something an electric-powered battery can manage to produce.
Per race, Formula 1 cars are given 242.5 pounds of fuel. At gasoline’s usual energy density of 12,889 Wh/kg, a full tank’s potential energy is brought up to a hair over 1,400 kWh.
However, Formula 1 cars are designed to only convert just over 50 per cent of potential energy into horsepower. This means the amount of propulsion actually generated by the engine is just around 700kWh. And with the energy recovery systems of Formula 1 cars, an additional 1.11 kWh per lap is contributed. With this, the total energy expenditure over a race distance is only somewhere around 750kWh.
Of course, not every joule of that 750 kWh has to be stored onboard a hypothetical electric-powered race car. In order for cars to reach the finish line, regenerative braking also plays an important role. However, the energy it contributes is only a small fraction of the energy needed to finish a race. According to estimates, only as little as four per cent can be contributed by a superbike’s regenerative braking in a race. This figure can only reach up to 20 to 25 per cent by an electric-powered race car. Additionally, Formula 1’s drag-heavy aero generates almost 1 g of deceleration at high speeds, reducing these digits.
Considering a Formula 1 car’s mean race weight of 1,942 pounds, storing enough energy in a battery to complete one Grand Prix—with no recharging in between—is just not possible.
It is estimated that lithium-ion batteries can deliver up to 265 Wh/kg of energy. That’s hardly 48th the density of gasoline. A lithium-ion battery weighing 5,200 pounds would also be needed. Imagine racing with a battery that heavy around a track at the speed of a Formula 1 car for an entire Grand Prix. In numbers, it will require 1,674 kWh of energy.
What about allowing recharges in between races? In the current way Formula 1 is doing things, charging fast enough isn’t possible. Battery replacements are also out of the question as well as car swapping.
To summarize, if Formula 1 can solve this energy generation problem posed by full-electric cars which will allow a Formula 1 car to run a full race with no sweat at all, we might be able to see batteries takeover the circuits. But as of today, this is just not possible.
What kind of engine do Formula 1 cars use?
All Formula 1 cars are equipped with the same specification power unit: A 1.6 litre four-stroke turbocharged 90 degree V6 reciprocating engine.
The F1 power unit is divided into four parts:
- The MGU-H (Motor Generator Unit – Heat – recovers energy from the turbo)
- The MGU-K (Motor Generator Unit – Kinetic – recovers energy from the rear axle)
- The Internal Combustion engine
- The turbo
Last season, drivers could use three of each of the above four parts. If they used more, they were penalized.
Additionally, each power unit is equipped with an Energy Recovery System which harvests extra heat energy from the brakes and exhaust of the cars.
Following the FIA‘s engine freeze, the 2022 Formula 1 cars will keep the same specifications as the 2021 cars, with one change: The Motor Generator Unit-Heat (MGU-H) system will be removed from the 2022 Formula 1 engines. The Motor Generator Unit-Kinetic (MGU-K) will overcome this problem by being more powerful, and by relying more on the driver and allowing them to use it strategically throughout a race.
This takes us to the next question…
What fuel do Formula 1 cars use?
What kind of fuel powers these units?
Formula 1 cars use a controlled mixture of ordinary gasoline. Under current regulations, cars run on fuel containing 5.75% bio-components. The 2022 season will see the bio-component ratio at 10%. This is possible by moving to E10 fuel—a mixture of 90% fossil fuel and 10% ethanol.
Despite the fact that Formula 1 cars can use 110 kilograms of fuel per race (305km/190 miles), they do not always fill up with that much fuel. This is due to the fact that the heavier a car starts with, the more time it costs per lap.
To allow drivers to push more of the time, Formula 1 cars are now allowed to use 110 kilograms of fuel per race since 2019. With today’s aerodynamics, cars are creating more downforce and resulting in increased drag, which is increasing fuel consumption across the grid and causing drivers to use lift-and-coast to reach the end of the race.
What are the fuel testing rules for Formula 1?
Many still view high fuel consumption as a good thing, because it indicates that a vehicle is being driven to its limits. But with the current era of hybrid technology increasing efficiency, opting for clean energy and racing for sustainability, the face of motorsport is evolving quite dramatically.
To ensure an even playground for all teams competing in races, much like the designs of Formula 1 cars, the fuel use is also strictly regulated.
You may remember one of the biggest disappoints of the most recent Formula 1 season—when Sebastian Vettel was disqualified after placing second in August. Why the disqualification? Vettel failed to provide enough fuel samples.
Formula 1 strict fuel rules state that “competitors must ensure that a 1.0-litre sample of fuel may be taken at any time during the event.” This is because running less fuel can increase performance.
Analyzing and checking that sample for compliance with the relevant standards and rules is then possible. The sample is also compared to the sample provided from the beginning of the year to ensure that the composition is the same.
Gas chromatography is used to analyze fuels, which separates them into their various components.
Do Formula 1 cars refuel?
Formula 1 cars haven’t been allowed to refuel since 2010. To reduce costs and improve safety, the FIA decided to ban them. Currently, the cars are given full tanks to start the race. Fuel management is crucial so that the drivers will not run out of fuel before crossing the finish line.
Yes, it is true that refuelling added more ways to strategize and made the sport more thrilling but FIA decided it was not worth it to sacrifice the safety of drivers and mechanics due to some accidents that used to be part of the game.
What is the 2022 engine freeze?
A development freeze essentially prevents further engine development during a specific time frame. All engine manufacturers in Formula 1 will be prevented from developing their engines as a result of this.
Formula 1 currently has four engine manufacturers: Mercedes, Honda (at least until Red Bull takes over in 2022), Renault, and Ferrari.
Following the graceful exit of Honda from the Formula 1 scene, Red Bull has been compelled to announce plans to take over the intellectual property of the Japanese manufacturer’s power unit. However, the company has repeatedly stated that they cannot continue to update the engine each season due to the high costs involved.
Hence, Red Bull’s put forward a proposal for an engine freeze beginning 2022 and which shall last until 2025.
Initially, Ferrari and Renault were among those who opposed this proposal. Nevertheless, as the proposal gained traction, all the teams came around to the idea. The proposal was finally adopted on February 11.
As a result, 2022 Formula 1 cars will feature the same engines as the 2021 cars due to the implementation of the 2022 Formula 1 regulations.
Conclusion: Are Formula 1 cars electric?
While it is not entirely impossible for a future with only batteries on the racetracks, it seems we are still a long way away from fully-electric Formula 1 cars. Of course, this transition will divide fans but knowing how these motorsports evolve over time, we’re pretty sure all-electric Formula One will eventually gain fans’ acceptance.
Are you in favour of Formula 1 going fully electric in the future? Let us know in the comments below…