Revolutionizing Formula One: The Rise of Renewable Fuels

Feb 19, 2024By Niall Maher
Niall Maher

Formula 1 racing has long been synonymous with speed, cutting-edge technology, and high-performance vehicles. However, in recent years, the sport has been undergoing a significant transformation towards sustainability and environmental consciousness.

F1's governing body, the FIA Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile has set ambitious targets of operating as a carbon neutral championship by 2030, and one of the steps it is taking to achieve that is introducing fully-sustainable fuel in 2026.

I was up early on a very cold morning in New Mexico to ride my motorcycle back toward home (Phoenix). The sun started coming up so I stopped to get some warmth and was captivated by these eerie looking radio telescopes. The dawn light gave me just the feeling I was experiencing at the time. I spent about an hour there making images in that soft side light. Warmer, I hopped on the cruiser and headed out. It was still cold though… dang.

The change in Formula 1 (F1) Engine specifications from V10 to V8 and then to V6 was driven by a combination of factors related to technological advancements, sustainability, cost control, and a desire to align with road-relevant technologies.

Here's an overview of the main reasons for these changes:

1. Cost Control and Sustainability: V10 and V12 engines were powerful and produced an exhilarating sound, but they were also expensive to develop, produce, and maintain. F1's governing body, the FIA aimed to reduce costs to make the sport more sustainable and appealing to teams and manufacturers

 2. Environmental Concerns and Efficiency: In the early 2000s, concerns about environmental impact and the finite nature of fossil fuels grew globally. F1, as a high-profile motorsport, felt pressure to be more environmentally responsible and showcase the use of more efficient and sustainable technologies.

 3. Road-Relevance and Hybrid Technology: The automotive industry was transitioning towards hybrid and energy-efficient technologies. By introducing V6 hybrid turbocharged engines, F1 sought to align with this trend and demonstrate the applicability of hybrid power units in high-performance racing cars, which could be transferred to road cars.

 4. Technological Advancements: V6 Hybrid Engines with Energy Recovery Systems (ERS) are highly sophisticated and technologically advanced, allowing for improved efficiency, energy recovery during braking, and more strategic racing due to the management of electrical power.

 5. Power Unit Efficiency and Integration: V6 Hybrid power units are more efficient in terms of power output and fuel consumption. The turbocharged V6 engines produce comparable or even greater power than the older V10 engines while using less fuel.

 6. Challenges and Complexity: The move to V6 hybrid engines introduced new challenges, such as managing hybrid systems, energy recovery, and thermal efficiency. This complexity increased the level of skill required by the teams, showcasing engineering prowess.

 7. Attracting Manufacturers: The switch to V6 hybrid engines aimed to attract more engine manufacturers to F1, as the technology was more aligned with their road car development strategies, making the sport appealing to a broader range of automotive companies.

8. Attracting Corporate Sponsors: Having a green and renewable engine is far more attractive to Big brands. Corporates are sensitive about being perceived as irresponsible and don't want to be associated with a sport that is negligent towards the environment. 


So what about biofuels which are derived from organic matter such as plants, algae, or waste materials. These fuels offer a cleaner and more sustainable alternative to traditional fossil fuels.

The Benefits of Renewable Fuels in Formula One

There are several compelling reasons why Formula One is embracing renewable fuels:

  • Environmental Impact: By using renewable fuels, Formula One teams can significantly reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to a cleaner environment.
  • Technological Innovation: Developing and optimizing renewable fuel technologies can drive innovation in the automotive industry and beyond.
  • Sustainability: With the global focus on sustainability and climate change, using renewable fuels aligns Formula One with current environmental goals.

One of the key initiatives driving the adoption of renewable fuels in Formula One is the FIA's commitment to sustainability. for example, the French F4 Championship became the first single-seater competition to use biofuel using 100% renewable components for the entire season.

The biofuel formula used by the French F4 allows a saving of more than 70% in greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels.
While the transition to renewable fuels presents numerous benefits, there are also challenges that Formula One teams must overcome. From the development of new V10 engine technologies to the logistics of sourcing and producing biofuels at scale, there are various hurdles to navigate. 

Code on computer monitor

Challenges and Opportunities

First let's focus on the opportunities:

1. Enhanced Sound and Spectacle

V10 engines are renowned for their distinctive sound and raw power, which can enhance the overall spectacle and experience of F1 races. The roar of a V10 engine can create an electrifying atmosphere for fans and add an extra layer of excitement to the sport.

2. Technical Innovation

The reintroduction of V10 engines would provide an opportunity for teams and manufacturers to showcase their technical prowess and innovation. Developing high-performance engines that run on renewable biofuels could lead to advancements in sustainable automotive technology that can be applied beyond the racetrack.

3. Environmental Sustainability

Utilizing renewable biofuels in V10 engines could significantly reduce the carbon footprint of F1 and contribute to the overall sustainability goals of the sport. Biofuels derived from organic sources have the potential to lower greenhouse gas emissions and promote a more eco-friendly image for F1.

4. Marketing and Branding

Embracing renewable biofuels and V10 engines could be a powerful marketing tool for F1 teams and sponsors. Highlighting the use of sustainable technology can attract environmentally conscious fans and partners, enhancing the brand image of the sport.

Code on a laptop screen

Obviously the prospect of bringing back V10 engines in Formula One with renewable biofuels presents both exciting opportunities. While the allure of raw power and environmental sustainability is appealing, the sport must also navigate the complexities of cost, regulation, and technical innovation to ensure a successful transition.

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Let explore some of the challenges Formula 1 might face:

1. Cost and Investment

Developing and implementing V10 engines that run on renewable biofuels would require significant investment from teams and manufacturers. The cost of research, development, and production could be a barrier for smaller teams and may lead to disparities in performance based on budget constraints.

2. Regulation and Compliance

F1 operates under strict regulations and guidelines set by the FIA. Introducing V10 engines with renewable biofuels would require thorough testing and approval to ensure compliance with safety and performance standards, which could delay the implementation process.

3. Technical Challenges

V10 engines are known for their complexity and demanding maintenance requirements. Adapting these engines to run on renewable biofuels may pose technical challenges related to fuel efficiency, power delivery, and engine reliability. Teams would need to invest in research and development to optimize performance while meeting sustainability goals.

4. Fan Reaction

The reintroduction of V10 engines could divide fans, with some nostalgic for the iconic sound and performance of the past, while others prefer the current hybrid power units for their efficiency and relevance to road car technology. Balancing fan preferences and attracting new audiences will be crucial in shaping the future direction of F1.

I was up early on a very cold morning in New Mexico to ride my motorcycle back toward home (Phoenix). The sun started coming up so I stopped to get some warmth and was captivated by these eerie looking radio telescopes. The dawn light gave me just the feeling I was experiencing at the time. I spent about an hour there making images in that soft side light. Warmer, I hopped on the cruiser and headed out. It was still cold though… dang.

However, these challenges also bring opportunities for innovation and collaboration within the industry. By working together to overcome obstacles and drive progress in sustainable racing, Formula One teams can set new standards for performance, efficiency, and environmental responsibility.


In conclusion, the rise of renewable fuels in Formula One represents a significant step towards a more sustainable and environmentally conscious future for the sport. The transition from V10 to V8 and then to V6 engines in F1 was driven by a mix of environmental concerns, technological advancements, cost control, sustainability, road relevance, and a desire to attract more manufacturers to the sport.

With a commitment to innovation and a focus on reducing emissions, Formula One can revolutionizing the way we think about high-speed racing and setting new benchmarks for sustainability in motorsport.
Of course, it’s key to note that race car emissions account for less than 1% of F1’s total emissions. F1 officials believe the development of biofuels could help reduce the impact of the circuit’s travel logistics—all the trucks, ships, airplanes and more, which account for two-thirds of the circuit’s carbon footprint.
Whether F1 embraces the roar of the V10 once again remains to be seen, but the conversation surrounding sustainability and performance in motorsport is sure to continue evolving.  Perhaps the topic is best summed by Four-time World Drivers’ Champion Sebastian Vettel who tested carbon neutral fuel in his Williams FW14B F1 car at the Silverstone Circuit. "If F1 can be a platform to develop these sustainable fuels, make them more potent and drive the cost down in the making, then that will be a great purpose for Formula One,”
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