The present and future of fuel in Formula 1

The present and future of fuel in Formula 1

F1 Fuel Main image - USGP

Much of the visceral nature of Formula 1 is down to the fact that the sport continues to utilise combustion engines to predominantly propel its cars forward.

Since 2014, F1 has combined this petrol power with the aid of an electrified hybrid setup, but as of yet, there are no plans at all to go fully electric – phew!

A core reason behind this is F1’s on-going mandate to be at the pinnacle in motorsport, and being able to find sustainable ways to fuel its cars but still be a spectacle is a key priority.

So what do F1 cars currently get fuelled with, and what are the inner workings of their combustion element? Let’s find out more.

What fuel do F1 cars use?

Following on from two initial iterations, F1 currently uses a type of biofuel called E-10 Fuel – the ‘E’ stands for ethanol, with ‘10’ referring to the percentage in the mixture, meaning the mix is 90% fuel and 10% ethanol.

The advances in the area of biofuels are going some way towards helping lessen F1’s larger impact on the environment, and the ethanol used in the current biofuel mix is 100% sustainable.

In terms of an octane rating, F1 fuel has a stipulation to not stray too far from the typical fuel we add to our own cars, and so is 87-octane fuel.

How much fuel does an F1 car hold?

In their current guise, F1 cars can hold up to 110kg of race fuel (around 240lbs) – whether all of this capacity is utilised or not is another question…

On tracks where the chance of a safety car is high, or on tight street circuits such as Monaco, F1 teams may make a calculated risk and underfill the tanks of their cars. 

Although there hasn’t been refuelling in F1 since 2010, with weight (or lack thereof) being such a powerful weapon in maximising speed on track, many would argue it’s a risk worth taking.

The fuel tank itself is found between the driver and the engine, and needs to be flexible yet strong, and so is made out of military-grade Kevlar to limit penetration to its contents as much as humanly possible, but also fit into the car’s tight design.

Fuel in F1 - USGP Austin

What is an F1 car’s fuel economy?

If you were to consider that a current F1 turbocharged engine is only 1600cc in capacity, and is aided by a high-performing hybrid system, you’d be forgiven for thinking an F1 car gets quite a bit of mileage to a tank.

However, due to the truly high-performance nature of the powertrain, an F1 car effectively gets between 6-7mpg – this may sound pretty poor, but with all things considered, F1 powertrains are hugely efficient devices.

What’s the future of fuel in F1?

The brains behind F1’s fuel revolution – including Chief Technical Officer Pat Symonds – are looking to have implemented 100% sustainable fuel by 2026. Additionally, this so-called ‘drop-in’ fuel would hopefully be able to be utilised by road cars the world round.

The current E-10 is the first major step, with comprehensive research continually looking to build on this as F1 looks to 2026 and its new engine regulations that will hopefully attract – and keep – more manufacturers in the sport.

The idea is for the fuel to be unique and lab-created, and will largely be known as ‘E fuel’, something the likes of Porsche is spending plenty of funding developing on its own time.

This E fuel would be completely carbon neutral, with F1 cars not adding to the environment’s carbon emissions when in action.

With large nations such as the UK stopping the sale of combustion vehicles from 2030 in a shift to electric, E fuel could serve as a potential and powerful alternative if such innovation can easily make its way to the consumer and the two billion cars on our roads.