Formula 1 boss Ross Brawn says hydrogen could be the future fuel
Hydrogen-powered cars could be the future of Formula 1, according to F1 Motorsport General Manager Ross Brawn.
He says sustainability is now a central goal for sport, which has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2030.
The engineer behind Michael Schumacher’s seven world titles has ruled out a switch to fully electric vehicles.
“Maybe hydrogen is the path Formula 1 can take where we keep the noise, we keep the emotion but we move on to a different solution,” Brawn told the BBC.
Rising F1 star Lando Norris is also skeptical of bringing fully electric cars into Formula 1. You just don’t get the same buzz from electric cars, he says.
The British driver, who finished third in the Austrian Grand Prix this month, fears the switch to electric will take much of the atmosphere away from the sport.
“What I love about Formula 1 and the racing cars we drive is the sound and the feeling you get from it,” he says. “That’s what makes him so cool and special and why fans love him.”
Formula 1 has one of the most ambitious sustainability agendas of any major sport and in 2019 it announced its plan to achieve net zero by 2030 with goals including:
- Net zero impact of racing cars
- Ultra-efficient and low / zero carbon logistics and travel
- Offices, facilities and factories supplied with 100% renewable energy
- High quality Co2 compensation and sequestration programs
The sport has taken steps to reduce the number of people and merchandise moving between racing venues and has lightened its roving media operations.
Brawn says teams have reduced the number of people attending races by a third, from around 3,000 to 2,000.
F1 has also significantly reduced the personnel involved in the overseas media operation. Media feeds from all races are now produced and broadcast from the sports headquarters in Biggin Hill, Kent.
But Formula 1 has been criticized by environmentalists because much of its effort depends on offsetting – fundraising activities that cut emissions elsewhere to match the greenhouse gases the sport produces.
Brawn recognizes that as the world’s most prestigious motorsport tournament, Formula 1 can play an important role in changing fans’ attitudes towards sustainability and climate change.
But he says F1 has no plans to move away from hybrid engines that combine internal combustion and electric engines during this phase of the sport’s evolution.
“If you’re lecturing in an empty room, you’re not getting a message out,” Brawn says. “You have to engage the fans and the reason they come is that they want to see great cars, great drivers fighting.”
Many countries, including the UK, have set deadlines within the next two decades for phasing out the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles, but Formula 1 is not making any such commitments.
“We’ve got an hour and a half race, we’ve got 1,000 horsepower cars, we’re the pinnacle of motorsport. You can’t get this shot without fossil fuels,” Brawn adds.
He points out that the high-tech turbo hybrid powertrains used to power Formula 1 cars since 2014 are among the most efficient ever designed in terms of the percentage of fuel energy converted to horsepower – a metric known as efficiency. thermal.
F1 engines have a thermal efficiency of around 50%, while gasoline engines for road cars are generally in the order of 30%.
For now, sport will focus on developing synthetic fuels that use carbon captured in the air, agricultural waste or biomass.
Formula 1 rules already require that the gasoline used in F1 contains at least 10% biofuel and this proportion is likely to increase.
But environmentalists say that because synthetic fuels and biofuels still produce carbon dioxide, they continue to cause global warming and therefore cannot be a long-term solution.
In October, Honda, which supplies engines to the Red Bull team whose current championship lead driver Max Verstappen, announced it would retire from F1 at the end of this year to focus its engineering on the technology. carbon free.
F1 can’t be a dinosaur
Replacing carbon-based fuels will be a huge challenge for Formula 1, Brawn acknowledges.
He says the sport will always be about speed and acceleration in 90-minute races and doesn’t think EVs will be able to deliver the performance it demands for decades, if ever.
“We do not want [drivers] looking at the power saving modes and trying to make the battery last long enough to get to the end of the race or save the battery so that in the last five laps they can really go. Fans don’t seem to like that. ”
This is why, concludes Brawn, “there is no electrical solution today”.
However, he acknowledges that F1 faces increasing pressure from drivers, F1 teams, manufacturers and fans to raise its level of sustainability.
“We cannot have a sport that is considered a dinosaur and quirky. We will always take that into account,” Brawn said.
He says young drivers are much more involved in the subject than they would have been in the past.
Seven-time British world champion Lewis Hamilton has spoken on environmental issues, as has four-time German champion Sebastian Vettel.
Norris is impressed that established pilots like Hamilton and Vettel have used their platform to advocate for environmental and other causes.
“This is definitely something that I will be paying more and more attention to in the years to come,” he says.
Zak Brown, general manager of Norris’ McLaren team, confirmed that there is “a lot of talk going on in Formula 1” about durability but, like Brawn, he believes cars capable of 220 mph or more are an essential part of the sport.
“We have always been a technological leader, whether it is safety from Formula 1 or carbon fiber materials, how are we going to make our engines the most sustainable vehicles,” he said. he told the BBC.
McLaren pledged to go carbon neutral in 2011 and Brown says there is a lot of interest in the potential of hydrogen among Formula 1 teams.
“The challenge we have is making sure it’s safe and can produce the amount of energy needed to be able to do the lap times we’re doing, and the hydrogen is really on the table.”
Both men say they want to harness Formula 1’s proven ability to spur cutting-edge innovation to deliver sustainable solutions for the sport.
But they also point out that emissions from racing car engines are only a tiny fraction of the sport’s total emissions.
F1 estimates that 0.7% of the sport’s emissions come from the racing cars themselves, while almost half come from the logistics caravan that transports equipment and personnel to races, of which a record 23 is planned this season.
But Brawn has categorically ruled out reducing the number of races to reduce emissions.
He says bringing the races to countries around the world is part of what makes the championship great, but he recognizes that there is also a financial imperative.
“At the end of the day, we’re a business,” Brawn says. “We have to generate income for this to work, and obviously the more races we have, the more profitable it is.”