Formula 1 is an ever-growing and developing sport. The series has taken huge strides in improving technologies used in road cars. Fuel efficiency development is no different, and it has led to many changes over the years in terms of the fuel capacity of Formula 1 cars.
A Formula 1 car’s fuel capacity is 110 kilograms, meaning an F1 fuel tank can carry around 30 gallons of fuel. This fuel load has to last the car for the full race which is 305km (190 miles). F1 fuel burns at a much faster rate than normal cars due to the higher performance level the engines run at.
Formula 1 has developed a number of technical innovations in order to improve fuel efficiency. From KERS to hybrid power, Formula 1 is constantly pushing technology to become better. Most of these technologies are also implemented directly into road cars.
How Do F1 Fuel Tanks Work?
F1 fuel tanks work using a variety of complex systems to ensure the fuel can always be sent to the engine as required, in spite of the high speeds and G-forces the car is under. The fuel tank is made up of various different sections to ensure the engine always receives an adequate amount of fuel.
F1 car fuel tanks are really a large system of pipes, pumps and tubes through which fuel flows through the engine. With performance being the aim of the game in Formula 1, the fuel tanks need to work under extreme conditions and at varying fuel levels. This means the fuel tanks are designed with both the safety of the driver and the performance of the car in mind.
What Are F1 Fuel Tanks Made From?
F1 fuel tanks are made from military-grade Kevlar, which is an extremely strong material, reinforced with rubber. The fuel cells used in F1 cars are designed to withstand high G-forces, while also being puncture-proof in the event of an accident. This helps prevent fires breaking out.
How Big Is An F1 Car’s Fuel Tank?
An F1 car’s fuel tank is about 30 gallons, and it can hold up to 110 kilograms of fuel for a race. The fuel tank of an F1 car has changed in size many times over the years, most significantly in 2010 when refueling was banned and again in 2014 when the hybrid system was introduced.
No More Refueling
F1 cars do not refuel because the rules forbid teams from refilling their cars during a race. Refuelling was banned from F1 in 2010, and so teams must fill their cars with enough fuel to last the full 190-mile race, while leaving at least 1 litre behind for sample testing after the race.
With refueling during races being banned after the 2009 season, Formula 1 teams have had to develop their engines to become much more fuel efficient. They can no longer burn as much fuel as they like in order to go faster.
It has become a challenge both for engineers and drivers to get their cars from the start of the race all the way to the end without running out of fuel. Everything needs to be carefully calculated, and the engine performance needs to be monitored properly in order to stay fast enough to remain competitive.
How Far Can An F1 Car Go On A Full Tank?
An F1 car can go about 190 miles (305 km) on a full tank of fuel at race speeds. This is the length of a normal F1 race, and while teams may not fill the tank all the way to save weight, because an F1 car gets low mileage at such high speeds, they couldn’t go much further without going slower.
The minimum distance of a Formula 1 race is 305 kilometers, or 190 miles (excluding the shortest race at Monaco). This might not seem all that far for a car to go, however keep in mind these cars are driving on the limit which consumes the fuel at a much faster rate. They are also designed specifically to go just that distance and not much further.
Formula 1 cars are built to the bare minimum of what they are required to do. This is why they carry 110kg at most, with them taking on even less for qualifying laps to keep the car as light as possible. For example, building a bigger fuel tank for your car would make your car slower. It would become heavier, and there is no need to put extra fuel into the car which would slow it down.
Different Engine Modes
Instead, Formula 1 teams have very clever systems on their cars. The engine modes can be controlled from the cockpit of the car as well as the pit wall. If the car is running low on fuel, the engine can be turned down so that it uses less fuel but will not be performing at such a high level.
It’s very rare for a Formula 1 car to not complete a race due to running out of fuel. Everything is calculated perfectly. Normally teams will start with 2 extra laps of fuel onboard. This is to allow for a possible safety car situation or an extra formation lap.
This also allows them to run the engine at a higher performance level later in the race if they need to catch up to a car in front to overtake. This engine mode system has made its way into road legal cars quite a while ago and has become extremely common to find in modern day cars.
The Fuel Efficiency Of Formula 1 Cars
Small But Mighty
Formula 1 have been at the forefront of improving the efficiency of cars. The days of racing with huge V12, V10, or even V8 engines are gone. Formula 1 cars now have turbocharged V6 engines that sometimes manage to produce over 1000 horsepower.
The current crop of Formula 1 cars produces more power while using less fuel than any other car. The hybrid power unit has been designed as a part of a new sustainable outlook for Formula 1. They also use sustainable fuels and energy recovery systems to make the cars more efficient.
Formula 1 has not only developed the engine to become more efficient, but they have also trialed and implemented various new technologies such as the KERS system. The KERS, or Kinetic Energy Recovery System has also been used in road cars to improve their engine efficiency and power output.
KERS started off as a small battery in the car. The battery is charged by using the kinetic energy generated while the car is braking. The driver can then choose where to use the extra power at the press of a button.
KERS was first used in Formula 1 in 2009 and was not widely accepted at first. However, the technology quickly gained a lot of traction, and eventually the battery could provide a power boost of up to 180 horsepower per lap.
Since its introduction into the sport, the KERS system has developed to become more powerful, more efficient and more durable. The system is still in use today with a stronger battery. The battery still charges under braking, with a red light flashing at the back of the car to show that the battery is harvesting energy.
A Lap Of Extra Power
The battery can then deploy energy for a full lap depending on its charging state and the amount of power it has in it. In previous years, the battery could only deploy energy for around 10 seconds per lap. This helps to push up the power output of the seemingly small engines on modern Formula 1 cars.
The 2020 Mercedes F1 engine is 50% thermally efficient. Your typical road car has a thermal efficiency of around 30%. Thermal efficiency is the ratio of work done by the engine compared to the heat supplied to it. In other words, it is the percentage of heat energy in a combustion engine that is transformed into power (or its working rate).
What Fuel Does An F1 Car Use?
F1 cars use E10 fuel, which is a mix of 90% regular (albeit specially formulated) petrol or gasoline and 10% ethanol. F1 plans to move to 100% sustainable fuel in 2026, when the new engine regulations are brought into effect. The fuel F1 cars use isn’t that different to the fuel found in road cars.
Relevance To The Real World
The key to all of these innovations in the sport is to remain relevant to the real world. As mentioned previously, all of the technologies tested and used in Formula 1 are implemented into real world road cars.
Mercedes-Benz for example are now using a form of the KERS device in some of their newer road cars. They, along with others such as Renault, are using their hybrid technology from Formula 1 in their road cars very successfully.
Formula 1 plans to become carbon neutral by the year 2030. This means that both the cars, and the forms of travel (transporting cars, crew and drivers) will have a net carbon footprint of exactly zero percent.
More Efficient Than A Plane
This in itself is a massive challenge. However, it’s not impossible. A full 20 race season of Formula 1 (with 20 cars) uses the same amount of fuel as a Boeing 747 flight across the Atlantic. This proves that these cars are already super-efficient in their fuel usage.
By the year 2030, we are going to see cars with incredible technology, fuel efficiency, and energy recovery systems. Formula 1 will continue to push the limits of technology, not only for the world of motorsport, but also for our everyday lives.
Looking To The Future
As technology in Formula 1 develops, so will the tech that we get in our everyday road cars. The future is exciting, and we are going to see some big changes in the motorsport sphere as well as the automotive industry as a whole.
Formula 1 has been the ultimate engineer’s playground for many years. In recent years they have focused on making the cars more fuel efficient without increasing the fuel capacity of the car (remaining at 110kg).
This is all in line with the 2030 net-zero carbon footprint plan laid out by the Formula 1 Management team and the FIA. The plan is to develop even more efficient cars and to work on more energy recovery systems and become more sustainable.