Formula 1 is considered the pinnacle of motorsport. The cars and the technology used to build and run them are highly advanced, and this includes everything from the nuts and bolts to the more complex aerodynamic components. It even means the kind of fuel F1 cars use is highly advanced.
F1 cars use fuel that is very similar to the fuel you would put in any road car at an average gas station. It is specifically regulated this way, to be roughly equivalent to a premium road fuel with a high octane number. For 2022 to 2025, the fuel is an E10 blend containing 10% sustainable ethanol.
But it’s not quite that straightforward, as there are many nuances that teams and their fuel partners exploit to try to gain an edge on the competition. Below, we discuss how different regulations affect the use of fuel in F1, and go through the fuel used by F1 cars in more detail.
What Kind Of Fuel Do Formula 1 Cars Use?
Formula 1 cars use a petrol blend that is carefully regulated to be very similar to standard petrol. The F1 teams’ fuel suppliers are not allowed to include power-boosting chemicals that are not present in standard road fuel. This keeps F1 fuel development relevant to real-world motoring.
What Octane Fuel Does F1 Use?
F1 fuel must have a minimum octane number of 87. However, higher octane numbers are legal, as no maximum allowable rating is given. Typically, F1 fuels have octane numbers in the range of 95-102. As a comparison, commercially available road fuel typically has an octane rating of 93-95.
Within the regulations, teams and fuel suppliers are free to optimize their particular blend of fuel according to their power unit.
F1 fuel also has a component of renewable biofuels. Through 2021, a blend with 5.75% ethanol was required. From 2022 to 2025, a 10% sustainable ethanol blend is required. From 2025 onwards, F1 aims to use 100% sustainable fuel. This forms part of their drive to be carbon neutral by 2030 (more on that later).
What Brand Of Fuel Does F1 Use?
F1 uses multiple brands of fuel, as each F1 team has a close relationship with its fuel supplier. Shell’s partnership with Ferrari is one of the most iconic, along with Mercedes’ partnership with Petronas and McLaren’s partnership with Gulf Oil.
McLaren ran a livery to highlight their partnership with Gulf as a fuel supplier at the Monaco Grand Prix in 2021, and the Gulf blue was carried over into their 2022 livery.
Many F1 fans will instantly recognize the Petronas brand. Petronas is a Malaysian state-owned oil and gas company, and its brand is prominent on the Mercedes cars. Other brands of fuel used by F1 teams include ExxonMobil and BP/Castrol, for Red Bull and Alpine respectively.
Do All F1 Cars Use The Same Fuel?
All F1 cars do not use the same fuel. Although the specification of the fuel that they are allowed to use is fairly tightly regulated, there is enough freedom within the rules to allow each partnership to optimize the fuel blend according to the power unit that they are using.
There are currently four different power unit suppliers within F1 – Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull Powertrains and Renault (Alpine). These manufacturers may supply engines to other “customer” teams. Below is a list of the 10 F1 teams in 2022 and their engine and fuel suppliers (they usually also supply F1 teams with oil).
Each power unit has different characteristics and strengths, and so the fuel will be adjusted to best complement the particular engine. However, long-term sponsorships and other specifics of the car also explain the variance in suppliers, even if teams are using the same engines.
2022 F1 Team Fuel Suppliers
The 2022 F1 team fuel suppliers are:
- Mercedes (Mercedes) – Petronas
- Red Bull (Red Bull Powertrains) – ExxonMobil
- Ferrari (Ferrari) – Shell
- McLaren (Mercedes) – Gulf
- Alpine (Renault) – BP/Castrol)
- Alpha Tauri (Red Bull Powertrains) – ExxonMobil
- Aston Martin (Mercedes) – Petronas
- Williams (Mercedes) – Esso
- Alfa Romeo (Ferrari) – PKN Orlen
- Haas (Ferrari) – Shell
How Much Fuel Does An F1 Car Use?
An F1 car must use no more than 110 kg of fuel during a race. That is a maximum of approximately 150 liters over a race distance of 305 km (or 190 miles). That converts to a worst-case fuel consumption of around 2 km/l, or 4.8 mpg. Fuel flow is limited to 100 kg/hr.
Often, less fuel is put into the car in order for it to run with as little weight as possible. Carrying extra fuel around the track costs lap time. Every 10 kg of fuel is estimated to cost three tenths of a second per lap. F1 race engineers use data during simulations and practice to calculate the minimum weight of fuel that can be placed in the car in order to make the full race distance.
This limit on how much fuel could be used was introduced with the 2014 regulation change to V6 turbo engines. The major motivation was to promote fuel efficient cars. This fuel limit forced power unit suppliers to design incredibly efficient engines to still be able to extract maximum horsepower.
The Turbo-Hybrid Era
The reintroduction of the turbo to the power unit was a major factor in this highly efficient power units. In fact, a power unit consists of three components – the engine (ICE), the turbo (MGU-H) and the kinetic energy recovery system (MGU-K). The resulting power units are incredibly intricate and complex.
The focus on fuel efficiency has had some mixed views among fans. It was reported that drivers occasionally needed to “lift and coast” before braking for corners as a fuel saving measure towards the end of a race.
As a result, the allowable fuel consumption was raised in 2019 from the original limit of 105 kg to the current 110 kg. This should make flat-out racing possible throughout the whole race.
Another element to the question of how much fuel an F1 car uses is how fast it guzzles that fuel. The regulations place a limit of 100 kg/h on the maximum rate at which the engine can consume fuel.
This was a major part of the controversy at the debut of the regulations at the Australian Grand Prix in 2014. Home favorite Daniel Ricciardo finished second, but in a heart-breaking turn of events, he was stripped of his podium a few hours after the race had ended for a fuel flow rate that had exceeded the regulations.
How Much Does F1 Fuel Cost?
F1 fuel costs approximately $2.50 per liter. Being similar to standard road-going petrol, the price is not drastically different to what you might pay at the pump, considering it’s powering some of the fastest cars on the planet.
However, considering the precision engineering, development and quality control required to produce this fuel, it makes sense that the price is a bit higher.
Can An F1 Car Be Refueled During A Race?
F1 cars are not allowed to be refueled during a race under the current regulations. Refueling was banned after the 2009 season, predominantly to increase safety and to decrease costs.
In-race refueling consisted of a large fuel rig pumping huge volumes of fuel into the car in a matter of seconds during a pitstop. Often the time to transfer the fuel was the limiting factor of how long the pitstop was, and the mass of fuel put into the car could be estimated directly from the length of the stop.
The Safety Aspect
It’s easy to see that disaster is waiting to happen while pumping huge volumes of fuel in a frantically short time into a hot vehicle, driven by someone that is dying to be let back out onto the track. A number of notorious refueling incidents have occurred in the past, although severe injuries were limited.
Doing away with refueling during a race also eliminated the need to develop, operate and transport highly specialized fuel rigs, saving money for the teams. At the time of the decision, when the sport was feeling the effects of the global financial crisis, cost-saving was a hot topic, and this was an easy cost-cutting measure.
Fans of the sport before 2009 will recall the extra element of unpredictability and strategy that refueling brought. This unpredictability was reintroduced by the Pirelli tires which are designed to degrade and therefore force pitstops during a race. Some fans do not enjoy the bulk of an F1 race strategy hinging on managing tire degradation. However, it is unlikely that refueling will ever return.
F1 100% Sustainable Fuels
F1 has embarked on a major rebranding exercise, started after the end of the Bernie Ecclestone era when the rights to marketing the sport were bought by US-based Liberty Media back in 2017. F1 has tried hard to stay relevant and make itself an attractive and popular sport in modern markets.
As a result, in 2019 they announced ambitious plans to be carbon neutral by 2030. For a sport that glorifies the performance of internal combustion engines (historically powered by fossil fuels), this is not to be taken lightly.
As a step towards this goal, among other measures, F1 has committed that, from 2025, the cars will be required to run on 100% sustainable fuel. In real-world motoring, a transition away from fossil fuels is inevitable, and therefore F1 will need to embrace a transition to stay relevant to passenger vehicle development.
No Drop In Performance
The move to fully renewable fuel in F1 cars will add an interesting challenge for the engine designers and fuel suppliers, with lots of room for optimization over the following years. The intention is that the energy density in the sustainable fuel will be similar to that of the current fuel, thus having a minimal effect on the overall racing package.
One challenge with the approach is that 100% sustainable fuel is not in mainstream production and has limited public uptake, and there have been several failed large-scale investments in biofuels over the last decade. F1 has stated that it hopes to support fuel companies in scaling up production, first to meet the needs of the sport, but with the view to allow wider public uptake.
The Real Challenge
Renewable race fuel is only a proverbial drop in the ocean. The real challenge in achieving F1’s carbon neutral target is the emissions generated by the “traveling circus” of motorhomes, catering, support units and media crews that fly around the globe to 20+ locations each year.
To tackle this, F1 cites ultra-efficient logistics as the target, and that all offices and factories should be powered completely by renewable energy sources. It is hoped that the drive to encourage development of sustainable fuels at mass scale will support the replacement of fossil fuels throughout the logistics chain.
But what does F1 classify as a sustainable fuel? The current regulations (considering the E10 blend) define this as a second-generation biofuel. That is generally ethanol that has been produced from plants that are not used for fuel.
Food wastes, agricultural wastes and other biomass can also be used to create this sustainable fuel. Biofuels produced by carbon capture are considered sustainable too. Only time will tell what method will be best for producing the F1 fuels of the future.
F1 Fuel Rules Explained
The FIA publishes the current technical and sporting regulations online, available for the public download. The sporting regulations (effectively “the rules of the game”) rule out refueling during the race (as has been the case since 2008). They also give the maximum fuel allowed to be used during a race – currently 110 kg as explained above.
The technical regulations (the stuff that keeps the engineers awake at night) give detailed chemical specifications for the fuel. As explained above, the main intention of the specifications is to ensure that the fuel used by F1 cars is similar to commercially available fuels.
The regulations specifically aim to outlaw the use of specialized power-boosting additives. A number of acceptable hydrocarbon compounds are named, with acceptable limits. Restrictions on other chemicals such as lead and sulfur are also given.
Numerous specifications are also given for the fuel systems of the cars. These include safety requirements, such as the construction of the fuel tank. Detailed specifications are given for the fuel system hydraulic layout, again with a strong focus on safety requirements.
Is The Fuel In F1 Cars Tested?
The fuel that F1 cars use is tested regularly. A key fuel regulation is that a one liter sample of fuel must always be available to be taken from the car at any time during the competition. Most notably, this means that it is necessary that each car ends a race with at least one liter of fuel still in the tank.
Testing the fuel left in the car at the end of the race is critical to be sure that the car has been racing with fuel that is compliant. It prevents teams from sneaking in an unapproved blend for a sporting advantage.
Sebastian Vettel’s Podium Hungary 2021
A recent example of a competitor falling foul of this regulation was at the 2021 Hungarian GP, where Sebastian Vettel finished second for Aston Martin. He was asked by the team to stop his car at the side of the track, rather than returning to the pits. This was to keep enough fuel in the car for this sample to be taken. Unfortunately, less than one liter remained, and Vettel was disqualified.
The fuel is tested to ensure that it complies with F1 specifications by using a laboratory test method called gas chromatography (GC). This is a common and versatile method. A GC output gives a specific fuel “fingerprint”, with each chemical component registering as a peak in a specific position on the output graph. This fingerprint is what is checked for when fuel samples are taken.
F1 uses fuel that is designed to be similar to that used by a standard car, albeit more tightly regulated. The current fuel used in F1 is an E10 blend consisting of 10% sustainable ethanol. Different F1 teams use slightly different fuels, and they often use different fuel suppliers too.