With Formula 1 being at the forefront of technological advancements you would expect the sport to go electric in the near future, considering the current climate-conscious state of the world. Electric cars are a massive focus around the globe, leaving many fans wondering if F1 will ever go electric.
It’s unclear whether Formula 1 will ever go electric in the future. Many teams, drivers and fans are against the idea. With Formula E coexisting alongside F1, it seems unlikely. Formula 1 is moving towards becoming carbon neutral, which could keep the idea of fully electric F1 at bay.
Modern Formula 1 cars use hybrid engines which use a combination of electrical and combustion power. The hybrid engines have been the focus of much debate in recent years and have been criticized by many fans. Below, we’ll take a closer look at the current state and potential future of F1.
Is F1 Electric At The Moment?
Formula 1 is not fully electric at the moment. The cars currently make use of hybrid power. This means that they use both electrical and combustion elements to power the cars. This is what allows F1 teams to extract upwards of 1000 horsepower from a relatively small 1.6-liter V6 engine.
Formula 1 first introduced electric elements to the engines in 2009. While the cars were still using mighty V8 engines, each team had the option to use what was known as KERS, or Kinetic Energy Recovery System, on their cars.
KERS was a developmental element that was introduced into the sport. The idea was for a battery to be connected to the engine. The brakes, and the huge amount of force that is put through them, would send power to the battery. The battery would essentially capture ‘waste’ energy lost under braking through friction forces.
The driver could then press a button on their steering wheel that would give them an 80 horsepower boost. The KERS system was limited to being used only once per lap for 8 seconds. This means that a driver could strategically choose where they wanted to deploy their KERS to get the most out of their lap, to attack a car ahead or to defend from a car behind.
Only a few teams decided to use the KERS system on their cars for the 2009 season, including McLaren and Ferrari. Teams that opted to use the system in 2009 struggled with performance and reliability.
The F1 Effect
KERS even made its way into road cars, with Mercedes-Benz using their Formula 1 experience to implement the exact same system some of their top-end road cars. The development of KERS in Formula 1 has therefore improved the automotive industry for the better.
In 2014, Formula 1 brought in radical engine changes, with the much-loved V8 engines making way for smaller 1.6-liter V6 turbo hybrid engines. While these engines don’t have a single dedicated KERS system, they have two different types of ERS on the cars.
2014 Rule Changes
The 2014 engine rule changes were controversial to say the least. On one hand the engines produced more horsepower than the previous V8 engines. Where the V8 engines could produce around 800 horsepower, the 1.6-liter V6 engines could produce 1000 horsepower.
There was also a romanticized idea going around the Formula 1 community that the sport was returning to an iconic era in the 80s and 90s where turbocharged cars were roaring around a racetrack at neck breaking speeds.
However, the reality was much different, with many fans and drivers being disappointed by the result. The 1.6-liter V6 engines were much quieter than before, and the gentle sound did not appeal to many people. Since then, there have been many calls for the sport to return to naturally aspirated V8 or V10 engines.
What Is ERS?
ERS is the developed version of KERS. However, there are now two different versions that can be found on Formula 1 engines. These systems are used to recover the energy that is lost under normal driving and convert it back into usable horsepower.
The first system that you will find on a hybrid Formula 1 engine is the MGU-K, which stands for motor generator unit (kinetic). The MGU-K recovers the energy that is lost under braking, just like the ‘old’ KERS. It does this using a motor that, when the car stops accelerating or starts braking, spins and sends electrical current back to the battery.
However, with the 2014 engines came a new ERS system, called the MGU-H. The ‘H’ suffix refers to ‘heat’. The MGU-H recovers kinetic energy from the turbocharger. This essentially works by sending power to the battery when the turbo is spinning, by making use of waste exhaust gases.
What this means for Formula 1 engines is that there are two systems that recover lost energy and convert it back into horsepower for the engine to use. The result is a massive upgrade in the power and efficiency of the hybrid engines.
Modern Formula 1 engines can now use their ERS boost for 33 seconds per lap and the boost produces roughly an extra 161 horsepower. However, the time and power that the systems produce are capped by the FIA rules, so they could be even more powerful without any limitations. So, the cars are clearly somewhat electric, but would F1 cars ever go fully electric?
Will F1 Go Electric?
To answer the question of whether F1 will or won’t go electric, it’s worth splitting the question into three. First, there’s the element of whether or not they actually could go electric. Then, we need to consider whether teams, drivers, and organizers would want them to go fully electric. Finally, we then need to ask whether F1 cars, with all things considered, should go electric in the future.
Could F1 Go Electric?
Formula 1 could go electric in the future relatively easily. Many teams and fans are prepared for that to happen at some point, especially with the global views on climate change and sustainable energy being a priority. However, battery technology would also need to continue advancing.
The technology is readily available for Formula 1 to go fully electric. Using Formula E as an example, the cars might not be as fast as they could be, but they have certainly come a long way since their early days. They also don’t have batteries that allow for the same lengths of races as you find in F1, so battery technology itself needs to continue improving, but this is inevitable.
Should F1 Go Electric?
Many people would argue that F1 should go electric, considering the current climate situation and the global sense of urgency surrounding the issue. However, F1’s impact on the climate is debatable, and therefore it becomes a difficult issue to deal with.
An entire season of Formula 1 – considering all 20 cars, all practice sessions, every qualifying session, and all the races – uses less fuel and produces less carbon than a Boeing 747 flight over the Atlantic. This is because of how efficient the cars have become. Where the big changes instead need to be made are in the fuel-hungry transportation and logistics aspects of F1.
Formula 1 cars do not harm the environment as much as people believe that they do, but obviously burning fossil fuels has some impact. However, the argument would be that going electric would likely help to improve the public use of electric cars as well as the technology in them, given F1’s ability to have an impact on consumer technology with KERS development as an example.
An important fact to consider is the importance of the sound of combustion engines racing around a track, and the cultural following associated with this, across all motorsports. Many drivers, teams and fans alike would lose their love for the sport if F1 went fully electric. On the other hand, Formula 1 could gain some new fans who prefer the electric aspect of the sport over the engine noise.
There are also some other avenues that can be explored such as sustainable fuel sources. This could potentially be the better option for Formula 1 considering the fact that Formula E is essentially already the electric version of Formula 1.
Clearly, there are major financial components to consider, and while the environment is clearly a priority, there are also thousands of people that earn a living through F1. Were the sport to make an extremely unsuccessful, premature shift to all-electric racing, it could be damaging from an employment point of view as well.
Would F1 Go Electric?
F1 would probably avoid going fully electric in the near future. Ultimately, Formula 1 itself will decide on what is best for the future of the sport, but with Formula E already fairly successful, it wouldn’t make sense to shift mainstream F1 over to electric power as well at the moment.
Formula 1 Management will be carefully weighing up the pros and cons of going fully electric. It is a big decision to make, and Formula 1 certainly won’t be going fully electric in the near future because of that. Pursuing and developing sustainable fuels is a more realistic target for the sport and could still please both sides of the fanbase.
Could F1 Go Back To Bigger Engines?
A large portion of the Formula 1 fanbase dreams of the sport going back to bigger engines, like the V8, V10, or V12 engines. These engines are iconic, and they are especially incredible if you hear them today compared to the modern, and much quieter, V6 engines.
Although formula 1 is unlikely to revert back to bigger engines, the only possible way that they might is through sustainable fuels. Formula 1 has put a huge focus on green energy and creating more efficient engines to reduce their carbon footprint.
Bringing back gas guzzling engines would go against everything that the F1 brand stands for. Promoting and developing technology for sustainable fuels would be the only ‘loophole’ to bringing back the beloved old engines.
Why Aren’t F1 Cars Electric?
F1 cars aren’t fully electric because they are still in the ‘hybrid era’. Engine regulations only change once in decade or so, as the sport moves into different ‘eras’. The last engine rule change was in 2014 when the sport moved from naturally aspirated V8 engines to turbocharged V6 hybrid engines.
The hybrid engines do provide somewhat of an electric element, with a battery being used to recover lost energy and convert it back into horsepower for the car to make use of. This makes the cars a lot more efficient and helps to develop hybrid technology for road cars. However, this electric power is a small proportion of the total generated by the car’s engine.
When Will F1 Go Electric?
There is no news on when Formula 1 will go electric just yet. The next engine rule changes are set to come in 2026. However, the next set of rule changes will not be as drastic as the 2014 rules changes were when the hybrid engines were introduced.
The only possible time when Formula 1 could be going electric is with another big engine regulation change. However, these normally only happen once every decade or so, and so we might have to wait until the 2030s to hear about the potential of a fully electric Formula 1 car, and a lot could happen during that time!
What Are The 2026 Engine Regulations?
For starters, the 1.6-liter V6 hybrid engines are staying. This news has come as a disappointment to many who were hoping to see bigger engines coming back with sustainable fuels being introduced into the sport.
However, Formula 1 has decided that the current engines are working well, and they would like the teams to continue to develop the technology even further. Formula 1 advertises that their turbo hybrid engines are the most efficient on the planet, which is a great selling point for the sport.
With sustainable fuels being introduced, the engines will become more efficient with a higher electrical output and even further reductions in their carbon output. The electrical power output of the engines will be increased to 350kW, which means that the batteries in the cars will need to be stronger than ever before.
While on the topic of ERS, the FIA also announced that the MGU-H will be dropped from the 2026 Formula 1 engines. This means that the electrical power will only come from the MGU-K system, which is energy that is recovered under braking.
Finally, there will be a significant reduction in the costs involved in both building and operating the 2026 F1 engines. This is to help teams to better comply with the cost cap regulations that will be implemented through 2022 onwards.
The announcement of the new engine regulations has brought in new interest to the sport, which is good news for Formula 1, and perhaps what they were aiming for. Audi and Porsche are set to join F1 when the 2026 rule changes come into force, illustrating the amount of interest the rule shakeup will generate.
These are two massive manufacturers that have had great success in all avenues of motorsport. Audi especially have a deep-rooted history in motorsport and have found success in every series that they have participated in, which makes their potential arrival into the sport an exciting time for many F1 fans. However, nothing has been confirmed yet.
Is F1 Carbon Neutral?
Formula 1 is not currently carbon neutral. However, the sport officially announced that they are planning to be carbon neutral, or “Net Carbon Zero,” by the year 2030. This includes the running of the engines as well as the transportation of the cars and crew.
In their statement, Formula 1 said that they aim to become carbon neutral by ensuring that the sport moves to “ultra-efficient logistics and travel and 100% renewably powered offices, facilities and factories.” They will also ensure that the carbon footprint of all Formula 1 cars and on-track activities are eliminated through carbon offsetting.
The most difficult part will be to move towards renewably powered factories and efficient logistics. Formula 1 cars are highly efficient as is and will become even more efficient with the 2026 regulation changes. However, the logistics of F1’s long calendars mean there needs to be a strong focus on efficient transportation.
Formula 1 is already implementing their plan to reduce their carbon footprint. Several elements have already been put in place, and the statement claims that by 2025 Formula 1 will ensure that all events are sustainable. This means “the use of sustainable materials at all events with single-use plastics being eliminated and all waste reused, recycled or composted.”
It’s exciting to see how a sport that has been criticized for damaging the environment is taking so much action to do the exact opposite of what it is being accused of. Formula 1 is always pioneering and advancing, and will continue to do so in the years to come.
Formula 1 is partly electric with the cars being equipped with electric energy recovery systems. It’s unclear whether Formula 1 will ever go fully electric in the future as this would make the Formula E series redundant. However, moving towards more sustainability is still an important aspect of F1.