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How Formula 1® technology is helping fuel the future of the auto-mobility industry

As the automotive world shifts towards cleaner solutions, Formula 1® is providing an important stage to test state-of-the-art technology and help fuel the transition. 

Formula 1® technology in your car?

Formula 1® has thrilled motorsports enthusiasts for decades. Some are drawn to the exhilarating speed and world-class driving, some to incredible innovations and mind-blowing engineering, and others to the joy of spending a fun-filled weekend at the racetrack.

Now more than ever, Formula 1 (F1) fans have something else to get excited about: finding innovative F1 technology in their own vehicles. Since the hybrid power unit was introduced, the world’s leading motorsport has become the testbed for next-generation hybrid innovations – the very technologies that are more relevant for road cars than ever before. And right now, F1 is driving efforts to develop an advanced 100% sustainable fuel for both the racetrack and the road.

This year fans will have even more opportunities to watch the world’s most efficient hybrid power unit in action. The 2022 FIA Formula One World Championship™ boasts a record-breaking calendar across six continents – including many double header and triple headers and a first-ever Grand Prix™ in Miami. What’s more, in what is arguably the biggest revamp of the sport’s technical rules, the all-new cars are designed to encourage closer racing and more overtaking opportunities, which allows drivers to showcase their skill and make a greater impact. The new cars will also be powered by a higher proportion of sustainable fuel, bringing F1 one step closer to its goal of a 100% sustainably fueled hybrid engine by 2025 – and keep manufacturers on their toes as they monitor developments in the fuel that F1 uses and how it impacts performance.

As the Official Logistics Partner of Formula 1, we’re excited to be kicking off this record-breaking season as well – especially considering F1’s increased focus on sustainability and ambitious climate targets.

Formula 1 technology turns efficiency into power

When talking about technology in Formula 1, one thing that is often overlooked is that the cars represent the absolute cutting edge of clean automobile technology. The racecars’ hybrid power units are the most efficient in the world, delivering more power with less fuel than any other car on the road or racetrack today.

Car enthusiasts marvel at the mind-blowing thermal efficiency. That’s the unit’s ability to convert fuel energy to forward motion. Simply put, thermal efficiency is the percentage of energy generated by a system that becomes useful work and isn’t simply lost as heat. The term is used widely to compare engine performance.

To put things in perspective, the first internal combustion engine, built by Nicolaus Otto in 1876, had a thermal efficiency of about 17%. In 2013, just before F1 introduced the hybrid power unit, the average car achieved 30%. The V8 engine used in Formula 1 reached its highpoint of 29% around that time as well, meaning that over two-thirds of the car’s fuel wasn’t being used to propel the car forward. When the V6 turbo-hybrids hit the track in 2014, thermal efficient jumped to 40%. Today, the figure is over 50%.

Did that fact raise your eyebrows? It should. F1 engineers increased efficiency 10% in only six years.

That higher efficiency translates to more power and lower emissions. Today’s turbo-hybrid is faster than the fan-favorite, “screaming” V8 at the turn of the century. It produces 20% more power while emitting 26% less carbon. The numbers tell it all. In 2013, Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel set the DHL Fastest Lap at Belgium’s historic Spa-Francorchamps circuit with a time of 1m 50.756s using about 135kg of fuel during the race. In 2019, on the same racetrack, the four-time Formula 1 Drivers’ World Champion set the Fastest Lap again with a time of 1m 46.409s and using only 100 kg of fuel over the course of the race – and in a heavier car!

Sebastian Vettel's Fastest Lap shows speed and efficiency can go hand in hand

The F1 fuel of the future?

In 2026, F1 plans to unveil a second-generation hybrid power unit that will be carbon neutral and powered by an advanced ‘drop-in’ sustainable fuel. The new powertrain is part of the sport’s aim to be net zero carbon by 2030 – a sustainability strategy that includes zero waste on and off the track, circular supply chains, 100% renewable electricity, and more.

This development has the potential to make a global impact by providing another path to sustainable auto-mobility alongside electric vehicles. That’s because 100% sustainable fuels can lower the emissions of all new and existing cars running internal combustion engines. With forecasts predicting that only about 8% of the estimated 1.8 billion cars on the road by 2030 will be electric – and the urgency of combating climate change never greater – these fuels can have a serious impact on reducing carbon emissions. We certainly see loads of potential for the logistics industry.

What’s in Formula 1’s ‘drop-in’ fuel?

The term “drop-in” means that the fuel can be used in any standard combustion engine without modifications. To make them 100% sustainable, the fuels are being developed in a laboratory from non-food biomass, municipal waste, or carbon capture systems. The biomass is made with ingredients like algae, agricultural waste, and non-food crops cultivated on marginal land unsuitable for food production. Carbon capture is a promising technology, though still in its early stages. It’s been around since the 1970s but is often overlooked because of the price tag. Over the past decade, innovations have improved the technology, increased energy savings, and reduced costs, which makes F1 hopeful that it will be part of the sustainability mix in the future.

Formula 1 says their fuel will result in savings of at least 65% in greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil-derived fuels. Sustainable fuels still produce carbon dioxide as a by-product, but – and this is crucial – combusting the fuel doesn’t produce a net carbon increase. It’s a circular system. Burning this F1 fuel generates carbon, but the process of making it removes from the atmosphere, uses it, and then puts it back.

That said, one of the challenges for producing this type of fuel is delivering the power necessary to drive the pinnacle of motorsport. To do that, it must match the energy density of Formula 1’s current fuels. Only then will the cars be as fast – or even faster – than they are today.

Testing is already underway. The first barrels of sustainable F1 fuel, made from bio waste, arrived at the test track in late 2020. So stay tuned. 

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Transferring F1 tech to the street

F1 is a showcase for some of the most state-of-the-art automotive technology on the planet, but in the past the innovations often didn’t make it from the racetrack to the road. That’s changing. As automakers hustle to meet the rapidly growing demand for hybrid and electric cars, they’re keeping a sharp eye on the Formula 1 test and racetracks. And for good reason. Formula 1’s hybrid technology is a textbook example of effective racetrack-to-road technology transfer.

It began back in 2009, when F1 introduced a Kinetic Energy Recovery System – or KERS – to the championship. KERS is an electric hybrid solution that captures braking energy from the car and stores it in the battery for drivers to deploy throughout the race. F1 pilots got a 10% increase in power for 6.7 seconds a lap, which they could release all in one go or at different points around the circuit. Today’s 1.6L turbocharged V6 hybrid power unit includes an Energy Recovery System (ERS), which is similar but more complex than KERS and is not controlled by the driver.

Since then, car manufacturers have been introducing ERS technology into their hybrid-electric passenger vehicles. The units are used to convert kinetic energy to electric energy to assist the electric motor and reduce fuel consumption.

It’s interesting to note here that while F1 teams work to increase efficiency for power and speed, automakers are exploiting the same technology to extend the car’s reach using the same amount of energy.

The transfer of Formula 1 technology between race and road car engineering is often much subtler than the case of KERS. F1 is considered a “laboratory on wheels”, which manufacturers take advantage of to develop and test new solutions. Engineers move between race and road car divisions, which means information and knowledge is exchanged. This has led to improvements in car manufacturing efficiency, simulation tools, tire modelling, lubricant blends, and more. F1 teams have even tested high-tech wireless technologies capable of transferring a gigabyte of data in seconds, allowing engineers to get the data off the car during a pitstop without sacrificing track time. Connected cars and smartphones will likely feature this technology in the future, enabling more reliable connectivity and faster download and upload speeds.

There are many ways F1 has helped make the world a better place – too many to name here. Some of the more surprising locations are hospitals, supermarkets, and public transport

Is Formula 1 technology a global gamechanger?

Project Pitlane: the ingenuity and creativity of the F1 community unites to fight against one of the greatest challenges of our time, COVID-19.

The blur of a Formula 1 racecar speeding by paints a good picture of the accelerated pace of change in the automotive industry today. Driven by consumer demand and government policy, automakers are shifting toward greener, lower emission vehicles. The public – and many policymakers – have their eyes fixed on electrification, but what we can’t ignore is that it’s going to take a long time to get there. In the meantime, we need to be asking ourselves what we can do to reduce carbon emissions in vehicles that are on the road today.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) argues that the fastest way to reduce vehicle emissions is to improve the efficiency of the internal combustion engine and to switch to low-carbon fuels. Electric car sales may be rising sharply, but there will be millions of gas-guzzling vehicles on the road for decades to come.

Over the past decade, the evolution of F1’s hybrid technology has turned a lot of heads. Automakers have gained essential insights to improve efficiency and fuel economy in their hybrid and electric road vehicles. Now, by harnessing the power of the pinnacle of motorsport, Formula 1 is poised to push the auto-mobility industry to take on the challenge of developing an advanced 100% sustainable drop-in fuel.

Just imagine the powerful thrill of pushing the pedal without the guilt of polluting the environment. Formula 1 technology could very well help make that happen – and in the process fuel our auto-mobility future.

DHL and Formula 1

DHL has been the Official Logistics Partner of Formula 1 since 2004, but our relationship stretches back much farther than that. For nearly 40 years, we have ensured the smooth delivery of up to 2,000 metric tons of race cars, fuel, and equipment to Formula 1 venues around the world. As F1’s longest-standing global partner, we have a team of motorsports logistics specialists, who work closely with Formula 1 Management and the racing teams to ensure logistics for the races and official test runs is seamless. Learn more on DHL InMotion.

Published: March 2022

DHL and Formula 1®

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