Earth Day: Apparently F1 isn’t going to say it so I will

Formula 1 often claimed the lack of any meaningful adoption curve from fans was due to their lack of telling the story of hybrid engines. Today is Earth Day and if you thought there was ever a time for F1 to deliver its message and drive home their efforts on environmental responsibility, this would be it. Apparently, they’re not going to so…here, hold my beer.

When the FIA mandated a V6 turbo hybrid power unit as the new formula back in 2013, they did so because FIA president Jean Todt and the F1 Strategy Group felt that the format was more industry-relevant and it would lure more manufacturer involvement in the series. As an additional consideration, they also believed that it dove-tailed nicely with F1 fans desires for more advanced technology in the sport—a sport know to be the pinnacle of racing technology—and that the series owed it to society to be more socially responsible. The idea was to remove the gas-guzzling reputation and to become an environmentally friendly racing series.

The response to this new power unit has not been the most well received amongst fans. At the time, F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone was adamantly against the move to hybrid engines but Mercedes and Renault threatened to leave the sport if it didn’t move toward a more environmentally responsible, hybrid format with Mercedes boss, Toto Wolff, suggesting that these days it is all about downsizing and that fans would just have to accept that F1 is changing.

Regardless of your feelings on the current power units, the fact is that the technology has developed over the past three years and these engines have now become some of the most efficient power units on the planet running near 50% thermal efficiency.

If you consider that road cars have been running at around 30% thermal efficiency for the last 50 years, then this leap is impressive to say the least and the F1 engine is more thermal efficient than electric cars who derive their power from coal plants running at 30% thermal efficiency.

To be fair, the older V8 format was also one of the most efficient Internal Combustion Engines (ICE) in the world generating 850bhp, spinning at 18500rpm and using just 3mpg. Astonishing, but not as efficient at today’s F1 engine which derives approximately 170bhp of its 800bhp total from the MGU-H hybrid component harvesting waste heat from the turbo charger. The new hybrid engines are closer to 6mpg on balance delivering similar performance.

There is no doubt that the technology used to create these power units is astounding and has been a real engineering accomplishment at the expense of engine sound and volume but some fans have enjoyed the respite their ears now receive when attending a race while others loath the lack of any semblance of a racing engine they are used to.

While F1 tends to compare the current engine format with the past formulas, it may not be the most fair comparison. One has to assume that the technology would have continued to develop with the older format and power output would have increased and efficiency would have increased as well. Still, I doubt they would be running near 50% thermal efficiency like today’s power units are and you have to appreciate that advancement in technology and the genius that has gone into it.

Admittedly, I’m not a fan of the current engine formula for a host of reasons that have nothing to do with social or environmental responsibility. On the other side of the coin, I am gobsmacked by the incredible engineering and efforts applied to the current power unit design and would never suggest that these aren’t some of the most incredibly sophisticated engines on the planet. You have to take your hat off to what these manufacturers have achieved in the reduction of fossil fuel usage while still delivering incredible power. That is a terrific message for Earth Day.

In the process, the sport has become less about entertainment and driving and more about winning the engineering medal for technical advancement and doing so while gift-wrapping themselves in glorious earth-saving tropes. The move to hybrid power units has cost the lives of three teams and placed long-standing privateer teams in the unenviable position of being the paddock beggars making deals to offset their massively increased engine supply expenses via paying drivers and other unconventional methods.

The move toward hybrid power did retain Mercedes and Renault—who threatened to leave the sport if it didn’t change to hybrid power—and even lured Honda back in to the sport as an engine supplier but the Japanese auto maker has struggled fiercely to create a competitive engine while Renault have been off the pace since the inception of the new engine leaving only Mercedes as the clear winner in the hybrid era. Ferrari have, finally, found the pace and only now are they starting to look slightly competitive from an engine standpoint.

While the pragmatic approach is pervasive in F1 and the knock-on effects of the hybrid engine can be weighed and measured in the eye of the beholder, the fact is, they have achieved their goal and moved the goal posts of road car engine technology a country mile. Much of the technology has not been deployed in road cars in any prolific sense but the genie is out of the bottle and there is no doubt that if car makers are intent on bolstering their road car tech in the hybrid and electric format, then F1 has done a good job of being the rapid prototyping opportunity in the crucible of the world’s most advanced form of racing.

F1’s effort to be environmentally sustainable has been, at times, a bloody affair but it also has given the world the most efficient power unit ever created for road cars. I may not like the current hybrid format but I humbly stand down and admit that the technology is incredible and the positive side of the equation is that F1 may have helped car makers explore new ways to become more responsible in designing the future of mobility. Now that we’ve saved the planet and helped car makers with their road cars, can we just get back to entertaining, loud racing?

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Darth Rust

It’s always baffled me why a sport predicated on technical excellence would latch on to a phrase like “road relevance” and let it define the sport with this engine format. F1 is about as connected to a commuter car as a Saturn V is to a bottle rocket. What was Todt trying to reach into? Where is this reservoir of road-relevance market potential? And where was the roadmap to convert it into great racing? Did it just sort of happen because of one personality? This was a great read by the way. It’s always nice to see the current issues… Read more »


They could keep the kinetic-hybrid part, even expand it since there could be more energy harnessed under braking on the front axle, which is currently outlawed in F1. But I’m also done with turbos – I’d like to hear a turbo-less exhaust sound again. When it comes to attracting manufacturers, the narrative that the current engines are what manufacturers want doesn’t ring true for me. If someone asked me how they could create a racing series which would scare most engine manufacturers away because of ridiculously spiralling complexity and cost, as well as because of a huge risk of being… Read more »

Salvu Borg

The rules does not specify if it is the rear or front wheels/rear or front brakes that the energy must be harvested from because neither actually directly/physically are connected to the MGU-K (KINETIC). The harvesting is done when the driver is braking because the car goes in engine braking mode and the crankshaft rotates the MGU-K in generator mode. “kinetic energy recovery system= recovering a moving vehicle’s kinetic energy under braking”.
The brakes themselves neither physically puts any electricity into the ES and neither physically rotates the MGU-H.

Junipero Mariano

I don’t know why F1 doesn’t tout the speed and distance traveled for the fuel used:

For the 2017 Chinese GP, Lewis Hamilton drove 189.5 miles in 1 hour and 37 min, with an average lap speed of 187 mph, using no more than 27.7 gallons of fuel.
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Gallons isn’t a very good measure, especially as the volume of a gallon differs depending on which side of the Atlantic you live.
105 kg of petrol is approximately 142 litres (each litre of petrol having a mass of 739 g).
142 litres is 31.2 Imperial gallons (4.546 litres) or 37.5 US gallons (3.758 litres).

Junipero Mariano

Oops, thank you for the correction!


Actually gallons are a very good measurement if you identify it as US, and you are sharing it with a US demographics (or use liters for folks in the metric world). The point is, convey what’s going on in a language people can understand and relate to. In the US, 105 kg of fuel or 142 liters doesn’t mean anything. Actually, for fuel, weight doesn’t mean anything to most people. Yes, it may make sense if you’re hardcore into the tech of F1, or technology in general, but I think the point @junipero_mariano:disqus is trying to make, is find a… Read more »


The reason for my reply was Junipero Mariano originally quoted a figure of 27.7 gallons. It wasn’t clear to me which unit of volume he was quoting, as it didn’t fit to either US or imperial.

If you state US gallon, then everyone knows what it means. If you just state gallon, then there will be dome confusion.


I don’t think most people care. 3, 6 or 8 mpg – all is a lot of fuel. But add in a team of 500 or 1500 people all driving or flying to work every week and the actual use was something like 0.00006mpg.

That side, most people want to see good racing and teams with ideas rather than corporates. Get rid of the overused aero, limit the number of team members with access to realtime data then say 300k, 150litres, the car must fit in to a box this size – see you next season.

Richard Piers

Goo’day Mr Negative I think you will find that F1 has almost always been a two or three tier effort. The times when a minnow has succeeded have been few and far between, generally the weather has been the biggest curved ball and rarely technology has done the job ie Brawn in 2009. With the current formula Mercedes (again probably in the form of Brawn) took a major gamble that has paid off handsomely. Initially after buying Brawn they though they could win with an even slimmer operation than Brawn had achieved. He evidently managed to persuade their bean counters… Read more »

Negative Camber

Having watched since 1972, I completely understand your point regarding the multi-tier nature of F1. Certainly the history of the sport is littered with teams that have collapsed. My point here, and I may not have done the best job of it, is that the three teams were brought in to the sport as part of the regulation changes, lower costs (a dream) and new era. Those three teams are now gone under the weight of an engine supply contract that contextually speaking is outrageously larger than in previous years. Multi-tier racing in F1 may always been a part of… Read more »


‘F1 needs to decide what it wants to be’ – hopefully Liberty get on with that process very quickly.

charlie white

When one F1 team did embrace Earth Day and global environmentalism, no one noticed. Remember Honda’s past entry as a works team and its gaudy Earth Dreams liveries. Then as now, they struggled to compete. Like you said, NC, these hybrid electric/IC engines are phenomenal examples of engineering, energy efficiency and high technology. But as others have pointed out, they barely little relevance to road cars(unless you’re talking about hyper-performance super cars). And seeing how difficult Honda is presently experiencing in building a decent engine, is it any surprise not seeing other manufacturers join the F1 party. Whatever the new… Read more »


To paraphrase Jay Leno; If F1 wants a greener image then it should take a different approach. How about putting limits on how much equipment the teams can tow around in their fleets of airplanes, trucks and motor homes? how about using electric fleet trucks and changing how they tow all their equipment around overseas? Maybe the message F1 should be sending is “We are using greener trucks and vehicles during the week and in our day to day lives to save the earth, so that we can still have fun and go racing on weekends” And yes more efficient… Read more »


Meaningful adoption curve? Funny how most manufacturers are reverting to straight sixes as it is easier to build a scalable engine with the three and four pots. So why did V6 seem a good idea when straight seem more relevant. Plus wouldn’t it have been wiser to use electric turbos rather then convential turbo?

Salvu Borg

Straight/in-line does not land itself good structural wise for F1 application.
Electric turbo will be in need of much more harvesting which I doubt is possible from on a present F1 configuration circuit.

Chuck Voelter

No one is considering – let’s imagine for a second the engine formula was opened up – the current formula is beating the hell out of the old formulas, so it would be okay if your team’s car made a loud sound but lost consistently (to the new formula)?

Negative Camber

Not quite sure I am following your thought here. Current formula is beating old formulas and some of that is down to the evolution of tech period. They’ve just now started to eclipse V8 times with any regularity. Had the V8 been retained and developed over the last 4 years, I would suggest the cars would be going a lot faster by now. I may have misunderstood your point. A little off topic… My issue with a lot of the electric car and hybrid systems is that it is a technology that was never at a point of replacing the… Read more »

Chuck Voelter

I should’ve added ‘while all engines maintain the same fuel flow rate’

Gaetano Colosi

I have a slightly different view. F1 needs to be at the forefront of technology. No ifs no buts. I am yet to be convinced hybrid tech is the way forward for the world from an automotive point of view, but it certainly is the flavor of the current times. As such F1 needs to be leading that tech. Anyone who thinks manufacturers will ignore tech that will bring them close to 50% efficiency for their mainstream vehicles is deluding themselves. One thing to even up the competition (that will never fly) is the teams should be made to disclose… Read more »

Guy Fawkes

It seems to me that “road relevance” in the real world is headed toward driverless cars. Would anyone pay to attend or even sit at home and watch a driverless race? Outside of the UAE and their camel races with robot jockeys, no. So “road relevance” is a moot point when it comes to racing. Less expensive, less complex engines with more teams and suppliers is the only way to build the sport. If, in fact, any racing series can build in the environment we are currently in. And who is to say the V8 wouldn’t have seen similar increases… Read more »

Salvu Borg

Since I started following the sports some sixty years ago my heart was always with the “formula” raced under whatever “formula” that was, there sure were “formulas” that I liked more than others but it never accrued to me “this is not good and that was good”. When and if I decide I do not like/agree with the “formula” that the sports will race under I will stop watching/following. The present “formula” and road relevance: I find it hard to understand why some say that the present “formula” is not road relevant. The current F1 engine regulations (agreed upon by… Read more »

Negative Camber

I think that’s a good point in that they are technologies that will most likely be distilled to road car tech although it’s my understanding that a lot of it has not made it to the road car yet. Also, having met with road car engineers, I walk delicately on this subject because they are brilliant already and many of them feel that they are as innovative as any F1 team and really don’t need F1’s help. A fine line there for sure.


Noise, noise and more noise please !!!!!!!


You’ll be enjoying this thread then, its mostly noise ;-)

Roger Flerity

Since we consumers are protected from paying the actual costs involved in fossil fuel use, the price of gallons of petrol and diesel are artificially low, and the exploitation of non-renewable resources continues without any real effort to keep us from depleting them outright. In stead of looking forward, we continue to look backward, to days of big displacement, big noises, huge excesses of power – consuming a resource that will become scarce one day sooner than most recognize. Ultimately, the disruption in the global economy, when the supply can no longer serve the demand created by our lust for… Read more »

Negative Camber

You make a good case for the current power unit and continued evolution of the technology. When I can drive a 300bhp car 400 miles, stop for 5 minutes and fill up and then drive another 400 miles, I’ll be all ears. :) The other issue might be that you don’t need to be a luddite to see the death of three teams over double or tripled engine supply contract costs to be upset about the new power unit and the impact it has had on racing. Surely there is a balance? Why should F1 eat its own young in… Read more »


Hi Todd, I think you’re blaming the wrong cause for the collapse of HRT, Caterham, and Marussia. They are far more the victims of F1/FIA politics. They were probably never financially viable competitors under the current structure of F1. They were lured into the sport by the Max Mosley (then FIA president) initiative of a cost capped F1, €50Million was the target. Max even set up the Cosworth engine supply deal. Bernie put a lot of time and effort into undermining that initiative. So I’d say the F1 politics, including failure to implement the cost cap, or redistribute the constructors… Read more »

Salvu Borg

Well said/put JACKO but the “COMBINED” FIA/FI back than was not the FIA of today managed by Todt “things being managed by consensus” . the “combined ” FIA/FI back than was the cancer of F1.
Also, those actually four and not three, went playing games that they could not sustain.


Well said Roger, if F1 isn’t producing innovation it will very rapidly become irrelevant.

Michael n

F1 is dying a slow death. You can argue about the poor sound etc… but the writings on the wall. Take a look at what’s been the highlight vehicles at recent motor shows. Electric is the future and most in the know, know it. No need to respond petrol heads, you know deep inside it’s true also.

Salvu Borg

Formula one technology “has been” and not “will most likely be” distilling down to road cars.
The four present formula one manufacturers wants a format as closely as possibly matched with their mass produced road car engine.
The four present formula one manufacturers know that there is possibly no faster way to bring technology ideas to their mass produced road cars than through the testing grounds of formula one.
The most essential thing for road car manufacturers is fuel economy, fuel economy means hybrid.

Negative Camber

Yep. I’ve written about this quite a bit. The ability to rapid prototype technology and develop is appealing to Merc, Renault, Honda and Ferrari for sure. tech has distilled down to road cars over the years for sure. Current tech isn’t fully baked into road cars in large proportions from all the folks I’ve spoken to about it. Doesn’t mean it won’t. As I mentioned earlier, the road car folks have brilliant engineers in their own right and It was interesting to speak with someone who told me that the innovation, in some cases, worked in reverse. Road car engineers… Read more »

Gaetano Colosi

An interesting thought that I think most racing fans don’t understand.
50% efficiency! Where does the other 50% go? Most of it becomes heat and it is even worse with less efficient engines where 60 – 70 % of energy becomes heat.
Shows the importance of the cooling systems (usually never mentioned) in race cars.

Salvu Borg

GAETANO, A bit late coming back on here, but hope you to will return and read.
A normal road going car wastes an average of 70-75 percent.
The present formula one power unit wastes an average of 50 percent.
This formula one power unit high efficiency doesn’t come by keeping all the heat produced by combustion or most of it inside the combustion chamber, but most of the efficiency comes from making use (making additional power) out of the wasted (going to waste) heat).

Zachary Noepe

My views differ from NCs but I admire the way he tries to be fair in pieces like this. Well done it’s admirable.

Peter Riva

Did you see top gear yesterday? Turbo’s at speed are not more efficient than normally aspirated engines. Interesting that they run “efficiency” and “emissions'” tests at basically crawl speed.

Salvu Borg

I did not see top gear yesterday. but as regards “efficiency”, “efficiency” has effectively pushed the days of the (NA) naturally aspirated engine as effectively over.


What aspect of efficiency were they comparing? I’m a bit dubious about that claim, for the following reasons. Turbines use the energy from the exhaust gasses of an I.c.e to drive a compressor, that energy is wasted on a naturally aspirated engine, so in recovering that energy the turbocharged engine is more efficient. Then for the same power output a turbocharged motor can be significantly smaller in capacity, and with the proper gearing, smaller engines require a wider throttle opening to pump roughly the same amount of air as a bigger engine. The air pumping loss is lower with a… Read more »

Salvu Borg

Beforehand I would like to assure all that no disrespect of any sort is intended to anybody. In my opinion certain reasoning/expressed opinions about technical matters/matters that involves some technical knowledge are arrived at on the basis of what one hears/read/see/ and of that being fed to us followers. In order for one to avoid falling into this trap, one have to carefully sieve through what is being said/told/read, and that includes even that said by the well-known and established real experts, let alone by the dozens upon dozens of self-appointed ones constantly bombarding us with their wisdom. About the… Read more »


We’ll have to watch Top Gear to find out what they were saying. It may take a while to get this far south ;-)