Horner questions ‘eco-friendly’ F1 over burning oil trick

Photo by: www.kymilman.com/f1

The 2017 oil-burning issue in Formula 1 has been an interesting discussion and possible reason for performance gains made by Ferrari and Mercedes over the course of the season. Perhaps Renault as well but I’ve heard less of their program than I have about the other two.

The FIA did release some mid-season guidance on the concept of burning oil on the piston head to increase performance and I would suspect that Renault is doing less of this innovation as Red Bull’s Christian Horner has come out as a staunch critic of the concept.

“Burning 4kg of oil in a race, it’s almost a diesel engine,” said Horner.

“It goes against what the concept of this eco-friendly hybrid formula is.

“I think the reality is it would be better to see it addressed properly, and take away the uncertainty.

“I know other teams are particularly upset about what they perceive as oil burning, particularly during qualifying.”

Let’s be honest, he’s got a point. If F1’s entire reason for bringing the hybrid power unit into the sport in 2014 was to be more sustainable and achieve a higher efficiency rate for their engines, then simply burning more oil in the piston is completely antithetical to the entire notion of being more sustainable.

The effort to be more efficient and more sustainable bankrupted three teams and has cost Sauber, Williams, Force India, Toro Rosso, Red Bull and McLaren a lot of time, effort and cash in engine supply contracts as they can’t/won’t build their own engines. At this point, the hybrid is so complex that these teams can’t justify the amount of R&D it would take to build their own.

It’s difficult to know, sitting on the outside, where the biggest gains in performance have come from over the last three years but as the MGU-H and MGU-K as well as ERS are relatively limited through regulations, one could presume that the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) is where the teams have made advances and in particular, by burning oil in the piston chamber. It’s a guess on my part as I am not embedded in the engine departments of the teams.

McLaren’s boss, Eric Boullier, is also not sure the current regulations are strict enough.

“I know the FIA and Charlie [Whiting] are working very hard to try to close the loophole because there’s not a clear definition of oil in the FIA regulations, but I don’t know if it’s going to be enough,” said Boullier.

“We have to also clamp [down on] this oil consumption, which would be at the end closing the loophole for next year.

“I think the restriction may [need to] be a bit higher than it is planned to be today.”

At some level, we’re arguing over if the hybrid power unit is as “green” as it was initially intended to be and surely the FIA may feel it is not but like many of these issues, it is difficult for the FIA to manage this flouting of the regulations. Ultimately they will have to detect the amount of oil used in an F1 car as well as the amount of oil in the fuel mixture.

We have a hybrid power unit and yet we are nearly running a diesel configuration so what have we gained? We’ve gained power unit efficiency for sure but does that take into account the burning of oil? I found this article very interesting as it echoes some of the things I’ve been saying since the hybrid was introduced. I also applaud David for having the guts to write something contradictory to what most auto journalists are parroting.

On some level, we are now beating lap times and while the broadcasters are really excited about it and bigging up the hybrids, we’re beating lap times from 10 years ago. I’ve argued many times that had we not changed to hybrids, are we seriously suggesting that even ICE V8’s or V10’s would not have improved in development over the years? Surely we would ahve been beating laps time with an evolved V8, no? As you can see in the linked article, the efficiency of today’s ICE is impressive and in many cases, more efficient than even than some hybrids.

That’s not to compare them with the F1 hybrid, that’s another beast for sure but still, isn’t the prime mover all about road relevancy? I said back in 2013 that I felt the way forward was to reduce the fuel-flow rate to the V8’s and watch innovation still deliver 800bhp at 18,000rpm over time. Mercedes says their F1 hybrid power unit is road relevant and that may be…for a super car. I would argue that an evolved V8 would have been more directly road relevant to more models across their car line but I may be wrong. Maybe they derive more road relevancy from a MGU-H for the C class but somehow I doubt it.

At the time, F1 deemed the V8 a horrible bane on society but it was one of, if not the, most efficient engines in the world. The FIA felt that 3mpg’s was a terrible message to be sending but in my opinion they were looking at the wrong metric. They should have been looking at the efficiency rating of the V8 and then, through reducing fuel-flow rate, watched as the technology got even more profound and efficiency even greater. That is road-relevant to me.

Hat Tip: Autosport

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charlie white

For once, I agree with Christian Horner. 4kg of oil may not be much but it runs counter to the point of the sport branding itself as “green”. It was more surprising that the FIA basically turned a blind eye to the whole oil burning issue rather than its decision to reduce it by a set amount. Does Pirelli recycle all those race tires, too?

Fred Talmadge

It’s about 4.44 liters for a couple of hundred miles. That’s more oil than my pos 1959 Ford used.

Salvu Borg

your 59 Ford must have been in dire need of a re-bore.

the Late Idi Armin

Because all that nonsense was a decision by Moseley and others to make racing fit in with politics of “global warming” diktats of the EU and other Western European govts.


I think this is a bit of a red herring, F1 doesn’t have emissions criteria, no-one measures or limits the CO2 or NOX the power units emit. From a couple of the articles I’ve found on the topic, the ‘oil’ being burned isn’t the engine oil, but a cocktail of additives that are injected to combine with the ‘petrol’ to increase power in certain operating modes. From my p.o.v what these hybrids have brought is to demonstrate a system for extracting more energy from the fuel (s) being used, increasing the efficiency from around 30% (70% of the energy wasted),… Read more »


I don’t care so much about the green aspect of it, but I think you bring a very important distinction between consumption and injection. Injection should be banned carte blanche. To me injection is a power adder that should banned. Air and Fuel should be all thats allowed, you create the boom. I would think this would be easy to police and implement but I understand why F1 may be hesitant to take that stand. I would also mandate oil specifications similar to the way they do with the fuel. This would curb a lot of the investment in new… Read more »


I’m kind of the opposite, interested in the technology and the potential wider benefits rather than concerned that some manufacturers have outsmarted the others. I’d imagine that the oil burning technology is a huge game of cat and mouse between the p.u suppliers and the regulators. With the p.u suppliers working around the wording, rather than the intent, of any rules on oil specification, oil usage and where and how oil is distributed around the p.u. And who knows, injection of additives might be a viable way of improving the efficiency, power output and emmissions of current road going I.c.u’s… Read more »

Salvu Borg

Hello all, a bit late on here but only thanks to JAKO’S and some others advice a few days ago. anyhow. re this so called “additional oil burn”, the rules are very specific about the type/specification of the only thing that can be injected into the combustion chambers as a power producer, The rules are also very specific about the fumes/residue produced by the rotating mass inside the crankcase having to be returned to the engine air intake. As such what is rutted back to the engine air intake from inside the engine crankcase will not be in breach of… Read more »


Welcome back Salvu, glad to see you back on F1B (thanks to NC).
So are you saying that Mercedes and Ferrari are not getting extra power from some devious means of introducing ‘oil’ to the combustion process?
Or that that they are burning ‘oil’ but no by devious means, and not for extra power.

Salvu Borg

Good morning from this end JAKO and thanks for welcoming me back, as to NC I already expressed my appreciation to him for his understanding of the situation I was pushed into. Yes I am sure that no one of the manufacturers are getting any extra power by “devious means” by introduces oil to the combustion process. I am sure that this “oil-burn” controversy was pushed out by those that have been left behind re engine developments, although all 4 are within reasonable power outputs of each other, of which sustainability and reliability during a race is making all the… Read more »


I’ll go and have a look and read a bit further, cheers.
Looks like you’re having very ‘interesting times’ in Malta. The assassination of the journalist has made big headlines here and around the world – stay safe.

Salvu Borg

If you went over there Yesterday go again today and read some more.


Great to see you back Salvu, was sorry not to see you around. I think that the most interesting thing about the oil burn situation was that Ferrari who were using oil burn to boost performance were the ones who brought it to the attention of the F1 regulators… Do you think that was because their oil burn system was less successful than Mercedes? If so suggests that there is an advantage to burning oil

Salvu Borg

“What these hybrids have brought is to demonstrate a system for extracting more energy from the fuels being used, increasing the efficiency from around 30% (70% of energy wasted) to around 50% (50% of energy wasted). Very well said JAKO, EXAMPLE, From 2016 to 2017 alone all four made developments gains, these gains were of the order of 50 BHP, which corresponds/is about right to an increased figure in thermal efficiency of from 47% to 50%. this subject is exactly why I believe that whatever the new for 2020 engine formula will be decided upon, any newcomers including those that… Read more »


Just for a bit of balance from the ‘hybrids are ruining F1’ theme, how about giving a bit of thought to how much money F1 teams invest in aerodynamics and chassis development? It can’t have escaped everyone’s attention that the three biggest spenders in F1 finish races and championships in the first three places. Williams and Force India run the same p.u as Mercedes, and are typically 1.0 to 1.5 sec off their pace. That difference isn’t down to the p.u, its down to the extra hundreds of millions Mercedes spend on aero and chassis. Although all of the smaller… Read more »


If the sport wanted to green, they could always reduce the size of the hospitality units that the teams transport from race to race. That is by far the biggest element of the freight that travels the world, and is not needed for any of the actual racing.

Horner is also asking Renault to develop it’s own ‘oil’ burning technology:

this is nothing to do with being green, it is about a competitive advantage.


Great link Dave, it nicely highlights that Horner’s comments come from a deeply caring place – he deeply cares that Mercedes and Ferrari have an advantage over RBR.
On reducing F1’s environmental impact. If Todd is right and Hybids are ruining F1, and nobody wants to see these current cars, then F1 is heading in the right direction. Its the 50,000 to 150,000 fans travelling to the races that cause the biggest environmental impact.