Is Electrification the Future of Formula 1?

Should F1 get with the times and embrace electric vehicles? Castor Chan explores the debate

Castor Chan
9th May 2021
Twitter @BBC_TopGear
Formula 1 has a loyal and traditionalist following, with viewers today still missing the nostalgic roar of the V10 and V12 engines. But with the ever-increasing popularity of electric cars both for the public and racing, along with the increased environmental awareness in recent years, should it turn to electrification?

Well, no. Firstly, most fans would say their biggest complaint with electric cars is the sound of the engines. Despite Formula E achieving FIA World Championship status last year, the electric cars have not enjoyed the same audience as its hybrid twins of F1. People are already dissatisfied with the quieter V6 power units, and that sharpens into dislike for the whine of the FE Gen 2 cars. 

And on that note, many will point out that there is already an electric single-seater championship, and that F1 could go back to the non-hybrid era engines. Why would F1 change their engines if FE will cater to the ones who like electric racing?

F1 has vowed to have a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030. In the current ‘hybrid era’, cars use the V6 combustion engine with sustainable fuels, along with energy recovery systems that collect waste energy. According to former Mercedes powertrain department director Andy Cowell, the V6s are more than 1.5 times more heat efficient while using half the fuel per hour than the old V10s. 

And fuel/energy limitation is an important factor in the electrification debate. In current big electric series like FE and Extreme E (electric rallying), the cars either have to save energy or the race only covers a short distance. 

This became especially apparent in the recent FE Valencia ePrix when only 9 out of 23 drivers were able to finish. Last season’s rule change dictated that 1kwh of energy per minute will be deducted under safety car conditions, and paired with a late-race incident in the first race, it wreaked havoc on energy-saving strategies. 

Twitter@ExtremeELive

Despite the current confines of electric engines, it is clear that many believe in its progress. Although Audi and BMW are bowing out next season, FE still has many more manufacturers than F1. Extreme E has also pioneered hydrogen fuel cell generator technology to charge their cars, which can hopefully be commercialized for general use. 

But it seems that Formula 1 will keep their V6s for the foreseeable future. As F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali said, “we need to stay hybrid. We don’t have to take electrification as a world religion.” And if sustainable fuels develop further maybe we will actually go back to non-hybrids, and in the words of Daniel Ricciardo, hear that goosebump-inducing “V10 scream.”

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