Are Electric Cars the Future of F1?
You might be surprised, but the racing fuel in Formula 1 cars is not terribly different from what you get out of your local gas pump. It must be a minimum of 87 octane and contain 10% bio-components (typically ethanol). I put higher-octane fuel in my car, and you might, too. Where things get special for F1 is each engine supplier’s fuel supplier. Ferrari uses Shell, Mercedes uses Petronas, etc. Each fuel is specially formulated for peak performance for each engine manufacturer with various additives and formulations.
So, if the fuel isn’t very different, surely Formula 1 would consider electric cars given that more and more of them are available to consumers, right? I don’t think so. Let’s explore why electric cars in F1 races are unlikely in the future.
Electric Racing is Already Here
Have you heard of Formula E? Formula E is a single-seater racing series now in its eighth season. It uses 100% battery-powered race cars, and they’ve just launched their third-generation car, which will be used beginning next season. Unlike F1, Formula E electric cars are part of a spec series; all of the cars are the same with very few components that teams can adjust. There are 11 teams, making for 22 cars on the grid, and they exclusively race through cities on street circuits, making the race quite the spectacle. This season sees 16 races on the calendar in cities such as Mexico City, Rome, Berlin, New York City, London, Monaco, and Marrakesh.
Strategy plays a huge role in a Formula E race. Drivers may have a 45-lap race but may have enough battery for only 40 laps. They need to use brake regeneration, lift and coast, and other tools at their disposal to know when to attack and when to lay back. If your battery goes flat, that’s it — you’re out of the race.
Drivers you may be familiar with from F1 are driving electric cars in Formula E as well. Former McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne drives for Mercedes. Former Red Bull stable drivers Jean-Éric Vergne and Sebastian Buemi have Formula E seats as well. And if you were worried that Formula Jesus (Antonio Giovinazzi) hadn’t landed on his feet after losing his seat at Alfa Romeo, fret no longer. After Formula 1, he found a home racing electric cars in Formula E as well. If you have followed DTM in recent years, the names Edoardo Mortara and Robin Frijns should ring a bell, too.
The Future of Formula E, F1, and Electric Cars
When it comes to electric cars and Formula 1 versus Formula E, Formula E has grown considerably in the past few years, and there doesn’t appear to be any slowing it down. They are a development test bed for major automobile manufacturers to test their latest EV technology. Mercedes, Jaguar, Nissan, BMW, Porsche, Audi, and others are all represented on the race grid. They would not dedicate time, effort, and money into these electric cars if they did not see Formula E in addition to F1 as a viable effort.
Formula E is also governed by the FIA, which I believe protects Formula E to a certain extent from Formula 1 coming in and stealing their thunder. Formula 1 is also glacial when it comes to change. Only just now are they considering re-ordering the race calendar for 2023 so that races that are in the same region are close to each other on the calendar. One of the easiest ways for F1 to become greener is to stop flying all over the globe to and fro. They can keep the exact same races but instead cluster them together so that the logistical impact and carbon footprint that the series creates is lighter. If they’re only getting to this kind of minor change now, it will be quite some time before Formula 1 even considers ditching its current internal combustion engine for electric cars in future F1 races.