F2 and F3 to trial sustainable fuel before F1 – Symonds

Formula 2

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Formula 1 will use its two ‘feeder series’ as test beds for the new sustainable fuel it intends to introduce in 2026.

The synthetic fuels will be produced from renewable sources and produce less emissions than the conventional petrol currently used in F1.

While F1 is contested by competing engine manufacturers and fuel suppliers, Formula 2 and Formula 3 have single specifications of each. F1’s 1.6-litre V6 hybrid turbo engines are produced by four different manufacturers. Mecachrome supply the engines used in F3 – a six-cylinder 3.4-litre unit producing around 380bhp – and F2 – a turbocharged 3.4-litre V6 generating up to 620bhp.

F1’s technical director Pat Symonds says this makes F2 and F3 suitable for testing the new fuels before they have been perfected.

“We will introduce sustainable fuels into Formula 2 and Formula 3 before we do into Formula 1,” he told the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in a talk. “The reason for that is that Formula 2 and Formula 3 use a single type of engine, they use a single type of fuel. So we’ve got to do the job once. And, to be honest, it doesn’t have to be perfect.

“With Formula 1, we have multiple fuel companies involved, have different types of engine and it does have to be perfect. We can’t formulate a fuel which would advantage one engine against another. So it’s a big problem.”

F1 also faces the challenge of sourcing a large enough supply of sustainable fuel for a full season.

“We use a reasonable amount of fuel, around a million litres a year,” said Symonds. “Now that’s not much in real terms but it falls between two stools: It’s a little bit too much to make in the laboratory. It’s not enough to make in a proper plant.

Single-spec F2 will be a sustainable fuel test bed
“Now there are decent pilot plants being built and in 2023 there’ll be at least two that we’re involved with will be on-stream and we are really pushing this. This is really important to us.”

Internal combustion engines will remain part of F1’s new engine formula which is due for introduction in 2026. Symonds has said the series cannot move to electric power alone as it does not yet produce the high levels of performance required.

However he believes F1 can make a positive contribution to the environment by helping to develop drop-in fuels which can be used in existing internal combustion engines, without modification, to reduce emissions.

“We have a very comprehensive definition of our advanced sustainable fuels,” he said. “We’re not doing any greenwashing, it’s got to be correct and we really are great believers in this. We really believe that an advanced sustainable fuel, providing it’s a drop-in fuel, really can contribute to parallel paths to electrification.”

“Even if urban vehicles do go electrified all these other heavy vehicles – trucks and things that – will need a really high energy density power unit and fuel source or energy source,” he said.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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35 comments on “F2 and F3 to trial sustainable fuel before F1 – Symonds”

  1. A good follow up would to see if the total emissions to “burn” and to produce synthetic fuel.
    Last time I’ve checked one can run an engine on hydrogen created with from wind, but the ammount of energy available on the hydrogen would be less than the used in the whole process.
    Considering that F2-F3 would need a engergy denser fuel, it is not absurd to wonder whether the net emissions will be positive or not by replacing fossil fuels with synthetics.
    Maybe this would be the definitive gauge of greenwashing.

    1. Yeah, the current cycles for producing hydrogen give so many losses that even with sustainable/renewable energy being used, it is only reasonable if we would have a surplus of that energy.

      I think starting with F2-F3 (I guess also working together to an extent with the supplier for the FIA WEC?) makes sense, since the process that are being set up need to scale up towards industrial processes where they can be made more and more efficiently (apart having to be able to even achieve the minimum capacity of production needed) before being introduced to F1 and then scaled up again for mass production.

      I would guess that both the efficiency of those processes as well as the cost will need quite a bit of optimising before it can ever be scaled up to be a mass production to fuel millions of vehicles. At the same time, it badly needs sorting out where the raw materials are going to come from at any larger capacity.

      It doesn’t make much sense to directly compare efficiency between the current “production” of these fuels and any realistic existing large scale processes. But I doubt they will be anywhere near as bad as the chain of extraction, refining, transporting and then burning fossil fuels currently is (even apart from the fact that fossil fuels by definition introduce CO2/energy/pollution into our environment that was not in there, which will not be the case for syntethic fuels made from sustainable materials).

    2. Yeah, good comment echoing my own thoughts. Here in the States gasoline is 10% ethanol produced from corn; the farming of that corn and the processing to ethanol uses more energy than the alcohol produces, for a net loss. Farmers over here are actually paid a subsidy to grow corn, otherwise it would be a money loser for them. I’m curious, what is the feed stock for ‘synthetic’ fuels?

      Reply moderated
      1. Although both these terms get stretched biofuels are fuels from crops or other organic sources, some of which are legitimately waste but you’re right that cash crops are the source for fuel ethanol, frequently worsening the environmental disaster it’s in theory alleviating.

        Synthetic fuels are molecularly bonded. The most common method is to take hydrogen (industrially sourced from mining or methane or the greenest method is from electrolysis using clean energy) and bond it with carbon captured from the air, creating methanol which can then be reformed into a synthetic petrol. So although there are high energy costs and the hydrogen sourcing is a whole other kettle of fishy problems, in theory if the process was done perfectly it would be carbon negative to create the fuel and then – because combustion is obviously not lossless – less impactful than using fossil fuels at the point of burning it.

      2. @SteveR

        You can produce ethanol from organic waste using genetically modified yeast. Fracking was actually a major hit to this, as companies who invested in this and who wanted to build big plants, were severely hit by low oil & gas prices.

    3. So exactly how many emissions are created using wind? … cannot wait for this answer.

      But, in the meantime hydrogen can also be created using solar energy … in a nice closed loop system that also provides clean water, concentrated salt water that functions like a battery, and electricity 24/7.

      What’s the down side?

      1. Yeah, you can make hydrogen by using solar or wind etc but the sad truth is only about 4% of the worlds hydrogen is made that way. The rest comes from coal, natural gas and oil, the process is not environmentally friendly. Hydrogen is not the way, even if you did make it through electrolysis you have to put in way more energy than you get out, making batteries way more efficient. Remember water is just hydrogen that’s already been burnt, it’s a very strong chemical bond that takes a lot of energy to break. That combined with the fact that hydrogen is 5-6 times less energy dense than petrol, means you’d need fuel tanks 5 times the size! Forget the hydrogen economy and “sustainable fuels” it’s a dead end.

        1. Just follow the Hydrogen “Green” production process.
          – electrolysis around 40% efficient. No real room to improve as Miss Physics is driving this buss.
          – catalytically remove O2 and other contaminants, 5% loss at best
          – dehydration to remove water in the gas, 5%
          – compression to be able to store it with a poor but useable energy density, 10%
          – now run it through a fuel cell to produce electricity (remember how this process started.?) 50%
          Net overall efficiency is down somewhere 15 to 20%. Compared to just charging batteries with the electricity in the first place, 95% or better.
          Even projects where the H2 is available free, at no charge, it makes no economic sense. On top of which it is difficult to transport (it’s bulky) and transferring from one tank to another, guess what, it takes more energy for compression and cooling to do it in a reasonable time frame.
          Just charge batteries. Is more efficient and battery technology (not quite Moore’s Law) is improving steadily.
          Hydrogen is a politically motivated energy storage system that wouldn’t survive without Govt. funding.

      2. @Dale

        The production and maintenance of wind farms definitely creates emissions. But the real issue with wind is that it’s not reliable.

        This is not just an issue for direct delivery, but also hydrogen production, as it’s very expensive for a factory to be idle. Furthermore, not all factory processes can easily be shut down and started up again, or run at different levels. I don’t know enough about hydrogen production on a large scale to know whether that is the case there, but it seems plausible that a stable and constant electricity supply is important (as you are producing dangerous gasses that need to be safely extracted, and sudden high pressures or low pressures could be very disruptive).

  2. As usual, F1 is bogged down with politics while F2 and F3 get stuff done.
    F1 needs a kick up the back side. Stop being a follower who is always 5 or 10 (or more) years too late to the party.

    1. Well, since F1 is a mish mash of the FIA with a commercial dealmaker, and 10 individual teams with several engine makes while F2/F3 are wholly under control by Liberty Media with a single series sourced fuel supplier and engine supplier it would be hugely surprising if it was NOT easier to do so, right S?

      It makes huge sense, much like F2 switched over to the larger tyres earlier than F1 too. Since all cars are the same, there is no risk of upsetting the competitive order there either.

      1. Sure, but then the FIA could just make a technical rule about the fuel and they’d all have to follow it, wouldn’t they, @bascb
        But like I said, F1 politics discourages this.

        As for the competitive order….These are racing series. Competitive order is how they cross the finish line, not what they may have subjectively ‘earned’ prior to the first test session even starting.
        If Merc or Red Bull finish races at the back of the pack as a consequence of their approach to such a rule, then that’s the competitive order.

        1. It’s not about “politics” or “rules” at the moment though S. Rather it just is not yet technically viable, and it would cost a lot more to throw this into F1 first. Again, why would you NOT want to test something completely new in a smaller, less exposed and far, far easier controllable environment.

          That will also help give the FIA a very solid reference to build upon to even be able to understand and control what F1 suppliers will be doing with it in the next step.

          1. It’s not a test if they are racing with it @bascb.
            If they wanted it to be a test, they’d be doing it on a dyno. Which I have little doubt they’ve been doing for at least 12 months already.

            This is adoption into competition. And in years past, F1 would have been the place to do it first.
            But not any more…. Because of, well, F1 politics….

    2. Ever thought that F2/F3 is being used as a test platform before using it in F1? See how it actually works in practice, get the teething problems out, fine tune it and then introduce it into F1.
      Like they did with the halo, 18 inch tyres, sprint races, etc.

      Reply moderated
  3. Does this seem backwards? F1 makes a big deal about being the pinnacle of motorsport and having the smartest people on the planet. How about unleashing the power of those talented individuals. Everyone has to be full synthetic in 3 years. It doesn’t matter if it’s plant based, hydrogen, solar panels or moon rocks. If you make more power, so be it. 5 years after the change, you share your information with the public.

    If this isn’t the kind of innovation that F1 embraces, they risk becoming a niche sport running old word technology.

    1. I think it is smart rather than backwards to use these relatively controlled (single makes, one engine supplier, all sourced by 1 commercial partner) and low stake environment as a test bed @rockonscotty.

    2. BTW, “fully syntethic in 3 years” is a complete pipedream. As the article mentions, there is not even enough production capacity for a field of 40 racing cars, nor are there sustainable materials to make that amount of fuel right now.

      And with competition for both the production facilities and the materials with the likes of aerospace for the coming decade, it is really going to be quite a task to build up any reasonable availability at a somewhat reasonable price. Let alone having a shot at somewhat larger scale introduction.

      1. I wonder what they mean with (fully) ‘synthetic fuels’.
        To me it’s only ‘synthetic’ if it’s fuel from atmospheric carbon and hydrogen.
        But many/most include hydrocarbon fuels from waste or from biomass as synthetic as well.
        Of the latter type there is a lot already to run our circus on.

        1. From what I saw about it, their target seems to indeed be the synthetic from carbon and hydrogen jff, although I would think that for now they might also be including biofuels made out of waste if needed to get to any kind of decent amount of fuel.

    3. @rockonscotty there is no room for that type of game in F1 currently, the budget cap simply wouldn’t allow for it. Even prior to the budget caps the teams understood the technical challenge (chemistry is not the typical domain of F1) of fuel formulation and developed strategic partnerships with petrochemical companies to extract more power from the ICE using bespoke fuel (while still sticking to, or at least making it look like they were sticking to, the regulations.)

      The teams are however on the leading edge as far as energy store, the story of how Mercedes is getting help from its F1 arm for battery technology is an example of this.

    4. It’s easy for F1 to switch to synthetic fuel, the problem that they are trying to sort out is the policing part.

      The moment fuel goes synthetic, all hell could break loose. Suddenly a team can get fuel that allows them to have 20-30% more power and the fans here will complain again. So they have to talk to a lot of stakeholders and chemist to learn how to police this. This is why F2 and F3 is easier, single fuel supplier, no one can complain nor cheat.

      At the same time, they have to make sure the processes to create the fuel is green. Else it will be a step backward

      1. Fuel formulation is covered in the current technical rules in quite specific detail. There is the capability for Petronas, Shell, Esso etc. to formulate a range of fuels from a variety of feed stocks within the rules. Even Bio sources.
        This is likely why the FIA requires several different fuel samples over the course of a race weekend. Not only to police the formulation but to ensure that what they run on Sunday is the same as what was used on Friday and Saturday.
        All hell has not broken loose, yet.
        Effectively, the option has been there to use a “synthetic” blend for the past 4 or 5 years if I recall correctly.
        For fun, check out Zubrin, Mars Direct 2014. In it he details how to make rocket fuel on Mars for the trip home. Not much different than making synthetic fuel, except we don’t need to sweat the O2 side of the equation.

  4. Prodrive uses synthetic fuel at this year’s Dakar made mostly from biowaste and using it successfully, perhaps they should contact them to see how it’s done (and according to their website it was all developed within the past year), because this seems to be a pretty vague intent from F1.

    1. That is good but as explained by Pat, F1 needs at least a million Litres. Dakar is pretty much a few stages with a couple cars using that fuel. Would be interesting to see what volume was actually used.

  5. I have a lot of reservations about synthetic fuels – they’re always going to be, at the very best, sustainable in only boutique quantities and despite carbon capture technologies improving and increasingly interesting tech emerging for hydrogen electrolysis, there won’t be a mass green solution within a timeframe that would make sense. On the other hand, racing fuels are exactly the kind of playground they could cater to, so I do see an on-track future for synthesised petrol.

    But what I have a lot more reservations about is F1 once again using Formula 2 and 3 as test beds for what should be its own technology. It’s no secret that the current F2 generation has been, technologically, a problem for the series; even while ongoing issues were happening with throttle mapping, clutch operation and engine degradation – as well as a chronic lack of spare parts during the 2020 and 2021 seasons – F2 has been being used to test 18″ tyres for Formula 1.

    The advantage is massively clear for F1: lots of data on the same tracks that it runs on. Same as will be the case with the synthetic fuels – although F2 cars are manifestly different to F1, they’re about as close as you’re going to get in terms of running the same circuits on the same weekends, etc.

    The advantage for F2, on the other hand, doesn’t exist. If there are adaptations that need to be made to a new fuel then they have to be made on the skimpy budgets, personnel and data processing power of an F2 team (comparable to those of F1) – if there are teams that can’t get that right, as there were with the new tyres, then junior drivers will find themselves paying €2-3 million for yet another chaotic season where it’s harder to tell who was genuinely good than who had a car that was working correctly.

    That’s not acceptable, for series that make and break young drivers’ reputations – even if you overlooked the staggering costs of junior series currently then experimenting with anything that could affect the reliability or performance of cars that should, be equal, for drivers who are attempting to show they can reach the highest echelons of motorsport, isn’t fair. To do it when the costs are as high as they are is frankly cynical and I sincerely hope there is pushback from junior teams over exactly how this will be implemented.

    I’m sure that for Symonds the data gathering exercise will be wonderful but then, he isn’t scraping together sponsorship to have an attempt at a dream that it only takes a few races to see years of effort and investment fall apart from. Not to mention that anything that can be turned into an advantage with the addition of private testing days, increased engineering budget, etc. only serves to turn the highest levels of motorsport into even more of a billionaire’s club.

    Porsche Supercup is now running on synthetic fuel and plenty of manufacturers – and their gigantic petrochemical sponsors – have access to lots of data to develop racing fuels. There is no justification for putting the research burden onto junior formulas where drivers are paying for a chance at their dreams.

    1. @hazelsouthwell you bring up some very good points about F2/F3 teams and drivers not benefiting from this. One would argue that for drivers their first and closest competitor is their team mate which still stands true regardless of tyres and petrol used. Secondly given the close F2/F1 association with junior teams this could be a “call up” opportunity for some engineers to bring their junior formula experience to the big team, at the very least to demonstrate their ability to maximize the opportunity in a new and uncertain situation.

    2. @hazelsouthwell wouldn’t most of those costs and development work be Mecachrome’s responsibility though, rather than the teams themselves?

      1. Mechachrome would do any adaptation work necessary (which shouldn’t be much, in theory) and would work with the supplier to get the right blend, yes. But you would also have said that the 18″ development costs were the problem of Pirelli and not the F2 teams who nonetheless had to work out how to use them.

    3. There is no justification for putting the research burden onto junior formulas where drivers are paying for a chance at their dreams.

      I agree with many of the points you raised, but this point is probably the most important one. One question that wasn’t answered is how much does this synthetic fuel cost? Say it cost a few of dollars per litre more than what F2 and F3 normally use then maybe that is sort of justifiable, but say it was in the 10s of dollars per litre more than what is commercially available? Who pays for that? The FIA or the Parents? And what if the cost is hundreds of dollars per litre? If the FIA were paying then why aren’t they blowing their own trumpet? So my guess is the parents and sponsors will end up paying. They are putting up big money for their F1 hopeful to compete. The FIA is using so called “environmental progress” as just another reason to charge them more.
      As I’ve said before, if the FIA want to use it in F1 then change the rules to allow it to be used in F1.

  6. What a cynical red herring is “sustainable fuel.” But apparently the public has now been hoodwinked sufficiently that PR misdirection has got be a plush gig these days.

    Reply moderated
  7. I strongly advise anyone interested in F1 hybrid engines to watch Pat Symond’s engineering lecture video linked to in the article (which I informed Racefans about). It does depend on the viewer understanding plenty of engineering terms, but is an exceptional source of technical info that the teams have kept secret up until now.

    1. Missed it, can you please share the video again over here?

      1. I have an opinion
        12th January 2022, 7:13

        It’s linked in the article you’re commenting on!

        in a talk“.

        Alesici is merely claiming credit for pointing the video out to RaceFans.

  8. On the one hand it makes sense for new things to be tested in the feeder series, where any problems are less of an issue. However, it’s questionable how representative the data will be, with the lack of engine competition and much less investment. I guess that if F2/F3 see a certain loss in power, you can be reasonably sure that F1 will have less than that.

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