There is no doubt about it: F1 cars are lightning quick. It is part of the reason why us fans like watching and indulging in the sport so much; the raw speed alone can give such an amazing adrenaline rush.
We place so much importance on the internal machinery of the cars, like the engine and the energy recovery system (ERS) to generate the crazy speeds that we see in modern Formula One. The truth is, the type of fuel that is used is just as crucial in shaving off valuable seconds over a race distance, and can be the difference between 2nd and race victory.
Since the start of the 1996 season, fuel has been tightly regulated by the FIA in order to comply with Euro 95 regulations. This means that the petrol you put into your own dinky little car at the local station is pretty much the same as the formulation used in Formula 1.
Before this, all teams in the paddock were free to experiment with whatever fuel mixtures they desired. One of the greatest dilemmas for engineers was how they could increase fuel efficiency whilst maintaining the same levels of power from their fuel. This would allow the drivers to push at 100% lap after lap without having to worry about fuel conservation, thus allowing them to go faster and gain an advantage on race day. The trick was to blend the fuel with certain additives which reduced the friction between the mixture and the pistons of the engine, improving gas mileage.
The teams were also allowed to push the octane rating of the fuel they used as high as possible. Octane rating, also known as octane number, relates to the amount of compression that the fuel can withstand before detonating. While a high octane rating does not equate to a higher power output, if an engine can be designed with a larger octane number in mind it will be able to generate more brake horsepower (bhp).
However, all this fettling had the unintended consequence of messing with the environment BIG TIME. I mean it was no wonder that the FIA had to step in when teams were re-introducing lead compounds into their fuel mixtures. So the 1996 regulation change was welcomed by the vast majority of people, both teams and fans alike.
We are talking about F1 here though. When a new rule is introduced, the top scientific and mathematical minds at each team will try their damned hardest to find a loophole they can exploit. Unlike petrol station pumps across the world, which contain a crude mixture of hydrocarbons and other compounds in widely varying proportions, F1 fuel is tightly measured by the team and optimised to work perfectly with each team’s engine. So the Petronas fuel used by Mercedes will not work very well inside a Ferrari, for example.
There has been a gradual shift in focus in favour of the environment by Formula 1 in recent years. One change that has been made very recently is in regards to where the fuel has been sourced from. For the 2022 season, all teams have been instructed to use E10 fuel. This means that 10% of the fuel has been sourced from plants, as supposed to drilling it out of the ground and depleting our limited reserves of existing oil. This is an increase from the 5.75% biofuel that was used up until the end of the 2021 campaign. There is already a lot of movement within the FIA in regards to using 100% biofuel in the near future.