F1’s biofuel properties will open new power battle

Formula 1’s switch to biofuels with its new generation of cars looks set to trigger a surprise development battleground thanks to a change it brings in engine cooling characteristics.

As part of F1’s push for sustainability, new rules – which were originally coming in 2021 but have now been delayed – will require teams to run their engines with a 10% blend of advanced sustainable ethanol.

Work has already begun among F1’s fuel suppliers to optimise the potential of the biofuel, and Ferrari’s technical partner Shell has revealed a fascinating characteristic of the new product.

It believes that a cooling characteristic of ethanol could open up some interesting development directions for F1 that could prove decisive in the battle for glory.

Shell’s F1 development manager Benoit Poulet told Motorsport.com: “The interesting aspect of the car performance is similar to when you put a [ethanol based] cooling gel on your fingers – you can feel the cooling effect that you get. It will be the same for the engine.

“It will be able to cool some parts of the power unit and that could be quite beneficial. We are working hard on it.

“The properties are certainly quite interesting for combustion, and I think we can do some interesting things. We have definitely found at the moment that this cooling effect is good for the engine.”

Ethanol delivers the cooling benefit because it has nearly three times the heat of vaporisation as regular fuel – which means there is a cooling effect for the incoming charge during the combustion cycle. A cooler intake charge means that engine power will increase.

Engine manufacturers could chase this straight horsepower gain, or could opt to change the overall design and cooling characteristics to run the engine at a different temperature. This could then have a knock-on effect for the car’s aerodynamics.

Benoit said that Shell has been working on the new biofuel ever since the regulations came out last year.

“It’s a big challenge but we are really happy to switch to E10 fuel – and to be honest we would be happy to have even more than 10%,” he said.

“We have people working on the project, and people who are familiar with E10. And it’s a big change because ethanol comes with some different properties to the other hydrocarbons.

“Because of that, we really decided to start early. It’s a bit like the chassis people; we started as soon as the regulation was published. On project management, I allocated one person full time on that question and now we have got a good understanding in terms of the benefit of E10.”

The use of more biofuel in F1 was originally set for 2021, but a recent move to delay the new regulations because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic means the requirement could be moved back until 2022.

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