Recent commitments to the turbo hybrid regulations using sustainable fuels by Audi and Honda, taking effect from 2026, have profound implications in the world of Formula 1 (F1), beyond just adding to the competition on the track. These commitments hint at the potential to reshape the future of engines in road cars on a global scale.
Following Honda’s unexpected decision to embrace this new direction, it quickly became evident that the future of F1 and its impact on everyday vehicles are about to change significantly. Christian Horner, the boss of the Red Bull team, commented: “This shows that the combustion engine is far from obsolete. When Honda initially withdrew, their reasoning was to focus on electrification. However, with sustainable fuels and zero emissions becoming a reality, alongside F1’s plans for 2026, combustion engines have regained their relevance.”
Developments within the EU
Governmental policies in recent years have been steering the automotive industry and consumers towards a future dominated by electric vehicles. However, recent changes in these trends are now evident. The impending EU ban on new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 once seemed to spell doom for the internal combustion engine. Current developments suggest a less definitive outcome.
As EU regulations progressed through legislative stages, concessions were made to secure approval from various governments. This included allowing low-volume car manufacturers to continue producing traditional engines and an exception for engines powered by carbon-neutral e-fuel, guaranteed by the German government. The Italian government is following suit, seeking similar exemptions for biofuels.
These changes can be attributed partly to the efforts of F1 representatives like CEO Stefano Domenicali, who has been actively involved in discussions throughout Europe to inform policymakers. The resulting message implies a more nuanced response to the energy transition.
A recent G7 meeting in Japan further emphasized this shift, highlighting a future for road cars that are not just electric, but also electrified, using a variety of fuels. The G7 nations expressed their ambition to achieve 100% electrified new passenger car sales by 2035, alongside promoting sustainable, carbon-neutral fuels, including bio- and synthetic fuels.
There is also growing recognition of the life-cycle carbon footprint comparison between electric vehicles, hybrids, and traditional cars, suggesting that electric isn’t necessarily the superior choice. This doesn’t indicate a halt in the shift towards electric, but a more balanced approach seems to be emerging, acknowledging a potential future for combustion engines, particularly those powered by carbon-neutral fuels.
Honda, despite previously exiting F1 to focus on electric vehicles, now suggests a more open-minded stance regarding the future of road cars, even though their plans haven’t yet altered. Toshihiro Mibe, Honda CEO, acknowledged that the combustion engine will likely persist and that the company must be prepared for the potential demand for e-fuels, despite the challenges they present, such as cost.
F1’s Domenicali has long advocated for such open-mindedness, criticizing what he perceives as a dogmatic belief in electric vehicles being the sole solution for carbon-neutral transportation. He insists that a comprehensive sustainability goal is correct, but transition must be handled with care, stating that forcing unachievable goals is a mistake.
A more balanced future
F1 has long held the belief that the future of road transport will comprise both electric and sustainably fueled combustion engines, excluding fossil fuels. The division between electric and combustion engines is challenging to determine at present.
However, F1’s advancement of its hybrid technology and sustainable fuels will play a crucial role in defining this balance. This is the motivation behind F1’s commitment to sustainable fuels, aiming to accelerate the technology’s evolution beyond what would naturally occur in commercial markets.
FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem believes that the governing body must now take action, considering the ethical dilemmas surrounding materials like Cobalt used in batteries, and the environmental impact of lithium extraction. He emphasizes the need to reach carbon neutrality ethically, regardless of the method used.
F1’s potential as a trailblazer
F1’s recent developments suggest that it could play a leading role in setting the agenda for future road cars. If F1 can shift the focus towards achieving carbon-neutral transportation, irrespective of the technology used, it could ensure a role for the combustion engine in our day-to-day life.
Ben Sulayem expressed optimism about a long-term future for the combustion engine but acknowledged the challenges it poses. He emphasized the shared responsibility of the FIA, OEMs, and manufacturers in meeting this challenge.
Domenicali echoed these sentiments, stating that prematurely dismissing the internal combustion engine is a mistake and a disservice to those not fully informed on the subject. He proposed that with fully sustainable fuel achieving zero tailpipe emissions, it may be beneficial to explore other directions, alongside electric vehicles.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Future of Combustion Engines
Is Formula 1 helping to save the combustion engine from disappearing?
Yes, the article explains how Formula 1, through its commitment to sustainable fuels and hybrid technology, is playing a significant role in shaping the future of the combustion engine. The approach could help maintain the relevance of these engines in the face of increasing electrification.
What is the impact of recent decisions by Audi and Honda on F1?
Audi and Honda’s commitment to the sustainably fuelled turbo hybrid regulations from 2026 is increasing the significance of F1 beyond just the racing spectacle. Their involvement hints at a bigger global picture which could dictate the future of road car engines.
How are EU regulations impacting the future of combustion engines?
While initial EU regulations seemed to signal the end of combustion engines with a proposed ban on new petrol and diesel cars from 2035, concessions have been made to allow engines powered by carbon neutral e-fuel. The German government has also ensured an exemption for engines powered by carbon neutral e-fuel, with Italy seeking exemptions for biofuels.
What does the future of road cars look like according to the G7 nations?
The G7 nations recently outlined their vision for the future of road cars, which involves a mix of electrified and sustainably fuelled vehicles. They aim for 100% of new passenger car sales to be electrified by 2035 and promote infrastructure and sustainable carbon-neutral fuels, including sustainable bio- and synthetic fuels.
What is the stance of the FIA on this issue?
FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem stated that his governing body needs to take action and do what’s best for the environment. He underscored the importance of reaching carbon neutrality ethically and believes that the FIA, OEMs, and manufacturers have a shared responsibility in this regard.