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The Circuit

Green agenda to fuel F1

  • Story Highlights
  • An F1 team uses 200,000 liters of fuel per season in racing and testing
  • F1's governing body proposing to cut fuel use in half within six years
  • All major fuel companies invest in F1 as a marketing tool for their road fuel
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Neale Graham
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- At a time when gasoline prices are rising and supply is declining, Formula One can seem a little out of touch.

F1's thirst for fuel is summed up by regular pitstops; each team uses 200,000 liters per season.

After all, 20 cars are going round and round, burning fuel, in the quickest time possible. And though miles per gallon is important to the result on the race track, in today's world it matters a whole lot more off it.

Refueling during pitstops is the most obvious manifestation of F1's slavish relationship with gasoline.

An F1 team uses around 200,000 liters per season in testing and racing, and the sport's gas-guzzling image bottomed out last season.

A phase of the qualifying session in 2007 was known as the fuel burn, where the cars would circulate just to shed the weight of the fuel and thus increase speed.

That went for 2008 when team bosses realized that it was an unsustainable concept from an environmental point of view.

But the sport's governing body, the FIA, want to take the issue further given how slow F1 has been to address the rise in prominence of green issues taking place away from the track.

The FIA wants an initial 20 percent reduction in the F1 fuel consumption by 2011, no mean feat in a formula using 2.4-liter V8 engines that burn close to a liter of gasoline per kilometer.

In a letter written to team principals, FIA president Max Mosley said: "With attention on energy problems worldwide, Formula One cannot afford to be profligate in its use of fuel.

"The target should be a 50 percent reduction from today's levels of fuel consumption by 2015, while maintaining current speeds.

"The rules should encourage manufacturer teams to research technologies which are road-relevant rather than Formula One specific."

This last point is not necessarily the problem with fuel. Since 1993, the fuel used in F1 has been virtually identical to gasoline used by road cars, a move driven in part by the desire on the part of the oil companies involved to have demonstrable links between race and road fuel.

That selling point remains key -- F1 fuel could be used in a road car, providing a 40bhp power boost at 10 times the cost of regular unleaded.

Attempting to track real-world trends, the sport insisted teams run with fuel that includes at least 5.75 percent bio-fuel from this season.

Virtually all the major global oil companies are in F1: the Castrol, Esso, Mobil 1, Shell, Elf, Petrobras, Eneos and Petronas brands are all competing against each other at considerable cost, but not without good justification.

Petrobras introduced the aptly named Podium, a high-performance road-car fuel derived from, and marketed on the back of, the Brazilian oil company's 10-year involvement in F1 with Williams.

Shell have more than 50 people working with Ferrari and hold a contract until 2010 to continue with the Scuderia as a marketing tool for its V-Power unleaded and Helix lubricants.

"Shell's deep technical partnership with Ferrari is an essential part of its overall design and development strategy, as it seeks to create better products for the road," said a spokesman of the Anglo-Dutch company's involvement in F1.

Much is made of the influence of tires on an F1 car, but it is much rarer for a team's oil partner to be given credit.

But the 10-year freeze on engine development has meant that enhancements are being sought in oil and lubricants to bring the best out of engines.

Renault-powered Red Bull and Ferrari-engined Toro Rosso effectively share a chassis, but the two teams have gone in opposite directions in performance recently -- and the finger has been pointed at the power plants.

"There has been an enormous amount of work on fuel and oil composition so as to improve outright performance," according to ITV commentator Martin Brundle.

"With so many clever people involved and such enormous budgets and resources they will always find ways to increase performance within the strict terms of the regulations."

At the British Grand Prix in July, McLaren felt compelled to hail the achievements of their oil supplier Mobil 1 in providing new products that improved performance.

"Silverstone saw the introduction of new fuel and lubricants from our partners at Mobil 1 and that has also made an incremental but useful improvement to engine performance," said Martin Whitmarsh, the team's chief executive officer.

As F1 races after the dollar in markets half a world away from its European heartland, more flights will be needed to transport the 20 teams' cargo. And these planes are so heavy, they can only fly for eight hours before needing to land and refuel.

Perversely, then, oil seems more important than ever to F1.

And Honda Motor Company president and chief executive officer Takeo Fukui is happy to provide the counter argument to the green agenda.

"I think we might save some fuel if we're going to stop formula racing, but people don't live thinking about the environment only. You need to enjoy your life," he said.

"That's what we're here for, and therefore we think that we need to have motor sports for the sake of enjoyment. That's the reason we need to have Formula One racing."

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