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Can synthetic fuels save racing as we know it?

Can synthetic fuels save racing as we know it?

The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) has promised that every series it presides over, from karting to rallying to Formula One, will use 100% carbon-neutral fuel by 2026. With hardly any of motorsport’s emissions coming directly from the race cars, though, that promise risks either greenwashing larger logistical problems or promoting fuel solutions that have little road relevance.

The first FIA karting events running on 100% sustainable fuel began in March, using a drop-in fuel from German supplier P1 racing fuels. P1, who already supply to the World Rally Championship and fuelled Sebastian Vettel’s showruns in old F1 cars last year, make their fuel out of a blend of bio-ethanol and molecularly constructed synthetic fuel from captured carbon and green hydrogen.

From a fuelling and emissions perspective, karting might seem like the least of anyone’s worries. A kart tank holds less than two gallons of fuel, and the less a driver carries on board the lighter they’ll be and faster they’ll go, so the incentive to save is already there.

Anyone looking at it purely from an engineering perspective isn’t the average 12- or 14-year-old in 2023, though. The idea that you could be contributing to your own imminent doom isn’t theoretical for young people, it’s a reality they’re already contending with. According to a survey conducted by Bath University, three quarters of young people think the future is frightening and 56% believe that humanity is doomed because of climate change.

Then there’s the other existential threat, which is that motorsport could be prevented from continuing if it can’t prove it’s doing something sustainable. When other major carbon emitters being scrutinized are modes of transportation that people depend on, racing becomes an easy target.

“The move to 100% carbon-neutral fuel is a very important step in the evolution of all FIA karting championships,” said CIK-FIA president Akbar Ebrahim about bringing in the new fuels. “It ensures alignment with the FIA’s overall environmental strategy and allows us to continue racing in a sustainable manner.”

The point is to not disrupt racing while making (apparent) “concrete progress.”

That’s evident in the fact that nothing about the karts or the way they burn fuel has changed. What comes out of the exhausts will be exactly the…

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