The two F1 teams leading the push for solar power in F1
Posted By: James Allen  |  17 Sep 2012   |  1:14 pm GMT  |  58 comments

Innovation in F1 can take many forms and there is some very interesting work going on at the moment in alternative energies, with solar power companies attracted into F1. It’s not an obvious fit one might say, but they are drawn in by the opportunity to innovate and to align with a sport which is all about high tech.

The prospect of drivers helmets and even the entire surface of an F1 car being made of solar panels is not far away.

On a bigger scale, Sauber and Lotus F1 team are pushing ahead with developments in solar power at their factories, aimed at reducing the team’s carbon footprint. This is an interesting step in many ways, not least at the present time, as it provides an alternative view to the push towards increased KERS and energy regeneration in F1 racing itself.

No-one would disagree that F1 could and should do more to appear more in step with the times on sustainability and carbon footprint. A lot of teams have made steps to make their factories carbon neutral. But there’s no getting away from the massive footprint from the amount of travel the teams, cars and freight must undertake every season, not to mention the spectators travelling to the events.

There is a debate going on at the moment about the rights and wrongs of introducing the new 2014 engines, which will be three to four times as expensive for teams to lease from manufacturers. estimates range from €15-20 million per season. This is because they feature new technologies which are aimed at reducing fuel consumption by over 30% and harvesting more energy from braking.

Many teams feel that this is a wrong use of funds at a tough time economically and that it would be better to adapt the current V8 engines to run with fuel flow meters. They argue that the environmental impact of the new V6 engines will be minimal anyway.

Far better, some argue, to do more long sighted projects to reduce footprint; projects like the ones Sauber and Lotus have undertaken with solar energy. Lotus has been at it for some time now with its partner Trina Solar, they recently installed panels to power the simulator.

The target for the Enstone plant is 33 megawatts of power for a year and in four months they have reached almost half of that. “This is an example of how we can associate F1 with cleaner, greener energy,” said Lotus F1 boss Eric Boullier. “And we can increase our expectations. We have some new projects on the dyno where we will integrate more and more solar energy.”

The Enstone factory is carbon neutral and also has the status of Site of Scientific Interest with the local council.

The Lotus motorhome is partly powered by solar and next year the team will build a new motorhome which will have solar panels in the roof, where the target will be to provide 40% of the electricity needed for the motorhome.

Sauber has today unveiled its new solar park at the team’s headquarters in Hinwil, Switzerland, working with its commercial partner Oerlikon.

It features 1,573 thin-film silicon photovoltaic modules, stretching over an area measuring 2,249 square metres. A roof of one of the factory buildings has been fitted with solar modules and large sections of the company’s car park are now covered.

Sauber claims that the installation delivers 155,600 kilowatt hours of power per year – equivalent to the electricity needs of 44 households – and generates peak power of 173 kWp.

“We are extremely proud of this sustainable extension to our company headquarters,” said Sauber CEO Monisha Kaltenborn. “For us, local power generation via a photovoltaic installation not only represents another contribution to fulfilling our environmental responsibilities, it also makes financial sense. The installation is cost-efficient and also allows a large number of vehicles to be parked under cover. On top of that, it fits in well visually with our factory as a whole, which is already highlighted by the modernistic glass architecture of the wind tunnel building’s façade.”

Looking a bit further down the road, Trina Solar are looking at fitting photovoltaic cells into the surface of a driver’s helmet, with the objective of powering the pit to car radio.

Also researched, together with Massachusetts Institute of Technology is the technique of blending photovoltaic materials into complex laminates such as carbon fibre, to make it photovoltaic. The whole surface of an F1 car could become a solar panel. Getting the cells to be flexible is one of the challenges. Trina Solar believe that they will be able to bring this to F1 in two to three years.

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Excellent, finally some real-world innovation from F1. The future is electric people!


No my friend, the world runs on oil . What Formula One needs are;

1. better looking cars

2. faster cars

3. less rules

4. bigger and better grid girls

(not necessarily in the above order)


what do you mean bigger....


And when the oil is gone?

In the 10 years I've been driving I've seen gas prices double. And when they double again? And again? Someone needs to be on top of the solution.

Peak oil will hardly be solved by 'bigger and better' grid girls (are you actually complaining?)



As much as ppl love their big displacement engines, pollution is bad, and we are running out of oil. F1, as the pinnacle of motorsport, has a duty to start making strides in the right, inevitable directions. Solar panels in factories and motorhomes are nice, but the real impact will be made with the cars where bleeding edge tech comes to the fore.

I can't wait for 2014!


This sounds great. Hopefully this is something which will push into mainstream vehicles in the future


"The prospect of drivers helmets and even the entire surface of an F1 car being made of solar panels is not far away."

LMAO!!! How about we put solar panels on the umbrella girls breasts while you're at it! Makes sense to me.


You didn't think that through did you? they would be in the shade of the umbrellas


the panels would be pretty big, im sure some of it would get some light 😉


lol...brilliant reply!


That is the single best comment I have ever read here.


You missed your breast ever chance to get a great bit of word play in that comment!


Mmm, A personal irritation of mine with Bernie.

On the one side we have money being spent on energy effeciency in F1, be that the teams or the rules. Great push it harder!

On the other we have Bernie doing races where massive banks of flood lights are put up so people dont have to get out of bed to watch the race.

Love the double standards


Yes, but you've have to consider the point that technology introduced into F1 have the potential to emerge in our everyday lives, a hugely increased scale. Being at the forefront implies there's initial limited demand for the innovation, but once it's fully developed and thoroughly tested that demand will go up, and the world beyond F1 one (if there is one...?) will benefit.


Very good point!

But the gist of it all is team transport. So what if the cars burn through X or X-30% gallons of fuel per weekend. F1 would be more environmentally friendly if the cars stayed the same but teams were told they're only allowed one transporter at each race, and two jumbos for the whole grid, for the flyaways.

Or how's this for an idea: each team is told that its lorries can go through a maximum number of litres of diesel per season. They already know how to design cars weighing next to nothing, how to do sub-3" pit-stops... so how about a transporter lorry that burns one third what it otherwise would? Surely they can design that in their sleep! They already use carbon fibre/kevlar for every conceivable part of the racecars, I'd like to see them apply the same logic to everything else they bring to the track every other weekend.

In all seriousness, I think the concept of environmental awareness is seen more as a marketing ploy than a genuine issue, and as such, it is a bit of a joke. If FIA actually wanted to do something about it all, I think there are much better ways to do it, than solar panels on the cars/helmets or even electrically driven cars in the pitlane and as a bonus, those of us that count ourselves as petrolheads would have nothing to worry about as far as the actual spectacle of the sport is concerned.


Generating electricity for the factories is a great idea. However, that's not an 'innovation'. Using solar energy in or on the cars themselves has already been proven to be impractical with similar applications. The only innovation involved here is with what the researchers are doing and has nothing to do with F-1 per se. I'm sorry to bring rain to your parade, but anyone who is knowledgeable about Solar will recognize those truths.


It is impractical now but that's the point. You introduce a technology that you want to develop, give it to some of the best minds in engineering and tell them to make it work on their race car.

KERS was brought in to develop hybrid systems and they've advanced battery and motor/generator technology since it's introduction. Williams flywheel energy recovery system was developed because of the KERS rules and now it's being used in all sorts of transport and racing applications.

I think it's a great idea because in my opinion solar is going to be the way forward and F1 could help speed up it's development.


All the real innovation in solar is not being done in the USA or Europe. It's being done in emerging markets such as Africa and Asia where there are none-constant electricity supplies.

Just watch. In a few years time a player will come from nowhere with a name you don't know. They will have created tech that works for these not-good-enough-for-the-west markets and it'll be super reliable and do a better job than the west is doing.

Why? Because the west is comparing solar to existing solutions. Africa and Asia are comparing solar to "no-energy". That gives them the edge in designing better solutions.

Don't believe me? Go read some Clayton Christensen and get yourself educated. Innovators Dilemma and Innovators Solution (and all the other books that follow from those).


Agreed, but the Solar Energy innovation being done in Africa and Asia has to do with transporting the equipment, not the equipment itself.

Most of the Solar Energy research is being done in England (tax laws) and MIT's California facility. That involves making it less expensive and more adaptable. One of the things JA mentioned in this article, making the collectors extremely light and conformable, is an MIT project. It isn't anywhere near to being ready and despite their predictions, it isn't known if it will ever be ready. It's also known that such collectors will be expensive and short-lived, making them too expensive for all but the most esoteric applications. E.g. F-1 cars!


Have you read my reply to Mr. Kellett? If not, I suggest you do so.


The moment solar panels are introduced I'm done with the sport. Bad enough we gone down from V10 to V6 in a decade but this would be downright ridiculous.


So long as the speed of the cars doesn't suffer then does it really matter how large the engine is? V6 or V10, so long as its still fast its exciting.

Get a Grip!


For goodness sake, what a load of rubbish!

1)Develop a new power plant for 2014 and spend epic amounts of money to do it, for a 30% fuel saving. A 30% fuel saving in a sport where we are talking single number miles per gallon anyway, no matter what the power plant is. Result? ridiculous and wasteful overspend for an engine technology which is outdated. Manufacturers are moving toward 4 cylinder technology , not 6! Alternative? develop the current V8 for a whole lotless money, and stop pretending to be Green 2)Spend millions developing a so called "Green" Kinetic energy recovery system, which boosts a car's power by up to 60-90Hp a few times a lap, which in turn uses more fuel anyway, uses heaps of materials and metal to construct the batteries, which, If I am not mistaken, get used 1 or 2 races at the most. Then it costs money to destroy them under speacial conditions,using energy in the process, not to mention the extra support Kit required at each race, to support the technology. Result? Not Green or energy efficient in the slightest, actually most likely increases the carbon foot print as a result. 3)More and more races at far flung countries and locations, using more and more fossil fuel to transport team, cars, personnel and equipment to such places. Result? Surely undoes by a long way, any so called "Green" or carbon foot print "reduction" methods used in F1. 4) solar panels on helmets and cars. Both of which use more materials, more development, more cost, more expense.Result? Not Green or energy efficient at all. all counteracted by the cost in the first place. Hmm there is a pattern here? The long and short is, why try and BS the public and viewers into all of this "Carbon neutral/reduction" poppycock? Just accept that F1 is at pinnacle and development comes from it, it costs money and overall is about as Green as the Union Jack. It's farcical, you have the FIA pushing harder and harder to try and control a so called "resource restriction", which is nigh on unpoliceable, but at the same time encouraging "Green" measures which cost an absolute fortune to develop, all in turn making it less and less "Green"

If you want f1 to be Green, fill them all with batteries throw away the greedy fossil fuel engines, have tires that last all race, and lets forget about what formula 1 is about, because there is no such thing as making F1 Greener, its all SPIN! F1 is not Green in any way what so ever, and Im sure hardened fans couldnt care less either!!


Points valid but you miss the point.

A. If we follow your logic then before too long everybody in F1 stops entirely and finds something else to do with their lives...

B. The 'SPIN' factor may be a little tiresome, but it is based on the sound logic that oil is not going to last forever; and modern F1 is an incredibly valuable place where big brains, big budgets and high competition all converge - something that's probably unique outside of total warfare. So frankly I think they should be given a remit to focus some of that magic-dust on technology that has a long term societal relevance. As well as the 'purist but less important' task of going round in circles faster.

Or we can just dismiss it all as spin spin spin, wipe our brow with an oily rag and keep dreaming that it's 1972...


fantastic comment man! the entire "green" agenda is

nothing more than an Ad-man's dream that the entire

world is falling for, hook line and sinker!



It's disappointing how many seemingly educated people are falling for "green" technology. An existing 4x4 will do so much less damage to the planet than a new hybrid.

The only way for f1 to become green is to not use fossil fuels at all. This could in fact improve the cars as they could use ethanol and methanol which are very effective racing fuels and if they are produced correctly then they will actually reduce CO2 in the atmosphere as the plants used to make the fuels grow.

It really wouldn't be hard to stop using fossil fuels entirely within 10 years but while companies can still make trillions each year digging up fuel it's hard to get them to stop when they have so much power..


Couldn't agree more, PR bull dust. F1 is the pinnacle of...wait for it..."MOTOR SPORT".

FIA have a new "Green" class coming. Why all this crap about green / carbon neutral is ridiculous and anyone who believes it is in a pretty high state of denial.

Factories, motorhomes etc ..great have at it but solar panels on cars ...good grief.


Actually, I am pretty sure that motors are, by definition, electric - the pinnacle of motor sport is powered by engines (quibbling, I know). But I can't help thinking that Reneault might be quite keen to get some solar generated power into the cars in light of their ongoing issues with alternators. Besides, any horse power not running the radios is horse power spinning the wheels 🙂


You know what? A seperate "green" class would be a great idea. I'm sure there's a real possibility of a electric car rivaling a petrol one, but we are far away from that yet. In the past, F1 has pioneered technology that is now part of daily motoring; ABS, traction control, even materials like carbon fibre that was first used in a car by Mclaren if I'm not mistaken. Who knows, maybe in a decade, thanks to the competition between teams that motorsport inspires, this theory might be realised.

Saying that, F1 itself is the pinnacle of motorsport. Since Stewart's safety campaigns, the sport has balanced the thrill of speed with safety of drivers. This is a practical reason for slowing down cars. However, this green technology is not about speed but conservation.

Now, I'm all for fuel efficiency; I do believe that new tech invented in F1 will translate to road cars. If F1 can save the regular joe a few bob per gallon, the sport has once again proved itself to be relevant to day to day life.

However, if the sport entertains unreliable and unrealistic tech like the solar powered car, it will sooner become a laughing stock, and its hardcore fans who would rather see fastest drivers in fastest cars driving as fast as possible get turned off completly.


There is a company that has developed a paint-on photovoltaic film. Originally meant to go on windows, it is transparent.

It would seem to be ideal for painting all over a car, however it would give the pit crews an extra headache in handing.


All companies (not just F1) that want to be viewed as ‘responsible’ should make use of renewable energy at their offices and factories. Purely from a business/profit point of view there may be fiscal or regulatory benefits from investing in alternative energy.

But most F1 viewers probably would be unaware that teams are using solar back at the factory.

I believe that F1 must go one step further; F1 must be seen to be actively embracing alternative energy – on the cars during race weekends.

Ultimately, the best way do that would be 100% electric cars which could be charged from energy produced from renewable sources. We’re a long way from being able to do that today – but we should move more in that direction. Maybe F1 could learn a little from Le Mans – where they have diesels (Audi) and hybrids (Toyota) that can be competitive by using less fuel. Perhaps F1 should reintroduce refueling and have small fuel tanks to force multiple stops. Hybrid F1 cars, with larger batteries, would save time by not having to refuel so frequently.


Isn't McLaren the first F1 racing team to become carbon neutral???


They have certainly led the way there yes.


Hello James,

One question. How relevant is F1 w.r.t. road cars of today. Aerodynamics yes. But KERS, DRS...etc.

Could you please do a write-up on this?

It would be really great to know what is it the world is deriving (or atleast trying to) from F1.

There was an article on your site which mentioned that McLaren are using their systems in Medical field for small kids, which as a matter of fact is quite remarkable.


Don't worry about the so called pollution. The whole Co2 thing is just a great big scam that is making some devious/clever people very rich. All the carbon that is released as a result of combustion was originally absorbed from the atmosphere millions of years ago and is merely being returned. All living things on earth are, partly,composed of carbon, no carbon dioxide = no life! The overall trend for carbon in the atmosphere has continually diminished, with the occasional blip like world war two, over the last few million years and if it continues it will be the end of us. I seem to recall reading somewhere that a kilo of chalk has about 1700 litres of carbon locked in from dying sea creatures falling to the ocean-bed this will never be released. There could concievabley come a day in the distant future when we have to "make" Co2 to replenish the atmosphere. Stop worrying and enjoy your cars while you still can 'cos the misery guttses will stop first chance they get!


Steve the Co2 thing is not "a great big scam". Yes the Earth has had cycles with varying levels of Co2 in the past but there has never been 7 billion people on the planet before - that's a new thing. Global warming caused by high levels of Co2 is likely to effect ecosystems that we rely on, at the very least, to feed ourselves and if sea levels rise many people in major cities will be displaced at a high human and economic cost. The conventional wisdom of not only scientists but economists is that the sooner we act to reduce the effects of anthropomorphic global warming the better. Unlike other sports (where mass spectator movement would far exceed the effects of 24 F1 cars running around) Formula 1 is at least doing something.


Well said, Pete.

And if anyone wants proof just read up on the subject on NASA's excellent site; just google 'NASA climate' -- unless you believe that NASA's scientists are also in on the "great big scam".


Right. And we should stop listening to the 'experts' trying to sell us on the great big scam of smoke alarms in our homes too. After all, combining with oxigen is vital to our lives - no combining with oxygen = no life. And being burned alive is really just combining with oxygen very very fast 😉


Methane is by far the biggest greenhouse gas anyway. To control it we should be looking into ways of harvesting it and using it as a fuel.

Jack Flash (Aust)

James. There is a slight terminology/unit issue in the story [Para 8]. I know the issue was probably handed to you in input info, but it should be addressed anyway.

Ref: "The target for the Enstone plant is 33 megawatts of power for a year and in four months they have reached almost half of that."

Watts is a measure of electrical energy delivery rate (Joules per second). When it comes to statements of energy capacity for generation systems (or main connection demands), the typical term is kiloWatt-hour or megaWatt-hour (ie. Joules). If you are going to read the text noted at face value, then it is stating a Lotus target of '33 megaWatt-years' (or ~ 1,040,688,000,000,000 Joules: 1.04 x 10^15: or 1.04 petaJoules: 1,040 teraJoules). There are ~31,536,000 seconds in a year.

To put into contect. The average home Solar system has peak power outputs of anything between 2.5 to 8 kiloWatts (when sunny). [Australian experiences]. A solar system to provide an average of 33 megaWatt over the whole year would need to quite startlingly massive. Hectares of panels.

Somehow I doubt that it what Lotus and Trina are aiming for, nor engineered and executed at Enstone. I profoundly doubt that is what they achieved for a Solar Farm of even industrial size. If it is... then kudos to them... then my bad... and WOW!

Some figures in [Para 8] need revisit.

Jack Flash (Elec Eng).


Yes. My home system has produced 3.6 megawatt/hours over the last year so to produce 33 megawatt/hours would mean their system is around 10 times bigger -- roughly a 200 panel array.


+1. Thank you. Saved me from writing something similar.

Saw something on TV today (economics program). Largest solar plant in the world is in Arizona. 33 acres of solar cells. Can't remember the output. Of course that may have changed since filming date.

More data here: Larger than 25MV gets in the list.


So what's next.... all the tree-huggers suggesting F1 buy the rights to Scalextric?? Then we all sit around watching a 1:32 scale model of Silverstone and Button & Hamilton control the race from the drivers grandstand?

Or why don't we ditch Oil & Electric cars and have F1 pedal powered cars???

Or maybe stick a mast on the cars and have sailing races???

Bring back Turbo.... ban all driving aids.... happy days. 😀


HEAR HEAR!!!!!!!!!!

Ground effect turbo era was AWESOME!!!


If the teams are able to harvest energy from areas other than braking then this should yield gains in braking stability. This means it should be worthwhile for the teams to invest in projects such as this and also look at other areas for harvesting such as exhaust heat.

Looking forward to seeing what the teams come up with over the next few years.


To cover what I think was more like meant at [Para 8] - possibly....

Ref alt text: “The target for the Enstone plant is 33 megaWatt-hours of energy for a year and in four months they have reached almost half of that.”

33 megaWatt-hours = 118.8 gigaJoules (118.8 x10^9 J)

Over the course of a whole year in the UK (Enstone), at a generous 25% generation factor (daily ave), then a 15 kiloWatt Solar Panel system could achieve that energy delivery for the year. Given the crappy-cloudy weather in the UK, and allowing for Winter grey-outs, perhaps a 33 kiloWatt Solar System was being touted? JF


I've always wondered why some teams less aligned with petroleum manufacturers, have not setup bio diesel recycling facilities for their haulers? It would be relatively cheap, very effective, and extremely marketable.


So Sauber are generating the equivalent energy of 44 homes using solar panels. So if all 12 teams did the same thing, they would save the equivalent energy consumed by 528 homes?

24 cars racing 20 races, each approx 200 miles (ignoring testing, FP and qualy) is 96000 car miles a year. At 3.8mpg that is 25,262 gallons of fuel.

Surely the carbon footprint of the sport itself is largely irreverent in the wider context here. Think of the carbon footprint of everyone who travels to a football game around the world every Saturday compared to 22 F1 races a year.

It is the thought leadership and technical innovation that F1 needs to bring to the automotive industry and to our wider society that really matters here. The effort that teams put into reducing their carbon footprint and their ability to improve the efficiency of the cars themselves is the real output that we are interested in.

F1's goal is not to just "put on a good show" but to help society solve some of the complex problems that it faces today.

It was my assumption (perhaps mistakenly) that the move towards smaller, turbo engines would ultimately result in the cars that we drive tomorrow being vastly more efficient compared to today's cars.


Excellent post John.

I don't think the issue is so much about making F1 greener, but tapping into the resources of some of the world's best innovators and engineers, in the most technically advanced motorsport. The relentless pace of competition in F1 acts like a nursery where ideas and processes can develop and filter down into real world applications.

The fact that F1 wants to wear a 'green badge' is little more than a marketing tool, but at least they appear to be doing something positive.

I'd personally suggest scrapping the GPs in Bahrain and Valencia. Instant 10% savings and fewer rubbish races for us 🙂


That's grateful information,thanks for sharing with us.


Just finished reading an excellent book by Di Spires - "I just made the tea". She and her husband provided hospitality for various F1 teams through the 70's,80's & 90"s, starting with basically a single camper van. She finished the book by saying that it takes around 48 trucks to transport Red Bull's Energy Station. So really a solar panel on somebody's helmut?


Reducing the logistical emissions and fuel consumption of the races would far outweigh the benefits of reducing the fuel consumption of the car. This is what the FIA should really make the teams looks at, and make the lower formulae look at it too. Think how many lorries are on the roads, and how many planes are in the skies.

Now compare that with the 22 high performance cars driving for less than 2 days per year...




The facts are simple for anyone who wants to see them: 1) The temperature reading from non compromised (influenced by a heat source) thermometers over the last 100 years show that there is no 'alarming' increase in the earth's temperature. 2) CO2 is a vital gas and quite simply the more of it we have the better of we are and as it single handedly is what makes plant green, the more CO2 we have the greener we are. 3) Money by the trillion is changing hands via carbon trading: this is a financial scam. 4) F1 has 0.0 influence on the earth's atmosphere. All this is simply popular pandering to politics and stupidity.


Thin film solar panels produce less electricity than crystalline silicon cells. You would have to use thin films cells because they weigh less. The amount of energy you would be producing would be small relative to the amount of energy the car would be using to go round the track. All the solar cells probably would be powering would be some fans and some of the electronic gizmos in the car. That's fine, but it's a lot of technological effort for not a big pay off.

I'd be more supportive of the idea of them using solar panels to charge batteries at the track and then use the batteries to quick charge the cars at the pit stops. At least then the solar would be making some meaningful difference to the performance of the car on the track.

It's great if any team wants to displace the carbon they are producing by putting up panels at their factory. I support that.


The idea of a "green" class is a great idea as we are in the early stage of the solar panel process. I mean Motorsport has advanced rapidly over the last couple of years with DRS and Kers which have now been integrated into the sport and is playing a massive factor why not let this advance first before integrating it too soon into the sport.

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