Exclusive: How a hydrogen-powered Championship could impact F1’s future

Elizabeth Blackstock
The F1 cars get away at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The start of the 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

While electrification has been frequently pegged as the future of automotive propulsion, there are still a handful of people hedging their bets on hydrogen.

Extreme E — the electric off-road SUV racing series — is set to become one of those people when it becomes the hydrogen-powered Extreme H in 2025. But F1 is playing a surprising role in the move.

Announced in early December, the FIA, F1, and XH will partner together to form something called a Hydrogen Working Group. The key goal of this technical group is to monitor the progression and development of hydrogen technology, especially as it is relevant to road and race cars.

That includes everything; hydrogen will be used in fuel cell and battery technology in XH, but the working group also aims to analyse the use of hydrogen in combustion engines.

Further, it will also examine all the tech required to facilitate a hydrogen-powered championship, including at-site infrastructure, storage, charging, transportation, handling, safety implications, and more.

XH will serve as the proving ground for the development and implementation of hydrogen power and is set to become an FIA-certified championship as that transition comes into play.

However, F1 also seems keenly interested in what could come from the tech.

In a round-table with journalists at XE’s Copper X Prix finale, including PlanetF1.com, series founder Alejandro Agag stated that its prospective hydrogen-powered car is already undergoing testing and that it will be running its first race in February 2025 — far sooner than any other hydrogen-fuelled championship.

“We aren’t specifically looking to benefit F1, but hydrogen power can work in the future for everything,” Agag said, noting its ability to be used for both combustion and for battery propulsion.

“Will F1 go to hydrogen? I don’t know. They don’t know. But the fact that they want to keep an eye on it shows that they want to keep their options open.

“Formula 1, it likes noise. Combustion of hydrogen makes noise. It’s just another point to keep them interested.”

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Ali Russell, managing director of Extreme E, added onto the sentiment that F1’s involvement is simply a way to keep tabs on the direction of future technology — and perhaps to influence its direction to make it a viable prospect for F1.

“We believe that hydrogen will be adopted [as a form of power], but we believe a racing series devoted to hydrogen will accelerate that adoption,” he said.

“We’ll come to solutions much quicker, and as a consequence it will become another strand of decarbonising mobility.”

Because the technical group is so new, it can be difficult to hypothesise exactly how F1 could benefit from hydrogen in the future — but it does present some fascinating possibilities.

Motorsport as a whole is being encouraged to find new methods for sustainable operation, and electrification is currently the primary focus of that push.

However, FE holds the exclusive rights to being the FIA’s only electric-powered championship until 2039.

That means F1 would have to seek permission from Formula E should it desire to change propulsion methods — unless, of course, it were to go a different route.

Hydrogen combustion is still a long way from becoming the cornerstone of combustion technology, but with active research by F1, XH, and the FIA, it is likely that hydrogen could become a key component of Formula 1’s future.

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