Simanaitis Says

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YESTERDAY, IT WAS SUGGESTED that Sebastian Vettel’s disqualification from last month’s Hungarian GP was not unrelated to Formula One rocket fuels of the late 1980s until 1991. Today in Part 2, we see exotic chemistry transforming into equally exotic refinery engineering. 

From Chemicals to Refinery Products. As I noted in “Three Retrospectives of Alternative Racing Fuels: They Burned What??,” delivered at the SAE 2008 International Motorsports Conference, “The 1991 Formula 1 racing fuel was a pure chemical fuel. In 1992 chemical fuels were banned and new fuels were developed using refinery components.” 

In 1996, the F.I.A. continued this trend by regulating all racing fuels to meet unleaded Euro95 standards. It has continued this environmental consciousness by updating standards as those for the road evolve. In fact, recently F.I.A. incorporated 5.75-percent bio-fuel into the regulation, with this increasing to 10-percent ethanol (E10) for 2022.

Current Formula One Regs. The 2021 Formula 1 Technical Regulations are available for download, all 133 single-spaced pages of them. Article 19, pages 94–95, discusses fuel. 

Fuel Definitions. This and the following image from F.I.A.

Briefly, “The detailed requirements of this Article are intended to ensure the use of fuels that are composed of compounds normally found in commercial fuels and to prohibit the use of specific power-boosting chemical compounds.”

The regulations also limit aromatic components to a maximum 40 percent by weight; olefins to a maximum of 17 percent; and only traces of total di-olefins, 0.1 percent; and total styrene and alkyl derivates, 0.1 percent.

An interesting point is the fuel’s minimum 87 octane, stated in (Research Octane + Motor Octane)/2, what’s known as “pump octane.” That is, Formula One fuel’s octane is no less than that of regular-grade road fuel. There is no stated maximum.

Only its fuels are incredibly more precisely engineered; indeed, differently from team to team. And everything is closely monitored by the F.I.A.

Cheating… or Oversights. Article 6: Fuel Systems describes enforcement of these regulations: “6.6.2: Competitors must ensure that a 1.0 litre sample of fuel may be taken from the car at any time during the EVENT.”

At the 1997 Belgian Grand Prix, Mika Häkkinen in his McLaren-Mercedes came third, only to be disqualified because of a fuel irregularity. Later, a court ruled that McLaren and Mobil had acted in good faith and that the problem was ‘due to a mistake and was unintentional.’ ”

Sebastian Vettel and his Aston Martin-Mercedes.

The Vettel Hungarian GP matter is similarly complex: The team’s calculations indicated there were 1.44 liters left in the tank, but regulators were able to retrieve only 0.3 liters. Initially, Aston Martin appealed the disqualification; it has since withdrawn the appeal.

“Taking the checker on fumes” is no longer an option. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021 


  1. Bob
    September 3, 2021

    Regarding “Rocket Fuel” remember that during the 90s drag racers and F1 teams played with hydrazine additives that were a real rocket fuel, used to power missiles and provide restart capabilities to the high altitude U-2.
    It had nasty, unstable characteristics though.
    From Dragzine: “Lakes era racers who experimented with H found that a stock 90 horsepower flathead would pump out better than 300 horsepower simply by sucking this stuff through its Stromberg. These same racers also discovered Hydrazine’s major drawback for practical use. After running it through an engine, the carbs would start to cake up with a substance that resembled soap flakes. This nasty little by product was a shock sensitive explosive called the Methazodic Salt of Hydrazinium Acid, and was the result of allowing vapors from the Nitro/Hydrazine mixture to condense in a closed environment. Right, never mind this stuff will throw your crank on the ground after just a couple of runs, but if you happen to tap the carb with a wrench, it’ll blow your face off.”

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