You could say that Formula 1 has a spring in its step.
This weekend’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone will introduce an experimental new format, with qualifying as we know it taking place this evening ahead of a short sprint race on Saturday to set the grid for Sunday’s race proper.
Fans are back, too: the main event will be watched by a capacity crowd of 140,000 people, almost 12 months on from Sir Lewis Hamilton’s astonishing three-wheeled victory in front of deserted grandstands.
And the reveal of a mock-up 2022 F1 car to promote the next year’s regulations has also been a source of optimism: a lot of work has gone on behind the scenes to find a formula that allows for much closer racing and, by extension, more excitement.
All of this is taking place against the backdrop of a sustainability drive that bosses say will make F1 carbon-neutral by 2030. Having already pioneered the most thermally efficient engines in the world, it’s hoped the 10% biofuel mix used to power the current 1.6-litre V6 hybrids will be replaced by a fully sustainable fuel when the next generation of engine rules come into force in 2025.
Throw in the environmental activism of drivers like Hamilton and fellow world champion Sebastian Vettel, and the sport looks more thoughtful and forward-thinking than at any other point in its history.
But can this last? F1 is sticking with turbo-hybrids as the car industry turns to battery-electric vehicles. In the UK, we’re less than nine years away from a ban on new petrol and diesel cars, and plugin hybrids are set to be outlawed too by 2035.
F1’s managing director, Ross Brawn, is adamant that the sport can’t go fully electric. Speaking in an interview with the BBC this week, he pointed out that the cars “would need a six- or seven-tonne battery” just to last the race distance.
He isn’t wrong. There are certain types of transport - aircraft being the most obvious example - that just aren’t feasible with lithium-ion batteries, even if their energy density increases rapidly in the coming years. F1 too needs an alternative.
When pushed on what that might be, Brawn offered this: “Maybe hydrogen is the route that F1 can have, where we keep the noise, we keep the emotion, but we move into a different solution.”