F1 drivers like Max Verstappen and Louis Hamilton may enjoy the rewards as Grand Prix winners but it is little-known backroom stars that power them to the top. Now three of Formula One’s most respected and successful technical gurus are powering the race to net zero with proven innovations that deliver real solutions to climate change.
Technical wizards that helped Mercedes, McClaren, Williams and Renault to reach the pinnacle of F1 success are now leading the field in net zero innovation, growing successful clean-tech companies that deliver proven solutions in fuel, engine and construction sectors.
Formula One has committed to a range of net zero and sustainability targets involving electrification, synthetic fuels, engineering R&D and the use of digital technology – key areas of innovation that have driven F1 ‘originals’ Paddy Lowe, Jon Hilton and Patrick Lane Nott to apply their decades of pioneering technical knowledge to now winning the race to net zero.
Paddy Lowe is a former motor racing engineer and computer scientist that spent 32 years working in Formula One serving as chief technical officer at Williams Racing, executive director (Technical) at Mercedes F1 team and technical director at McLaren. He was involved with cars that secured 158 race victories and won 12 World Championships (seven drivers, five constructors).
Lowe left Formula One in 2019 and, in 2020, co-founded Zero a synthetic fuel company that develops and manufactures whole-blend synthetic, non-biological, fossil-free fuels – petrol, diesel and jet fuel. The process uses only carbon dioxide taken from the air and renewable hydrogen made from water.
Lowe calls this process petrosynthesis. “Synthetic fuels, which can be made at scale, can be dropped straight into the existing engines of cars, aircraft, commercial and agricultural vehicles,” he says, “allowing them to run sustainably in exactly the same way and with the same performance as they do on fossil fuels, without the need for any engine modification. They eliminate greenhouse gas accumulation through the creation of a circular carbon cycle, and so eliminate the need for fossil fuels in global industries such as aviation.”
Jon Hilton, managing director and technical lead at the Lunaz Group, is among the most highly regarded technical minds in his field. He built his reputation as technical director for Renault F1 and his knowledge helped Fernando Alonso win two successive World Championships. Hilton’s career started by engineering the powertrains for a successful helicopter world speed record at Rolls-Royce then he moved on to developing powertrains for motor sport.
Hilton founded his hybrid powertrains company Lunaz Group to exploit the potential of applications beyond F1 by the introduction of new Kinetic Recovery Systems (KERS). While developing his pioneering clean-air technology, he was technical director of the first ever hybrid Le Mans grand prix entry with Hope Polevision Racing. His company has engineered pioneering hybrid powertrain conversions for luxury and high-performance cars and a range of low-carbon industrial vehicles.
“Electrification answers the questions of usability, reliability and sustainability,” Hilton says. “We know there is no better proposition than timeless aesthetics propelled by the powertrain of the future.”
Patrick Lane Nott has 15 years’ experience of vehicle modelling and simulation in motorsport having worked with Williams and Lotus F1 teams among others and most recently with MTS Systems Corporation and McLaren Applied Technologies.
Virtual reality, immersive 3D simulations, digital twins and AI may now be hailed as ‘the next big thing’ for all their ‘new world’ sci-fi potential but the technologies have been used by F1 for many years. “I first started using 3D virtual reality in formula one decades ago,” Lane Nott says. “We originally developed it for race-car aerodynamics and analysis and to train drivers with real-life VR track simulations.”
Patrick has applied his winning knowledge and technical expertise to create a radical new and sustainable way to build, repair and enlarge tunnels and underground structures. Using AI and VR, digital twins, robotics, 3D printing and digital underground surveying Lane Nott’s hyperTunnel company is helping to decarbonise, improve speed and safety and reduce timescales in the construction industry.
“We aim to transform underground construction by building tunnels faster with less risk and in a more economical and environmentally friendly way than is currently the case by the use of tunnel boring machines,” Lane Nott, director of engineering, says. “hyperTunnel is achieving this through the application of technologies that have been proven in other industries and are currently not being exploited and integrated to their full potential in construction.”
Innovation of the future
Formula one has been at the cutting edge of technical and engineering innovation for decades and the back room stars that played a vital role in teams’ successes are now leaders in their own, new, chosen fields. And F1’s current back room stars continue to innovate with pioneering solutions to help both their teams’ success, and the wider world.
Formula One is committed to using 100 per cent advanced sustainable fuels in race cars by 2026 and teams are exploring a range of options including bio-fuel and hydrogen. “F1 fuel will be made from non fossil fuel products that will also be used in road car technology,” Ashpitel says. “It will give us the ability to go racing and compete at the highest level while knowing it will also translate to road use. Despite all the work going on with EV’s in 2030 there will still be a huge number of combustion engines on the road. Biofuels will play a key part in net zero and that’s an exciting opportunity from a technology innovation point of view.”
Mercedes was the first global sports team to invest in sustainable aviation fuel to reduce its aviation carbon footprint and its use will almost halve the air travel footprint of its F1 race team personnel, Ashpitel says. “Our commitment to sustainable fuel is a multi-million euro investment over many years to help us go racing more sustainably.”
All formula one teams have embraced carbon reduction strategies and, like Lowe, Hilton and Lane Nott, are driven by strict new net zero laws and targets. “We aim to embed sustainability into all the decisions we make and the actions we take,” says Ashpitel. “We work closely with Formula One and as a team we share data back to the F1 organisation and help them assess how we can improve as a sport as a whole because it’s not about individual teams, we’re on this journey together.”