Whilst Formula 1 has allowed hybrid technology as a part of their technical regulations since 2009, and the Le Mans 24 Hours was first won by a hybrid car in 2012, there's a continuing debate at the moment as to whether hybrid systems are really needed in other categories of motorsport.
In fact, even in F1, one or two teams would apparently love to see the back of very costly hybrid tech and just concentrate on developing very light, very efficient, multi-cylinder internal combustion engines running on 100 percent renewable fuel. Whilst there'd be big financial savings, as well as weight savings, it's highly unlikely that there'll be any deviation away from hybrids in F1 (albeit there are some changes in 2026) as long as there's so much OE manufacturer money involved in the sport.
Meanwhile, Le Mans has been seen by many people for decades as being a great place to showcase different technologies, so again, especially with manufacturers heavily involved in the LMH and LMDh classes, there's no pressure to deviate away from hybrids in that area of motorsports.
But away from the top two circuit-based categories in the world, is there really a need for hybrids? Are those who are pushing them now out of step with contemporary fan thinking, and really just trying to be seen to fulfil some sort of maybe less irrelevant CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) goals?
So far, the only other high-profile circuit based category to adopt a compulsory hybrid system has been the British Touring Car Championship. They use a single-source Cosworth made system that is used as a way of boosting power for short bursts, akin to a push-to-pass system. However, it's been expensive for teams to implement, and you have to wonder if it's really changed, or enhanced, the spectacle for the viewers and fans. A push-to-pass system could have been easily achieved, at much less cost, through ECU/boost manipulation, for example. So, the hybrid technology is presumably there purely so that the category can tell the world how green it is. The question is; has the expense really been balanced by net gains for teams as a result?
Meanwhile, IndyCar is scheduled to introduce its, delayed, hybrid system post the Indy 500 this year, after apparent fears that premature use could lead to a deluge of DNFs. Does the average IndyCar fan really care whether the cars are hybrid or not? I'm not convinced that they do. I count myself as a pretty enthusiastic IndyCar fan as I love the way the cars move around and don't use tyre warmers thereby creating some great undercut/overcut racing. I'd be more than happy, as a fan, to continue to watch the series without hybrids being a part of it.
You can bet your bottom dollar that NASCAR will be watching IndyCar carefully as they continue to assess whether it's necessary to go hybrid in order to stay in business. Because that's the bottom line. These categories are making these calls based on whether they think that they simply have to go hybrid to stay alive. And, that's a hard one to judge as the temperature in the room is changing, be in no doubt.
Will sponsors pull out (or fail to come in) without hybrids? Will media companies not be interested in broadcast rights without hybrid technology? And will fans walk away from categories without some sort of partial electrification?
Ultimately, the fan votes (and actions) will be the factor that decides as sponsors and the media will inevitably follow the fan dollars. They're the ultimate consumers, after all. For instance, if Formula E was as much of a success as some people would have you believe, how come so many events peter out after a year or two and how come the media rights hold so little value? The fans and viewers vote with their dollars and their feet.
When BTCC made the call to go hybrid, probably five years ago now, there's no doubt that there was more pressure out there for change than there is today. Now, we're in a place where there's increasing acceptance that, (a) the internal combustion engine still has many years of life left in it, especially with renewable fuels including possibly hydrogen, and, (b) the rate of change in many markets to alternatively powered road vehicles is not happening at the rate foreseen several years ago.
So, whilst consumers are buying hybrids and EVs, the adoption pace has slowed. Meanwhile, does the man or woman on the hill watching their favourite motorsport series really give a rat's arse whether there's a hybrid system on the cars or not?
At the same time, hybrid systems need to have a real payback for the competitors that, at the end of the day, will be stumping up to pay for them. In F1 and the World Endurance Championship, there's definite payback for most teams as many of them enjoy substantial manufacturer funding which wouldn't be there without being able to tell the ‘hybrid story'.
Elsewhere? That's still got to be proven in my opinion.
Which leads me to Supercars and whether there's a need to adopt hybrid technology in the near future.
Five years ago, I think there maybe was potentially a case to be made for hybrid here in our top category. Today, I think it's pretty clear cut that it would be of no material benefit. It might not be the case forever, however in a time of huge change in the road car world, it would be very easy to go down an expensive cul-de-sac right now.
But, and this is a big but, in order to keep the inevitable naysayers in the wider community at bay, it's very necessary for motorsports here, led by Supercars but not restricted to that category, to really start to push renewable fuels with a concerted and focused policy. Motorsport Australia, plus circuits and categories, has a responsibility towards this, if the sport is going to continue in the way we enjoy.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again; Supercars has continually failed in recent years to make the most of having been a pioneer in the use of renewable fuels since 2009. They need to ramp that story up like never before.
Australia has huge capacity to grow crops that can form the basis for a circular environmentally friendly renewable energy supply, without upsetting food supply. Emissions can be dramatically cut by the use of E85 across many motorsport categories, with the ethanol being sourced from various feedstocks. Issues with the use of E85 can be dealt with and necessity is the mother of all invention, as Supercars teams discovered back when the fuel was first adopted against a backdrop of negativity.
The bottom line is that I really see no need for the adoption of hybrids here, especially if we're smart enough to be proactive across the sport in adopting renewable fuels. Importing 102 octane fuels, for instance, in drums from the other side of the world at $7+ per litre for some categories is asking for trouble as that really is creating a totally unnecessary carbon footprint.
We, the motorsports community, will only have ourselves to blame if we don't get ahead of the ball on this one. Hybrids (along with EVs and also ICEs powered by renewable fuels) are a part of the road car landscape now and into the future. It doesn't mean that they are a necessary part of most of the motorsport scene.