Formula 1’s Carbon Challenge

Formula 1’s Carbon Challenge

Those you who have seen my presentation on the external factors driving change and transformation in Formula 1™️ will know that environmental sustainability has already influenced decisions over the technology the sport utilises, the products and services individual teams sell into industry and the way we often frame discussions with customers.

While change in relation to environmental matters has been incremental – sometimes invisible – Tuesday witnessed a significant move by Formula 1 to address the sport’s impact on the earth’s climate. This has come about as the result of many months spent analysing the carbon emissions generated by the World Championship, not simply the optics of racing cars powered by fossil fuels.

The targets announced by CEO Chase Carey are that by 2025 every Formula 1 Grand Prix event will be environmentally sustainable and the World Championship will have a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030.

Only last weekend the UK’s Sunday Times Business Section described Formula 1 as ‘gas guzzling’; a lazy, outdated and irrelevant description for the pinnacle of contemporary world motor sport.  Since 2014 the World Championship has been won by the team running the most energy efficient engine, with small 1.6 litre hybrid petrol-electric power units using around 40% less fuel than a decade ago and featuring highly innovative waste-energy recovery systems.

As the graphic above shows, Formula 1’s racing cars generate only 0.7% of Formula 1’s carbon emissions across a year. The optics are often very different from reality. A Formula 1 car today is permitted to use 110kgs of fuel for a Grand Prix, and this translates into around 140 tonnes of fuel for the entire 20-car World Championship racing across a full year, including practice and qualifying; approximately the same quantity of fuel used by a single Boeing 747 during 12.5 hrs in the cruise (11 tonnes/hr). One London-Tokyo flight about sums it up.

As all of us hardened business travellers know, and yet try not to think about, flying is a significant issue when it comes to generating an unhealthy carbon footprint. Last time I looked I took over 140 flights per year, so am well and truly off Greta Thunberg’s Christmas card list. For Formula 1 as a whole the travelling circus of teams, contractors, sponsors, employees of F1 and the FIA is problematic when it comes to sustainability. Business travel accounts for almost 28% of the sport’s carbon footprint.

The largest contributor overall is logistics, the 10 teams each air freighting around 60 tonnes of equipment to long haul or ‘flyaway’ races, and a further 150 tonnes comprising the equipment moved by the championship’s organisers. When combined with business travel, these global movements of people and equipment represent the lion’s share of Formula 1’s contribution to carbon emissions.

Mr Carey has stated that a move to ultra-efficient logistics, travel and supply chain management will be essential. Undoubtedly this will also call for close collaboration with companies who have the capability to help Formula 1 achieve its goals, starting with existing logistics partners including DHL Deutsche Post and UPS.

The final tranches of emissions come from Formula 1 team factory operations, which often include energy-hungry wind tunnels and data centres, and event operations which include the power needed for hospitality facilities and broadcast hubs. In our hot destinations such as Singapore the teams, sponsors and media need cooling, while in venues such as Spa in Belgium we definitely need heating!

The challenge is clear, but the one thing we have long-since learned about in Formula 1 is that setting ambitious goals is a good thing – even if we are not certain how we will get there. Ambitious goals and non-negotiable deadlines are stock in trade in this sport, and in the race to save the planet from the effects of climate change, this approach is welcome.

During forthcoming posts I am going to discuss Formula 1’s approach to environmental sustainability, from carbon neutral factories to energy efficient power units and the development of technologies central to the rapid development of electric vehicles – including in the all-electric Formula E series. It’s an interesting and challenging journey, but one ideally suited to a fast-paced world of innovation.


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