Formula 1 and the Race for Sustainability

How and why F1 wants to clamber on the high-speed sustainability bandwagon?
Tuesday 3 March 2020
Formula 1 leaves its carbon footprint on the world and on Lewis Hamilton. Photo: AFP

Formula 1 does not appear to be doing anything positive for the environment, in fact quite the opposite, and it’s something that the sport’s authorities – along with all the ancillary organisations involved – have decided to do something about.

I’m not sure the changes could be described as “sweeping”, or even “radical”, but they are steps in the right direction, and many would suggest that the initiative is not before time. The fact that they are doing anything at all is probably as salutary a warning that our planet is in trouble as anything else.

F1 has every right to thumb its nose at tree huggers and bleeding-heart liberals, citing its popularity, the stories it creates and the excitement it provides for millions of fans around the world.

But that can’t last forever, and in a major think about (my new word encompassing a change of thinking and an about-turn), F1 is set to “go green” (or at least as green as possible in the circumstances) and has undertaken to, wait for it…have a net zero carbon footprint by the year 2030.

Is it realistic for Formula 1 to go green?

Formula 1 is not just about racing. As we all know, it’s an absolute circus, moving from town to town, city to city, circuit to circuit, shipping tons and tons of freight.

According to reliable sources (Liberty Media themselves, which took over F1 from the Formula One Group in January 2017 for US$4.4 billion), of the almost 260,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (the footprint measurement) that F1 generates every year, only 0.7% of it is down to the actual testing, practising and racing of its internal combustion engines (ICEs).

dhl plane flying formula 1 car
DHL F1 Logistic Work at the Airport – DHL TV Commercial, Silverstone and East Midlands Airport.


The rest? Getting the teams from place to place and moving all the necessary equipment around the world (almost half F1’s carbon footprint is freight) along with running the facilities and factories. And let’s not forget “business travel”. Worryingly perhaps, if the footprint generated by the fans who travel to and from the events is taken into consideration, the emissions rise to a staggering 1.9 billion CO2 equivalent tonnes.

F1 has ten years to achieve its zero-carbon footprint goal, and only time will tell if they can get over the finishing line or end up in the pits halfway through the exercise. I’m going to put my cynicism aside for just a moment to suggest that if anyone’s capable of doing it, it’s the guys and gals who make the decisions at F1.

They are innovators and always have been, admittedly from the starting point of wanting to make their cars go faster, win races, and grab the laurels, but the technology developed in F1 has aided and abetted several other industries beyond the automotive.

F1 has helped in the creation of cutting-edge technologies in aerodynamics for example, along with navigational tools, composite materials and overall transport safety. Not to mention their work with refrigeration that is helping to reduce costs involved with chillers in supermarkets. How cool is that?

Formula 1 to spearhead the push for sustainability

We look to F1 for the next big, next best thing in motorsports technology, and throughout the history of the series, the grease monkeys and lab coat-wearing boffins have had a significant number of light bulb moments.


It may be true that a lot of the work that’s been done is designed to enable F1 to stay relevant in a changing world, and current projects are certainly focused on maintaining market share and ensuring their appeal to the next generation of potential aficionados. This doesn’t matter, however, if they manage to walk the walk after talking the talk.

It would be foolhardy for a team to put an inefficient fuel in their car, so we can certainly expect plenty of research and development into synthetic and biofuels. This could be of great benefit to the global community, especially bearing in mind the fact that of the 1.1 billion or so cars on the road today, one billion of them use ICEs.


No matter how quickly technology develops in the electric car market, the ICE will be around for quite a while yet, whether we like it or not, so enhancing efficiency and reducing emissions is a short-term imperative that F1’s mechanics and mechanical engineers will enjoy meeting head-on, especially given the challenge of maintaining F1’s image as the blue riband series in motorsports.

Carbon emissions around the world simply have to be reduced. “In launching F1’s first-ever sustainability strategy,” says the CSR section of the F1 website, “we recognise the critical role that all organisations must play in tackling this issue.” A significant polluter for many years now, F1 is clearly trying to clean up its image.

For now, however, we should worry less about the motivation – we will all have our opinions – and more about whether the challenges that have been laid down can be met. Let’s just hope that the bright spark plugs at F1 can lead the way. If they can do it, we all can.

This article is an excerpt from Unreserved’s March 2020 issue from the article Give Me A Break.