Racing Towards a Greener Future: Formula One’s Goal to Become Carbon Neutral

Formula One’s Goal to Become Carbon Neutral

Formula One is on its path to becoming more sustainable. But is it doing enough?

The world tour. The travelling circus. The gas guzzling. The ever-growing race calendars. The intense carbon footprint. It’s no surprise Formula One (F1) is one of the least eco-friendly sports on the planet, with one of the highest carbon footprints.

The climate crisis is real, and it isn’t something that’ll just go away if we stop using fossil fuels. When fossil fuels are burned, greenhouse gases are released, contributing to global warming. Among the released gases, carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most significant contributor. While reducing greenhouse emissions is crucial, our aim should also be to restore Earth to pre-climate change conditions. Although this is an extremely difficult feat, we must start somewhere. And F1 has started doing its bit.

In this article, we will take a closer look at F1’s carbon footprint and the steps that F1 is taking to reach carbon neutrality.

F1’s carbon footprint

Racing Towards a Greener Future Formula
Image courtesy of F1’s Sustainability Report

According to F1’s Sustainability Report, F1’s emission footprint comes from logistics, business travel, facilities and factories and event operations. Among all those factors, what really makes F1 non-eco-friendly is its logistics—the transportation of cars, equipment and paddock infrastructure from one venue to another—which generated 45% of the emissions. 

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the usage of fuels by the 20 cars’ track running that hurts the environment the most. Of the 256,000 tons of CO2 generated annually by F1 on average, the emissions associated with fuel usage amount to only 0.7% of the total emissions. 

F1’s “Countdown to Zero” 2030 campaign

In 2019, F1 announced its plans to become 100% sustainable and have a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030. A net-zero carbon footprint is obtained when companies or organizations remove as many greenhouse gases from the environment as much as they put in. 

Switching gears—better engines and sustainable fuels

Back in 2014, F1 has started working towards sustainability when the cars switched from the gas-guzzling 2.4-liter V8 engines to 1.6-liter V6 turbocharged hybrid engines to lessen fuel consumption. 

Now, as part of its “Countdown to Zero” campaign, F1 is developing a 100% sustainable drop-in fuel from biowaste. These renewable hydrocarbon biofuels are produced from biomass sources through various biological, chemical and thermal processes, and they hold tremendous potential for widespread adoption in vehicles worldwide. 

Starting from 2026, this more efficient, sustainable drop-in fuel will replace the current E10 fuel—which contains 90% fossil fuels and 10% renewable ethanol—along with the introduction of next-generation hybrid engines. 

Low carbon logistics

F1 has implemented measures to achieve ultra-efficient and low/zero carbon logistics and travel. It aims to maximize efficiency by utilizing the least CO2-intensive transport available—which remains unnamed. 

One significant step taken in 2020 was the introduction of remote production for broadcasting races given the COVID-10 pandemic, resulting in a 34% reduction in technical cargo and a 36% reduction in traveling staff. F1 has also reduced the weight and greenhouse gas emissions of their traveling broadcast center by using an innovative honeycomb structure for its walls. 

Additionally, the logistics and engineering teams are developing flexible ULD shipping containers, enabling F1 to use more fuel-efficient transportation methods like rail and sea freight and transition away from older cargo planes.

Upgrades for greener operations

F1 is aiming to make significant strides towards operating in 100% renewably powered facilities, factories and venues. They have transitioned to 100% renewable electricity at all F1 and team facilities, achieved through Power Purchase Agreements. In the UK, F1’s offices run entirely on renewable electricity. 

Moreover, the French and Canadian circuits have installed solar panels that generate enough energy to offset the entire Grand Prix. The Circuit de Catalunya is also powered by 100% renewable sources. 

F1 is also actively researching and testing biofuels and low-emissions technologies for on-site generators to significantly reduce greenhouse gas and particulate emissions at the circuits.

Sustainability initiatives at F1 venues

At F1 venues, the use of single-use plastic has been slashed, with all waste being reused or recycled. The 2022 Singapore Grand Prix implemented new sustainable initiatives—20% more recycling bins, more water-filling stations and generators that provided cleaner energy to particular areas on the premises—to become the most sustainable F1 circuit.

Greener transportation options for fans

Incentives are being made for fans to reach the events in a greener way. For example, the Spanish GP—which is held at the Circuit de Catalunya—has partnered with local transport authorities to provide over 50,000 additional seats on public transport as well as hybrid buses for fans to reach the circuit. A similar initiative has been taken for the Austrian GP, where fans can reach the circuit using free bike services and dedicated parking spots for electric vehicles.

Are F1’s sustainability efforts making a difference?

F1 has made significant efforts to reduce its carbon footprint in recent years and is continuing to do so to reach its 2030 target of becoming carbon-neutral. However, there are factors that raise questions about the overall effectiveness and feasibility of these efforts.

One aspect to consider is the lack of a recent Sustainability Report on F1’s carbon emissions since 2019. The absence of updated data leaves uncertainty regarding the true impact of the changes implemented by F1. 

Another challenge lies in F1’s announcement of a record-breaking 23-race calendar for 2023, spanning 20 countries throughout the year. This expanded schedule leads to increased logistics and subsequently higher carbon emissions. While reducing the number of races would be a more eco-friendly approach, it poses challenges for F1 as it risks alienating its fan base, primarily located in countries where races are held. 

Furthermore, F1’s initial plan to split the race calendar region-wise and group races in the same geographical region closer together—one of the initiatives to achieve its net-zero goal by 2030—has been practically abandoned, as reported by French magazine AUTOhebdo. For instance, F1 is hosting three races in the U.S. this year, spread across May, October and November, when they could potentially be scheduled together with races in Canada and Mexico during the same period. 

What’s more, estimates show that F1 drivers and teams will travel a substantial distance of at least 133,570 km in 37 weeks in 2023, excluding additional travel between rounds for drivers returning home. This extensive travel contributes to the overall carbon emissions of the sport. 

The scattered nature of F1’s sustainability efforts, coupled with the challenges posed by the packed race calendar and extensive travel, raise questions about the overall impact on carbon emissions and the feasibility of achieving F1’s net-zero goal by 2030.

Nevertheless, F1’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint and striving for carbon neutrality demonstrates its dedication to a more sustainable future. While the path to carbon neutrality is not without its challenges, F1 is well-positioned to lead the way toward a cleaner, greener future for motorsports. By addressing the challenges and refining their sustainability strategies, F1 can work towards a more coherent and effective approach to achieving their net-zero goal by 2030.

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Header image courtesy of Unsplash


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