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Formula 1 aims to go net zero by 2030, but some issues are holding the sport back from a full speed commitment to reducing its carbon footprint.

Formula 1 teams and administrators are moving towards a greener version of the sport, but it’s far from the chequered flag. : pedrik, Flickr CC BY 2.0 Formula 1 teams and administrators are moving towards a greener version of the sport, but it’s far from the chequered flag. : pedrik, Flickr CC BY 2.0

Formula 1 aims to go net zero by 2030, but some issues are holding the sport back from a full speed commitment to reducing its carbon footprint.

Formula 1 is trying to go green, but it may need to hit the accelerator and speed up to achieve its ambitious goal of net zero by 2030.

The most powerful player in determining the environmental future of motorsport remains the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the governing body of many auto-racing competitions, including Formula 1.

Since 2009, the FIA’s Institute of Motor Sport Safety has assumed responsibility for making racing more environmentally sustainable. Under that direction, the FIA helped fund climate initiatives such as the Clean Air Fund and oversaw Formula E, an electric-powered sibling championship to Formula 1 launched in 2024, and which was recognised for its event sustainability with an ISO 20121 certification.

Formula E is a glimpse at what the future might look like, on and off track. In addition to the racing being cleaner for the environment, the race day experience has been a testing ground for other sustainability initiatives.

During the 2020 Formula E season, spectators were given water pouches in place of single-use plastic bottles, a measure which the FIA says saved the equivalent of over 200,000 bottles from being thrown away.

But Formula E can’t be the only hope. It will likely take a long time to bridge the gap in popularity between it and Formula 1, if ever.

Formula 1 is headlined by motorsport icons like Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Charles Leclerc. The Formula E field is largely made up of one-time F1 washouts or talented drivers who are unlikely to reach the pinnacle of open-wheel racing.

It remains a priority for the FIA that Formula 1 also finds ways to improve its sustainability metrics.

The latest car regulations are a positive step. Starting in 2022, Formula 1 cars run on E-10 gasoline, a mixture of 90 percent fossil fuel and 10 percent ethanol. With that change, F1 says the cars themselves make up only 0.7 percent of Formula 1’s car footprint, bringing the sport very close to one component of its 2030 net zero target.

But despite the strides made, challenges persist for Formula 1 to complete its net zero quest before the end of the decade. The sport has a big carbon footprint: its cars still run on fossil fuels, each Grand Prix is high on noise pollution and the surrounding infrastructure required to set up and maintain its lucrative racetracks often come at the expense of surrounding ecology.

A Grand Prix weekend is environmentally taxing in many ways. The energy consumption to power a circuit, especially during night races, results in an overuse of power plants.

Spectator litter, exacerbated by loose environmental regulations (such as allowing plastics, not using eco-friendly packaging on merchandise and food) also means that Formula 1 leaves a pile of landfill in its wake everywhere. Racing gear that is thrown out could be recycled or made to be renewable.

Formula 1 weekends are very noisy, which is especially an issue for street circuits in cities such as Baku, Monaco, Melbourne and Las Vegas that host races in high-density areas. A Formula 1 car can reach up to 140 decibels, a level which can result in irreversible hearing loss, raising a red flag for residents near the track. Street circuits also disrupt a city’s typical traffic patterns, as roads are closed in the lead-up to and during the three days of a race weekend.

The logistics side of Formula 1 is among the sport’s most extraordinary features. An incredible amount of work and ingenuity goes into making each Grand Prix happen: machinery, infrastructure and personnel are shifted country to country over 20 weekends in a calendar year, sometimes crossing continents in less than a week.

However, these logistics cause huge backlogs in emissions. More efficient freighters are in construction, but it is unlikely to solve the issue: the transport required by road, sea and air all emit too much to be sustainable long-term.

In the last stage of transport, Formula 1 teams often use low-emission aircraft to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but carbon footprints could shrink further if the sport found ways to increase usage of railroads or seas.

This appears to be on the mind of organisers: the 2024 Formula 1 calendar has shuffled race order in a bid to reduce travel mileage: Formula 1 President and CEO Stefano Domenicali said organisers wanted to make the calendar “more efficient in terms of environmental sustainability”.

But the challenge of making motorsport green will be a holistic effort. The FIA seems to recognise this, launching the Environmental Accreditation Program in 2011.

The program gives teams and industry personnel a rating out of three stars based on environmental performance, serving as an accountability measure and incentive for improvement. In 2023, Formula 1 became the first motorsport championship to have all member teams score a three-star accreditation.

The program is helping the FIA branch into new areas and generate new partnerships. Its Sustainable Mobility Program is helping grassroots organisations from Santiago to Perth, while facilitating innovation to help improve the sustainability of racing.

Formula 1 tyre provider Pirelli, for instance, achieved a three-star rating for acquiring all of its electricity through renewable sources and implementing a 25 percent cut to its emissions beyond 2025. Michelin, the tyre sponsor of Formula E, is also continuing to invest in energy efficiency.

The program has given a framework for local bodies to improve sustainability in domestic ventures. Italy’s Automobile Club d’Italia is, for instance, working with local rally events to raise its overall sustainability practices with an end goal of carbon offsetting.

Sport is an enormous part of sustainable development. It controls huge sums of money and contributes a large amount of the cultural fabric of communities the world over. The UN recognises sport as one of the tools of its Agenda 2030 plan to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Formula 1 is a thrilling, entertaining spectacle. But even the fastest sport in the world may need to pick up the pace on its transition to carbon neutrality.

Dr. Aslı Öztopcu is an assistant professor of finance at Maltepe University. Her research interests include environmental economics, sustainable development, and behavioural economics.

Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™.

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