Formula One joins UN climate sport pact

Action during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix 2019 on 29 November, 2019. [Photo: EPA-EFE/SRDJAN SUKI]

Globe-trotting motor racing series Formula One signed up to a United Nations climate pact on Wednesday (22 January), as the long-running sport’s quest to go green and refresh its image moves up a gear.

The world of F1 will visit 20 countries over the course of 10 months this year, taking hundreds of support staff, entire airplanes filled with parts and thousands of fans with it in the process.

F1’s new owners took over the sport in 2017 amid flagging TV viewership numbers and decreasing interest to visit racetracks, and have since strived to make the sport attractive again to younger generations and new parts of the world.

To that end, the sport and its France-based governing body, the FIA, yesterday signed up to the United Nations’ Sport for Climate Action Framework, a scheme that hopes to make sports greener and educate fans about the merits of sustainability.

“We aim to inspire greater awareness and best practice in sustainability motorsport standards,” said FIA President and former Ferrari team leader Jean Todt in a statement.

Signatories, which include the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, are committed to “undertaking systemic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility”, as well as reducing overall climate impact.

The Brief, powered by ifaw – Europe’s Formula One lesson

Strange as it may sound, the EU could learn a lot from the glitzy and nostalgic world of Formula One, which recently underwent the ‘big refresh’ many people want for the European project.

F1 already pledged in November to make its operations carbon-neutral by 2030, by moving “to ultra-efficient logistics and travel and 100% renewably powered offices, facilities and factories”.

The sport also wants to tune up its already impressive hybrid engine units, which produce more than 1,000bhp (brake horsepower), and create the “world’s first net-zero carbon hybrid internal combustion engine”.

F1 engineers claim that the current generation of engines are the most efficient car power units in the world, in terms of fuel-to-power ratio. Efficiency levels stand at around 50%, while in an average road car the figure is closer to 30%.

But the logistics side of F1’s net-zero pledge has provoked accusations of greenwashing, as moving the sport around five continents will require extensive air travel. The sport’s intention to use carbon offsetting has also drawn criticism.

A recent poll in industry magazine The Engineer revealed that readers think that F1’s promised changes are positive, although some pointed out that there would be a bigger impact if the sport simply cut down on the number of races.

British driver and six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton had also been accused of hypocrisy after advocating for a sustainable and even carbon-neutral lifestyle while owning a private jet and an entire garage of luxury supercars.

The Mercedes racer answered those critics last year by selling his Learjet and replacing his collection with all-electric and hybrid equivalents instead.

Comparisons have also been drawn between the venerable 70-year-old series and newcomer Formula E, an all-electric equivalent now in its sixth season that has attracted former and even prospective F1 drivers into its ranks.

Top carmakers BMW, Mercedes and Nissan have all flocked to the sport too, as battery-powered vehicles increase in popularity in the real world and marques face up to the prospect of flagging car sales around the world.

E-racers electrify Berlin's old airport

Formula One’s electric cousin came to Berlin’s defunct Tempelhof Airport on Saturday (25 May), in the latest round of a rapidly advancing sport. Formula E’s fortunes have progressed hand-in-hand with those of electric vehicles in general.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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