Can Formula 1 ever win its battle to be seen as a climate friendly sport?

With the Immersed Festival beginning on Thursday, February 29, with a climate change-themed conference at USW’s atrium campus in Cardiff, IESTYN THOMAS considers whether Formula 1’s questionable reputation in this area is deserved

When Formula 1 is mentioned by fans or casual observers, not many associate the sport with helping the environment.

The new Formula 1 season is set to kick off this weekend in Bahrain following a 2023 season which saw 22 races across five continents.

On the track, the 2023 season was dominated by Dutch driver Max Verstappen who won 19 out of 22 races, but this year will see an increase to 24 Grand Prix as the F1 circus returns to China and Italian track Imola, which saw the 2023 race cancelled.

Many automatically associate the sport with “gas-guzzling” engines which only do damage to the environment, yet Formula 1 is attempting to address that image.

There have been previous clashes surrounding the environment, with Just Stop Oil protesters getting on to the track during a live race at Silverstone in 2022. Fortunately, nobody was injured by the cars on track.

With the Immersed festival opening with a series of talks on Climate change at the USW Atrium building, it’s time to consider what is being done.

A race with sustainable fuel

One of the main objectives being pushed by Formula 1 is to achieve a net zero carbon target by 2030.

The sport’s current sustainability strategy was introduced in 2019. F1 has been working with all 10 teams, promoters, sponsors and broadcasters to hit the above target.

On the track there has been a successful introduction of the E10 fuel, which compromises 10% ethanol and 90% fossil fuels to reduce CO2 emissions. F1 is working with partner Aramco and major fuel manufacturers.

The sport will attempt to trial these sustainable fuels in their support series F2 and F3, with F1 aiming to make a full switch to 100% sustainable fuel to be introduced with a new engine formula by 2026.

Sustainability concerns off the track

With F1 having races taking place across the globe, the obvious concern is the travel that the teams face over the course of a season.

During the 2019 season, teams expended more than 155,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

In the 2023 season, one example saw teams travel over 6,500 miles from Baku, Azerbaijan to Miami in the USA. The first three races saw teams clock up around 16,000 miles of travel.

Over the course of the season, nearly 82,000 miles were travelled across the 22 Grand Prix, which would be over 22,000 laps of the Silverstone track, which is the equivalent to 430 races.

Yet the sport has made changes to the 2024 calendar, with bunching races together to reduce travel race-on-race, despite Bahrain and Abu Dhabi having a financial agreement with the sport to host the season opener and the final race.

This year will see the Japanese Grand Prix swap with the Azerbaijan GP as the race in Suzuka slots in ahead of the Chinese GP.

Whilst changes to the calendar will reduce air miles slightly, there seems to be a long way to go for Formula 1 to hit their Net zero carbon targets by 2030.