From monstrous V12s down to tiny V6 engines, Formula 1 has done a lot in the past few decades to become an eco-friendlier sport. Over the years the sport has had a lot of criticism for being too harsh on the environment, but how bad F1 is for the environment is a complex issue.
F1 is not as bad for the environment as many people think. One full year of racing uses less fuel that a 747’s flight over the Atlantic. Moreover, the sport will have a net zero carbon footprint by the year 2030, and this will be achieved largely by moving to 100% sustainable fuels.
The majority of the recent rule changes have been brought in to make Formula 1 cars more efficient and to help them become more green. Below, we’ll take a closer look at F1’s effect on the environment, and compare its carbon footprint to that of other motorsports.
The Effect Of F1 On The Environment
In the past Formula 1 has received a huge amount of criticism from many people, especially environmentalists, for being too harsh on the environment. It’s understandable when you consider that the cars used to use massive gas guzzling V12 engines!
In 2012 and 2013, F1 saw a lot of protests against the races, especially during the European events. At this time, the sport was still using V8 engines, which weren’t the most fuel efficient and their emissions weren’t small either.
The following year the new engine regulations were implemented, and the cars went from the V8 engines down to relatively tiny 1.6 liter V6 turbo hybrid engines. The aim was to create cars that are more efficient and less wasteful.
Statistics That Will Surprise You
In 2019 Formula 1 released a report that showed how the sport affected the environment. The total carbon emissions of a Formula 1 season is estimated to be 256,551 tons of carbon dioxide. However, it’s not the cars that are at fault here.
In fact, the cars are only responsible for 0.7% of the sport’s total emissions. That’s not a lot for a sport that relies on combustion power to run events year-round through a total of 20+ different races, with three practice sessions, qualifying, the occasional sprint race, and a full race.
In addition, it was stated that all of the cars combined only use 150,000 liters of fuel for an entire season’s worth of driving. This includes preseason testing and all other sessions during a Formula 1 race weekend. To compare, a Boeing 747 uses about the same amount of fuel for a 10-hour flight.
Where Do The Emissions Come From?
So, if the cars are only responsible for 0.7% of Formula 1’s total CO2 emissions, where does the rest come from? The rest of the carbon emissions are simply a result of travelling the world to get to different races.
Formula 1 teams need to transport their cars, equipment, and their staff to each event. This is usually done by plane, rental cars, motorhomes and transport trucks. This is where most of the emissions in the sport come from.
It can still be argued that Formula 1 are still at fault for these emissions because of the fact that they need to travel to different countries for each race. However, the sport is currently working on a plan to improve this aspect.
What Has F1 Done To Reduce Its Carbon Footprint?
Formula 1 has put a massive focus on improving their carbon footprint over recent years through engine regulation changes and sustainable events. This comes especially after several protests and criticisms of the sport being too harsh on the environment and contributing to global warming.
It’s not only the protests and criticisms that have been bad for Formula 1 though. Overall, the sport’s reputation has taken a big hit because of the fact that it is not as eco-friendly as it could be, which affects the sport’s viewership numbers and ability to land sponsors.
The sport realized that it had to do something if it didn’t want to have its reputation irreparably damaged. In order to remain relevant, the sport had to adapt and change to keep up with the latest trends and to continue to be a pioneer of technology.
2014 Engine Regulations
In 2014, the sport saw a massive shift in the engine regulations. Switching from big V8 engines down to 1.6 liter V6 turbo hybrid engines was a controversial move to say the least, but it ended up being the right one for the good of the sport.
The newer generation of engines use hybrid power and two energy recovery systems. A battery is used to provide the driver with more horsepower without burning more fuel. This means that the cars produced the same amount of horsepower as their predecessors (if not more) without having to burn more fossil fuels and emit more CO2 into the atmosphere.
Although this was an incredible challenge for the engineers, the result was a resounding success. Formula 1 cars’ fuel tanks were effectively halved in size from the V8 era, and they are still able to go the same distance in a race.
During the V8 era, Formula 1 cars had 55 gallon fuel tanks which would last them the entire race. But many cars still had to save fuel during the race to make sure that they made it to the finish line (190 miles of driving flat out). Nowadays, Formula 1 cars use a 30 gallon fuel tank and can comfortably make it to the finish line. This is testament to how fuel efficient the cars have become.
How Have Formula 1 Teams Achieved This Efficiency?
Achieving this level of efficiency was no easy task. It has taken years of development in order to reach this level. What started as a ‘gimmick’ in many people’s minds, used to make the cars artificially faster, eventually turned into an integral part of the cars’ development.
KERS was the first implementation of an energy recovery system in Formula 1, introduced in 2009. It was a single, relatively small battery that generated power from the kinetic energy lost under braking. This battery could give the engine an 80 horsepower boost for 6 seconds per lap, every lap. But not many cars ran it back then, until it became mandatory in 2014 in the form of ERS.
In 2014 the energy recovery system received a massive upgrade. The battery was now bigger and stronger, and it recharged using two elements. The battery now harvested energy from the MGU-K (kinetic) and the MGU-H (heat). The MGU-K uses the brakes whereas the MGU-H uses the turbo to generate power.
The battery itself was also much stronger, as it now produced up to 160 horsepower for 33 seconds per lap. This is double the power compared to before, and it could be used for much longer. However, this system was still limited by rules put in place by the FIA, but it has remained in the cars since 2014.
How Is F1 Good For The Environment?
F1 itself is not necessarily good for the environment at this point in time. While the cars themselves do not contribute much to the carbon emissions of the sport, there are other factors that have a big influence on the overall carbon footprint of Formula 1.
The fact that Formula 1 has to use planes and trucks to transport all of their staff and equipment from country to country is responsible for the majority of CO2 emissions. In this sense, Formula 1 is not good for the environment.
However, as of right now there is no alternative solution to this. Formula 1 is currently working on solutions to become net zero carbon by the year 2030. As always, the sport is pushing the envelope in technology and working on revolutionary new ideas.
The efficiency of F1 cars has helped to make road cars more efficient. In this sense, Formula 1 has been great for the environment. Mercedes-Benz was the first manufacturer to do this, and they are still developing their technology to improve it for their road cars.
The main element that has been used in the road cars is the energy recovery system which has significantly improved the overall mileage of the cars and helped to reduce their carbon footprint. While KERS systems may not have been invented within the world of F1, there is no doubt that development within the sport has helped improve the systems used in road cars.
F1 vs Other Motorsports’ Carbon Footprints
In order to see how much damage Formula 1 actually does to the environment, it’s a good idea to compare it to other forms of motorsport. This is the best way to see just how much Formula 1 needs to change in order to catch up with other forms of motorsport.
Formula 1 do seem to be the most open about their carbon emissions compared to other forms of motorsport. Other series haven’t released reports such as the ones that Formula 1 have released which clearly state exactly what the carbon footprint of the sport is.
This makes it difficult to compare just how different Formula 1 is to other forms of motorsport, but we can compare what each form of motorsport is planning to do reduce their carbon footprint.
The only branch of motorsport other than Formula 1 that has released their carbon emission to the world is Formula E. Formula E, however, is already carbon neutral. This is ultimately what Formula 1’s goal is. Formula E might use fully electric cars, but they also travel around the world to different races. So how do they do it?
Firstly, the sport reduced their carbon footprint by forming the calendar in such a way that they do not need to use as much air travel. The majority of freight is done through road, sea and rail which is more efficient and produces fewer emissions.
Formula E also offsets their carbon emissions by investing in “projects certified according to the strict requirements of the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and/or the Gold Standard (GS), which all follow the regulations outlined in the Kyoto Protocol by the UN Climate Change Secretariat.”
Examples of these projects are “biogas energy generation in China, landfill gas energy generation in Mexico and wind power energy generation in Morocco.” Formula E invests in projects in their host countries to give back to the environment and the local country. So, even though they use carbon-free race cars, it’s the developments off the track that make Formula E carbon neutral.
MotoGP race all around the world just like Formula 1 does, so their carbon footprint is fairly high as well. However, a MotoGP engine does not produce as many emissions as Formula 1 cars do.
But MotoGP still aims to reduce their carbon footprint in the next few years. Moto GP announced that “all its classes will run on 100% fossil-free fuels by 2027, with a shift to at least 40% fossil-free by 2024.”
This won’t turn the sport net zero like Formula E though, as they still need to travel to different countries around the world. However, the MotoGP bikes will have a much lower carbon footprint than they currently have.
DTM is not as international as Formula 1, Formula E and MotoGP, as all of their races are held within Europe. However, the sport still produces carbon emissions through the cars and the freight when it comes to transporting the staff and equipment.
DTM aims to reduce their carbon footprint by introducing lower carbon high performance racing fuel. With this fuel being developed it is likely to be adopted by many other GT racing series across the world as well.
Although this alone won’t make the sport carbon neutral, it goes a long way in developing more eco-friendly fuel for both racing and road cars. This could make a big difference to the global carbon footprint without requiring the sport to go fully electric.
Is F1 The Most Sustainable Motorsport?
F1 is not the most sustainable motorsport. However, Formula One as a business are trying to make the sport more sustainable, through the current use of E10 fuel, eventually moving to 100% sustainable fuel, and by making their entire logistical and race operations more environmentally friendly.
F1’s Plan To Go Carbon Neutral
Formula 1 announced their plans to become net carbon zero by the year 2030. This seems like a giant task at the moment considering how big the sport’s carbon footprint currently is. The main issue is not the cars. However, the FIA is still pushing to reduce their carbon footprint even further.
Despite the cars only contributing to 0.7% of the sport’s total carbon footprint, the FIA aims to introduce 100% sustainable fuel by 2026 which will significantly reduce the cars’ emissions. On top of that, the energy recovery system will be improved, doubling the amount of power it provides and allowing the drivers to use it for longer. This will make the cars even more efficient.
By 2025 Formula 1 will have sustainable events too, by eliminating all single use plastics. The sport will also reduce their carbon footprint by taking fewer staff to each event and developing sustainable fuel for air, sea and road travel. In addition, they will also reduce the amount of freight that is needed at each race.
Developing Sustainable Fuels
Formula 1 can become carbon neutral by 2030 if they successfully develop their sustainable fuels. This is one of the main reasons Formula 1 is using 100% sustainable fuels in the 2026 engine regulations rather than going electric.
Using 100% sustainable fuels in the sport will help the engineers to push the envelope of technology and adapt these sustainable fuels for the rest of the world. We could potentially see aircraft, ships and cars using the same 100% sustainable fuels that Formula 1 cars use.
It’s this kind of innovation and pioneering that allows Formula One to be better for the environment. The sport is always at the forefront of research and development, and sustainable fuels could be the future of the world, shaped in Formula 1.
F1 itself is not bad for the environment. In fact, the cars themselves are extremely efficient and do not produce much in the way of carbon emissions. The problem, however, is the fact that F1 has to travel using air, land and sea, which is where the majority of the carbon emissions come from.
I created and have been writing on this site since 2019, collaborating with drivers, coaches, engineers and manufacturers to provide you with the most reliable information about motorsport. Find out more about me here.