Green Motor Racing

2021-12-21

 |  Science & The Environment

Green Motor Racing

Pushing cars and their fearless drivers to the very limits of speed, motor racing is a sport enjoyed by millions of people all over the world. The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the global governing body of autosport, presides over racing organizations such as Formula 1, Indycar, and Formula E. Formula 1 is decidedly at the pinnacle of motor racing, with their cars reaching speeds up to 360 km/h. But Formula 1 and the FIA are also known to damage the environment. So what is the environmental impact of motor racing, and what are these racing organizations doing to become more environmentally friendly?

The Harms of Motor Racing

Ever since the beginning of Formula 1 in 1950, vehicles in this global racing competition used petrol-propelled engines. These engines not only had a terrible effect on the climate, but also created safety issues. Formula 1 finally changed the engine rules in 2014, transitioning to hybrid power units with 1.6 liter V6 turbo engines.

Recent studies have found that the change in engines have had a positive impact on the climate: the cars only accounted for 0.7% of emissions produced by the organization in 2019. The real problem with the sport was with the logistics of transportation in between races, which produced about 45% of emissions.

A study by the FIA into Formula 1 found that the organization generated approximately 256,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. To put this into perspective, this could power about 30,000 homes in the UK each year.

​​Indycar, another racing competition within the FIA, has also had its own share of environmental problems. After the 2018 Indianapolis 500, trash and refuse from attendees of the race appeared near the stands. Approximately 50,000 pounds of trash were collected from the Indianapolis 500 in 2013. 

Further, the often large amounts of spectators these motorsport races attract can be detrimental to the climate: the immense traffic, consumption of food and other resources, energy generated, and more all exemplify the harms of motor racing.

Positive Environmental Change in Motor Racing

Despite the negative environmental aspects of motor racing, these organizations are still making efforts to become more environmentally sustainable. For instance, Formula 1 has expressed a desire to create a more environmentally-friendly sport. They recently introduced a plan to have a net-zero impact on the environment by 2030. The plan was created by a team of promoters, partners, and sustainability experts, and outlines details to use advanced renewable fuels, energy recovery systems in cars, elimination of single-use plastics, sustainability of all racing events, and greener methods for fans to reach and enjoy races.

And while the Indycar Series has not committed to a sustainability plan like Formula 1, they are currently in talks to create a new, synthetic, zero-emission fuel. Part of the Indycar Series, the Indianapolis 500 achieved yet another coveted accomplishment: the Responsible Sport Certificate. The distinction, awarded by the Council for Responsible Sport, recognized that the race has implemented many environmentally and socially appropriate considerations and regulations.

Moreover, the launch of Formula E in 2014—which will also conduct a race in Vancouver in the summer of 2022—has further signalled the moving attention of the FIA and motor racing in general towards a more sustainable sport. The championship only includes electric cars.

The support and advocacy of drivers and fans of motor racing has pushed the FIA in recent years to create more sustainable plans for racing. Lewis Hamilton, the most successful driver in Formula 1 history, along with Sebastian Vettel have both been vocal advocates for environmental responsibility, pointing to a growing shift to more sustainable racing methods. 

Even though racing series like Formula 1 and Indycar have in the past had a negative impact on the climate, new changes made by racing championships and a growing desire for sustainability from drivers and fans alike indicate a new era of green motorsport.