While this week’s Sustainable Motorsport Roundup kicks off with the debate around Formula One’s pathway to Net Zero by 2030, I urge you to pay particular attention to the Big Picture section of this week’s column. It is here where I bring you Wholegrain Digital co-founder Tom Greenwood’s take on answering the simple and yet complicated question when it comes to sustainability, is perfection the enemy?
In addition to the Big Picture, I have some great sustainable motorsport developments covering everything from an electric Radical race car, the sustainable materials used in building the BMW M4 GT4, Hankook’s sustainable Formula E racing tires, my chat with Paul Glass of Carbon Positive Motorsport, Ferdinand Habsburg’s sustainability initiatives both on and off the track and hold for it, an electric Renault 5 Turbo!
All this plus my semi-regular feature Getting to the Track Sustainably and much more. Enjoy.
Sustainable Motorsport News
- Formula 1 has made no secret of their sustainability goals and this week they issued an update on their progress so far. “F1 has undergone a cultural change, where the environmental impact of the sport – and the target of Net Zero Carbon by 2030 – is now part of every decision F1 makes and every initiative F1 embarks on. Previously, it was not a priority. “As always, there is never one silver bullet to these challenges,” says F1 Managing Director, Motorsports, Ross Brawn. “There are a whole array of changes we have to make, from on the track to where we work.” The update covers their work with promoters to make events more sustainable, the new sustainably-fueled power units coming on board in 2026, and F1’s massive carbon footprint due to the logistics of getting the series around the world. On that last point Brawn adds: “We are working with our partner DHL to find ways of moving things around with much less impact on the planet and ultimately becoming Net Zero Carbon. Part of that is how we could regionalise the calendar in the future to have the North American races together, the European races together, the Middle Eastern races together and the Asian races together. It’s not a simple problem to solve and will take time.”
- Sebastian Vettel had something to say about this progress so far. While F1 shot down his idea of returning to V10 engines running on sustainable fuels, he has suggested that F1 dare to sign up for scrutiny from an independent body to ensure it was doing all it could on sustainability. “I think big organisations, whether it’s business or sports events, probably need to dare to make a step to find an organisation to control them,” said Vettel ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix. “And if they don’t stay within the limitations they put out, then [they] face consequences. I think otherwise, we can put everything on a poster and a piece of paper, and it all sounds great, but if it doesn’t happen, so what?“
- Another criticism that F1 has faced from Vettel and others has been on how slow they have been to adopt sustainable fuels when other series such as the Porsche Supercup and WEC have already done so. Ross Brawn recently explained to Autosport why they are waiting until 2026. “The reason is not because it doesn’t see the significance of the change, but is instead based on reasons of fairness among the current entrants. With F1 being such a competitive arena, and different manufacturers having spent hundreds of millions on their current engines to work perfectly in sync with their oil and petrol suppliers, throwing a spanner in the works now with an all-new fuel, risked unfairly shaking things up.”
- One team that expects to be ready for the sustainable fuel switch in 2026 is Mercedes. They have signed fuel and lubricants partner Petronas to a deal extension that will only take effect in 4 years when the new engines come on board. The extension of the partnership cements a joint push that Mercedes and Petronas are making towards a carbon neutral future for the team. Datuk Sazali Hamzah, Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of Petronas, said: “With our long-standing partnership and extensive experience in formulating the Fluid Technology Solutions for the team, Petronas is fully equipped with the capacity and capabilities to perfect the technology to produce and supply 100% advanced sustainable fuel for the next-generation power units. In that same vein, we are already on track with developing a greenfield bio refinery and co-processing at our facilities to supply sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) as a cleaner and more viable option for aircrafts in our effort to support the aviation industry needs.”
- Meanwhile in Forbes, James Morris argues that Audi went the wrong way by switching to Formula 1 from Formula E. “At face value, it does sound like a completely pointless move. Formula 1 will remain the flagship form of motor racing for some years, with hundreds of millions of fans around the world. But its value as a testbed for technologies destined to arrive in consumer cars has depleted and looks set to disappear in the next couple of years. However, there is one beacon of hope. The subtext of Audi’s arrival in Formula 1 is another announcement by the FIA motorsport for 2026: the arrival of “sustainable” synthetic fuel.” He argues that sustainable fuel is “hideously expensive and five times less efficient than battery-electric cars in kW consumption per mile.” My response to this is not to confuse motorsport with transportation. When it comes to sustainability, motorsport is well placed to serve as an R&D platform for manufacturers to test technology to best deal with carbon emissions in a sporting context, and it will take a variety of technologies to tackle the problem. On top of that, F1 offers a much larger audience to take their sustainability message to, as opposed to that currently found in Formula E which I am sure played a large part in their decision.
- This week on the blog I published a great conversation that I had with Paul Glass of Carbon Positive Motorsport. You are probably asking, what does Carbon Positive Motorsport do exactly? Here is part of the explanation that Paul gave me during our conversation. “We make it possible for events and competitors to estimate their carbon emissions for a given activity, and to buy into these projects – we aggregate these purchases that to make it possible to secure these carbon offsetting units which are provided by the projects. These units are defining the future carbon offsetting that a project will deliver in a defined future time frame. In a nutshell our business idea makes it possible and affordable to carbon offset more emissions than is generated by motorsport competition.”
- The Checkered Flag reports that Extreme E, McLaren and Ellis Spiezia are among the nominees for the inaugural BBC Green Sport Awards. “The inaugural BBC Green Sport Awards intend to recognise organisations and athletes who use their respective sport to help raise climate awareness. Five categories are included, with the Young Athlete of the Year and Ambition & Impact Awards featuring nominees from the world of motorsport: Ellis Spiezia is in the running for the former, while Extreme E and McLaren Racing are on the latter’s shortlist.”
- The Frontiers website last year published Is ISO20121 Certification a Detour or Gamechanger for Eco-Striving Sport Events? A Conceptual Typology with a focus on Formula E. This study will appeal to those looking for a deep dive into the science of the ISO20121 Certification designation.
Sustainable Motorsport Tech
- Bcomp describes how their sustainable fibre was incorporated into the new BMW M4 GT4 in BMW unveils new M4 GT4 featuring more natural fibre parts than any other GT racing car in series production. “Designing components with the specific properties of ampliTex™ and powerRibs™ in mind allows BMW to fully exploit their potential in the new M4 GT4. Substituting synthetic carbon fibres with the renewable ampliTex™ flax fibre fabrics and powerRibs™ also allows for significant greenhouse gas emission reductions from cradle to gate of up to 85% while adding performance benefits like improved vibration damping.”
- Miles Ahead, a driving event company launched in 2011 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway explains how they transitioned to electric kart racing for their driving events. “As the transportation industry continues its rapid transition toward electric powertrain systems, the decision by Miles Ahead to use electric-powered racing karts is well timed and highly relevant. “Being a small company that does events, Miles Ahead was hit hard by the loss of its manufacturer partner and also the COVID pandemic,” says Fred Bell, VP – Global Distribution. “The level of support we provide allowed them to stabilize and then reinvent their business to now incorporate state-of-the-art electric power technology in the racing karts they use. Their new direction is obviously a great fit with our business.”
- Ride onboard an 800V fully electric converted Radical with Matt Cresci Racing. “This car was created by Team Rattlesnake, and supported by Cameron Racing and Benoit V. The car was finished just 3 days before this video. Extremely fun to shakedown this one of a kind car, and looking forward to further development of this project!“
- The Drive looks at how Toyota’s hydrogen dreams are attracting major ICE tech suppliers. “Combustion hydrogen engines are a very recent development in the automotive space. Most automakers that are experimenting with hydrogen are doing so with fuel cell electric vehicles; however, Toyota believes that hydrogen can also prove to be useful in combustion engines. The automaker recently demonstrated a custom-built GR Yaris with a hydrogen combustion engine that it has been developing for some time. These events have led to several tier one suppliers deciding to take hydrogen seriously, following in Toyota’s footsteps in order to develop technology to stay current in a hydrogen future.”
- I always thought that the Renault 5 Turbo was one mean looking sports car but now there is a Renault 5 Turbo 3E 380PS electric drift car! “Powering the Turbo 3E are two electric motors, sending power exclusively to the rear, while the 42kWh battery sits in the middle under the floor. All in, it has 380PS (280kW) and 700Nm (516lb ft) of torque. Underpinning the car is a tubular chassis, with an FIA-approved roll bar setup and flat base. The bodywork, as you’ve probably already guessed, is all carbon fibre.”
- Hankook has replaced Michelin as the official Formula E tire supplier for 2023 and beyond. “The Formula E teams currently have access to a tire variant that can be used in both dry and wet conditions, in order to further save resources. Furthermore, the long durability of the tire is another pioneering step. After the respective race weekends, Hankook completely recycles every set of tires ensuring the championship is as sustainable as possible.” In addition, with thirty-percent of the tire is made from sustainable materials.
- Formula E teams are also testing fast charging technology on the Gen3 cars for eventual adoption by the championship. “The higher power means they will have to pit to recharge even with a regenerative motor on the front axle, and to that end, ABB has developed a 600 kW charging system that far outperforms the most powerful 350 kW commercial chargers.”
- As a partial response to critics arguing for F1 to adopt sustainable fuels quicker (see above), the FIA and Liberty are testing out the technology in F2 and F3. Megan White in Autosport explains why F2 are pioneers, not lab rats, over the sustainable fuel switch. F1 Managing Director Ross Brawn said F2 and F3 are a “much easier environment to introduce a fuel”, adding that the fact the series only use one fuel supplier makes it easier than F1, where there are “four or five different fuel suppliers with different engines, so it is a much more complex dynamic.”
- The 24 Hours of Le Mans has targeted carbon neutrality by 2030. “As of this year, the 24 Hours of Le Mans field runs on 100% renewable fuel, Excellium Racing 100, significantly reducing the impact of the race. The share of tyres and fuel has dropped from 2.5% to 1.4% of total emissions. At the same time, manufacturers are working on reducing tyre carbon emissions. Michelin has developed a tyre composed of 53% biosourced materials, currently being tested on the H24 prototype. We have embarked on an ambitious carbon neutrality programme, including projects capable of capturing 25,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum by 2030. The ACO’s hydrogen strategy is part of our commitment to the energy transition crucial to safeguard the planet. In the past few years, the club has been involved in the promotion of hydrogen as a safe, efficient, versatile fuel and a solution for zero emission mobility. The ACO H2 division is exploring two avenues: racing and mobility, from prototypes to HGVs. The planet needs defending from all angles.”
Every Little Bit Counts
Every Little Bit Counts looks at small steps that you can take to decrease your environmental impact and increase your sustainability.
- I have written in past Sustainable Motorsport Roundups on the work that driver Ferdinand Habsburg has been doing to not only increase his sustainable activities both on and off the track, but to also encourage others to do the same. Above is a video as part of his Drive Fast, Act Faster initiative. Last year Autosport looked at what he is up to in How a sportscar ace is speeding to save trees in 2021. Every little bit counts.
The Big Picture
I am an avid reader of the Oxymoron newsletter written by Tom Greenwood of Wholegrain Digital, a newsletter that discusses sustainability issues in business. It is always thought provoking and informative and this week’s edition hit particularly close to home since this is an issue that always comes up when discussing sustainability initiatives in motorsport. He asks a simple yet thought provoking question: Is perfection the enemy? Whenever the question of sustainability is brought up in motorsport, there is often this pushback with the following examples of why it is a pointless exercise:
- Motorsport can never be 100% sustainable
- Since they fly everywhere, what is the point of sustainable fuels?
- Formula E races with batteries but charges them with diesel generators
I can come up with dozens more but you get my point. Tom makes the important point that, despite the fact that we are not perfect, it does not diminish our sustainable journey and the reasons why we continue to strive to reduce our emissions as much as possible.
I will quote directly from Tom as he explains it so much better than I do.
I’m not trying to say that we should pretend that everything is fine and paint over the cracks, but I do think that we’ll make faster progress if we stop making perfection the enemy of good. If we’re going to transition to a sustainable economy, then we need to focus on the word transition. Sustainability is not a perfect state that we can reach overnight. It is a direction of travel.
Sustainability is a vector.
If we look at sustainability as a vector rather than a destination, then instead of criticising businesses for not living up to an idealistic view of perfection, we can measure success by their direction and rate of change. It would be great if lots of businesses had somehow cracked the magic code of sustainability, but in a world where that’s not the case, where we are today is arguably less important than whether we are moving in the right direction.
Looking at sustainable business as a vector allows us to have honest conversations about where we are now, where we need to go and how we can get there. We shouldn’t feel that admitting imperfection is a weakness but instead embrace it as a part of the process of improvement. Any progress is good progress and we need to be embracing every little drop of it that we can achieve. Let’s acknowledge the challenges we face, celebrate progress, and keep improving. We won’t arrive at a sustainable economy in one giant leap or one short sprint. Relentless forward progress is the name of the game.https://tomgreenwood.substack.com/p/is-perfection-the-enemy
And that in a nutshell is what the Sustainable Motorsport Roundup is all about. Acknowledging the challenges we face, celebrating progress and charting the improvements being made in motorsport across the globe. I highly recommend the Oxymoron newsletter. It is free and you can subscribe to Tom’s newsletter here.
Getting to the Track Sustainably
Getting to the Track Sustainably is my occasional column on developments in sustainable transportation that could have some application to motorsport. Since the majority of carbon emissions come from logistics and transportation, this topic is of utmost importance as motorsport works to make itself more sustainable. Here are some articles you may find of interest.
Sustainable Ground Transportation
- Geely Promises 300 km of Range in Just 5 Minutes
- Are You Thinking About Electric Car Charging the Wrong Way?
- Class 8 Hydrogen Truck Competition Disrupted By A Canada-United Kingdom Partnership
- Cobalt-free Cathode Could Lead to Safer, Longer-lasting Batteries for Electric Vehicles
- Car tires are disastrous for the environment. This startup wants to be a driving force in fixing the problem
- When Driving, Tires Emit Pollution. And EVs Make the Problem Worse
- Tesla reveals new battery design that could last 100 years – BatteryIndustry.tech
- Pilot Project: Physical Recycling Makes Mixed Plastic Waste Recyclable
- This New Electric Jet Could Be the World’s First Luxury eVTOL
- 2022 Sustainable Aviation Fuel Outlook
- Passport to sustainable aviation fuel success
- This New Supersonic Jet Will Fly From London to NYC in 3.5 Hours—on Eco-Friendly Biofuel
- As Boom Seeks Engine, Airlines Mull Supersonic Use Case
- Engine makers sound downbeat on supersonic, leaving Boom in a bind
- United Airlines Is Buying 100 Zero-Emission Electric Planes From a Swedish Startup
- IATA urges airlines to expand SAF usage
- Green machine: the A380 superjumbo gets hydrogen power
- Regional commercial aircraft completes flight on 100% SAF
- The World’s First Hydrogen-Powered Helicopter Could Hit the Skies Next Year
- Mapping of zero emission pilots and demonstration projects