A closer look at F1's sustainability goals for 2023

As the most popular motorsport in the world, F1 is committed to setting the standard for sustainable practices by making significant changes in the way they operate.

Formula 1 is fast-growing. Late last year, in September, Formula 1 announced its master plan for a 24 race calendar. There were mixed reactions from the fans.

China pulled out last minute, leaving the number of races down to 23. The reasons for the way the races were scheduled the way they were raised questions. However, people have to understand that coming up with a calendar on its own is a big task, with its own challenges, like having to follow the promoter requirements. 

One of the most important things to always think about in F1 is sustainability, in all its activities, including the calendar, seeing F1 has plans to reach net-zero carbon by 2030.

The head of sustainability has been, Ellen Jones, since early 2022. She's the brains behind finding solutions that arise in F1, including maintaining sustainability.

“It doesn’t get bigger from an impact side, be it from people’s interests but also from people’s experience,” said Jones. “We race around the world. We have an important voice in showing what sustainability can look like in real life in the context of our events. That’s a great opportunity, but a lot of work.”

F1 works quite closely with race promoters, and this is part of F1's sustainability plans. All races are given targets, which concern fan travel, impact on the local community, waste and recycling and energy usage, and the impact on the local community. “It’s really putting in that structure so that we can advise promoters, but also track what they’re doing to make sure that we’re continuing to push the bar up,” said Jones. “The first thing we did is set up contractual clauses saying that sustainability plans need to be delivered, carbon footprint data needs to be issued. All things in life come back to Excel! It is where you track your goals across and track where people are.”

Race targets are different one from the other because of locations and infrastructure. When F1 started its new motor home at last year’s Spanish Grand Prix, it raised some eyebrows. However, the motor home was designed with efficiency in mind, with the aim of showing teams that efficiency without sacrificing hosting options was very much possible.

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Jones said, “If you design things to travel, so that they can stack, be lightweight and more efficient, you can still put on a great show, but you have fewer cars and fewer trucks on the road. Hopefully we have some interest from the teams saying, ah, we’d like to do that and redesign. There are some things we can do and say this is a rule, we must follow. But there are other things you can do where you lead by example and say actually, this is a better way of doing things, please take this on board.”

In addition to all those strategies, changing messaging to shareholders is an important part of F1’s sustainability plans. Illustrations of these include the elimination of single-use plastic with reusable water bottles off-track. Fans are encouraged to be mindful of reducing their carbon footprint, through taking public transport to the race, recycling, or even eating vegetarian foods.

Jones commented, saying, “We need fans to engage in that and make those more sustainable choices. Hopefully they can feel like they’re part of something bigger and say yes, I can see why I make this choice, not just for the sport but for sustainability.” 

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In 2019, F1 launched its sustainability plan, which set a target of cutting its emissions by a minimum of 50%. “What we have to do is look through every single piece of kit and say is it required, can it be designed to be lightweight, can it be replicated, how often does it need to be updated?” said Jones. “That is not only a sustainability question, but it’s also a future operation of F1 question. That project is ongoing and will continue to get bigger, because we have to make that kind of large-scale strategic change of how we work so that people can still have a great event and activity. Most people probably don’t know that we do remote broadcasts. It didn’t change people’s experience, and that’s a real sign of success, that things have happened in the background that have lowered our carbon footprint, but it’s still a fantastic event.”

Jones asserts that coming up with a calendar is one of the hardest things to do, with contracts expiring and the demand for new events increasing. In addition to that, there are demands that each event comes with. 

“There’s logistics involved in cities getting ready for this event,” she said. “There’s the economics involved of when the date is. And there’s also the emotion involved: ‘This has always been on our holiday! It’s our day!’ So you need to balance those considerations. When I look at it from a sustainability perspective, there are three things: how do we have that conversation with our promoter, so they can understand the impact they can have by allowing us to move that date, because it’s a contractual negotiation; two, how do we set up our contracts for the future so that we have that flexibility as opposed to having a set date that’s agreed? And then three, how do we look at the date itself to say what’s the most impactful change we can make? We need to make more of those changes, and that’s absolutely known. We’re working on that through our promoters and through Stefano and all of those relationships.”

The sustainability question will remain a big challenge as we get closer to 2030. On that, she said, "It’s looking at technologies of the future. That could be car safety, as it has been in the past and will continue to be. But it can also be about sustainable mobility. That’s where you see hybrid engines and sustainable fuels. From a technical perspective, it’s already core to who Formula 1 is. It’s just about applying the engineering to the issues of our time.”

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