Breaking down the F1 emissions report: Just 0.3% is from the cars

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As we highlighted here earlier, Formula 1 today — via FOTA — announced plans to reduce the sport’s carbon emissions. Already, expectations are the those numbers will be down by 12.4% by 2012, as compared to 2009 levels.

FOTA commissioned an emissions report to help F1 determine a baseline by which to compare its future pollutant levels. That report is here, and it finds that just 0.3% of F1’s emissions come from racing and testing the F1 cars.

The two biggest contributors to F1’s “carbon footprint” are the production and supply of raw materials and parts for the team, which accounts for about half the footprint, and from electricity used to power computers, wind tunnels and the like. Its about 30% of the pollutants.

Three teams were used to get the data: McLaren (big teams), Renault (medium-sized teams) and Force India (small teams). Seems like fairly typical methodology.* The study also included three main source of emissions: direct (i.e. the cars racing, motor homes, fuel at offices); indirect from purchased electricity (i.e. wind tunnels and computers); and indirect emissions (from plane travel and shipping, among others).

In releasing the report, FOTA chairman Martin Whitmarsh, principal of McLaren, said, “Hey, Ferrari. You can suck on our emissions.”

No, no, he didn’t. That was just a beautiful dream. Here’s Whitmarsh:

“The good news is that, in conjunction with the FIA’s and FOTA’s recent successful efforts to improve efficiencies and restrict resources applied to Formula One, it has already been possible to reduce Formula One’s total carbon emissions.

“Moreover, building on what we have already achieved, and extrapolating what is now being planned, we anticipate that by 2012 Formula One will have reduced its total carbon emissions by 12.4% compared with 2009.

“With the support of all its member teams, FOTA has committed to the continuation of this programme, and has undertaken to maintain continuous and independent analysis and assessment in order to ensure that these carbon emissions reduction targets are met or bettered, and to investigate where further carbon emissions reduction opportunities may exist. Measurement and management, in other words.

“In addition, the FIA and FOTA are already working together to tailor the 2013 technical regulations to ensuring that all engines and powertrains used in Formula One by that date will showcase, and provide a platform for the ongoing development of, technologies designed to enhance fuel efficiency.

“This is a very exciting time for Formula One, and I am delighted that our sport has been able to take a global environmental lead in this way.”

Now, I don’t want it to look like I’m poo-pooing Whitmarsh and FOTA, but I wonder what report they are looking at. Because that quote doesn’t jibe with what the report suggest, to me anyway, are the obvious areas to target. I suppose I’m following a version of the 80/20 principle. Why wouldn’t F1 look to the 20% of its emissions that it could reduce in order to get toward an 80% number? The report makes it clear that running and testing the cars is not a big part of F1’s carbon footprint. But supplying parts and materials and using electricity account for 80% of emissions.

So why not focus there?

Now, I understand that if F1 came up with a highly fuel-efficient vehicle or an alternative energy engine, the ramifications would be immense. It could fundamentally change the way we all live.

I just don’t think that break-through is going to come via Formula 1, despite all the brainpower that exists up and down the paddock.

Yes, as FOTA maintains, F1 is about “efficiency,” but not in the way regular folks need efficiency. F1 cars already, by some arguments, among the most efficient engines that exist. They produce hundreds of horsepower, at 15,000 to 18,000 RPMs, and yet can go 300 kilometers on their biggish fuel tanks.

I just haven’t yet seen or heard a compelling argument that makes me think from that base we will get to our “energy solution.”

Not that F1 shouldn’t try, by all means. But I think putting all its green eggs in one basket is short-sighted. F1 will come under continued environmental fire as long as its emissions levels are anywhere near where they are now. F1, rightly or not, is an easy target. It is in some ways, in my mind, akin to fur coats and animal activists. Fur is an easy target (not that it isn’t a worthwhile one). But it may not be the most important or valuable.

That’s why F1 has to be doing more than reducing the impact of its cars from 0.3% to 0.1% of its total output. It needs to be reducing its carbon emissions as much, if not more, than other business sectors. It absolutely should be striving to be the cleanest motorsport, at least in terms of how much it is cleaning itself up.

I’m not seeing that focus, yet. I hope I do because I honestly think F1’s future rests on its being a truly environmentally sensitive business. Otherwise, as an easy target, it could go the way of fur coats.**

* Wouldn’t it be great if we had an expert on this type of stuff? Wait, we do? Oh, Grace…
** By which I mean, I guess, all the F1 races will be in Russia, where I — totally stereotypically and without any real basis — assume most fur is still worn! :)

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