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The Race to Sustainability

Ok, so the environment is probably not the first thing that pops into your head when you think of the Grand Prix. High performance cars racing around a track at over 200mph doesn’t exactly scream sustainability, but does F1 really deserve the bad press? This year was my husband’s 40th birthday and he decided celebrations at the Singapore Grand Prix were in order, so I got the chance to investigate.

Arriving in Singapore, the first thing you notice is the heat. It’s very hot and, on top of that, humidity levels generally don’t fall below the 85% mark, which is why the Singapore race is a night race. Even at night, however, temperatures in the F1 cars can reach 60 degrees Celsius and drivers can expect to lose up to 3 kilos worth of sweat during the race!

That said, racing in the dark allows for quite a spectacular visual treat as the Marina Bay street circuitboasts spectacular views of the waterfront, including the iconic Marina Bay Sands, the environmentally conscious Gardens by the Bay, and the Singapore Flyer.

Add to this the 1600 temporary track lights coupled with glowing brakes and flying sparks – the Singapore circuit has 15 braking events per lap which is more than any other F1 circuit – the effect is really quite unique.

Surely all that lighting must come at an environmental cost, I hear you say? Well, of course lighting does have an environmental impact, however, you might be surprised to hear that lighting engineers, DZ Engineering, designed a Philips-made lighting system that is 16% more energy efficient than their competitors, while still providing near daylight conditions to ensure driver safety. Genpower, the company who supply the generators that fuel these lights, have their own environmental commitments as well and invest in clean engines and environmentally friendly, low-energy solutions for temporary power supplies.

So, what about the cars? A lot of work over the past few years has actually gone into reducing the environmental impact of the cars themselves. Engineering developments such as KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System), which stores braking energy to give an acceleration boost, reduced carbon emissions by a substantial 24% and the swap from 2.4 litre V8s to 1.6 litre V6 turbos with energy recovery and fuel restrictions saw a 35% increase in fuel efficiency. Innovative engineering hasn’t stopped there with the introduction of Mercedes’ F1 W07 hybrid engine, not forgetting that all this technological research is then passed on for the development and improvement of normal road cars.

Interestingly, the actual race only contributes to about 0.3% of carbon emissions. Far worse are the emissions associated with travel. Now this is a bit of a tricky one given the sheer number of people and equipment that need to be shipped or flown across the world during the F1 season. It is worth bearing in mind, though, that this applies to other sports as well that may appear to be more environmentally friendly on the surface, like cycling. That said, teams are beginning to take more of a responsible attitude towards their environmental impacts. McLaren, for example, were the first F1 team to become carbon neutral. Not only that but their other environmental targets include zero waste to landfill, carbon offsetting and a 2.5% reduction in carbon emissions year on year. Plus, their Surrey headquarters boasts recycled steel cladding, a roof made of recycled tyres, an energy efficient combined heat and power system, rainwater harvesting and a purpose-built lake to assist with cooling. In fact, the site had been exhausted from intensive farming and the McLaren team created a site designed to support a thriving environment and were rewarded with the arrival of an otter colony within 2 weeks of completion. Pretty impressive, no?

Though not widely publicised, I did find a few other green efforts associated supported by F1 racing.

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Compostable cups were used at the Singapore race with different bins available for different waste streams. The teams also send their tyres back to Pirelli for recycling as part of their Green Technology Programme and have founded the F1 In School STEM Competition supporting education for future generations. Plus, Formula E racing – the world’s first all-electric international single-seater city street racing funded by racing teams and the likes of Leo DiCaprio – is now in its 5th season.

So, although Formula 1 may not be in pole position when it comes to the sustainability race, perhaps they’re closing the gap faster than you might think.

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