Sebastian Vettel and Net Zero

The four-time Formula One (F1) motor racing champion Sebastian Vettel has questioned F1’s commitment to reducing its carbon emissions. Vettel could have done more: he could have questioned the very need for this so-called ‘sport’ to exist anymore

The four-time Formula One (F1) motor racing champion Sebastian Vettel, while announcing his decision to retire last week, once again alluded to the dark side of F1: its carbon footprint.

Writing on his own website, Vettel said “(there are) certain aspects that I have learned to dislike. They might be solved in the future but the will to apply that change has to grow much, much stronger and has to be leading to action today. Talk is not enough and we cannot afford to wait”.

Vettel has earlier talked about the lack of action on the part of the ‘gas-guzzling’ Formula One to tackle its impact on the climate.

F1 officials announced in 2019 that it intends to be Net Zero Carbon by 2030. Articles about F1’s intent to reduce emissions have been appearing for over a decade. It appears Vettel doesn’t believe the progress is good enough.

F1 carbon numbers need vast improvement

Vettel could be correct, F1’s emission numbers don’t look good.

We tried to find some info on what the carbon footprint of F1 is. Here are some stats from press articles:

1.4 km per litre in 2010: A 2010 article says The Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) was unveiling a program would cut emissions cut of 15 percent in three years. At that time, each car appeared to burn about 160kg of petrol or about 210 litres in an average race in its 2.4 litre V8 engine. An average race is around 300km, so the fuel efficiency, it appears in 2010 was less than 1.5 km per litre!

Fuel limit was increased 4% in 2019? An astonishing bit of information we found says: The amount of fuel an F1 car can use per race was increased to 110 kilograms in 2019 (an increase of 5 kilograms) in order to allow the drivers to push more of the time (for source, click here). In other words, the F1 management allowed nearly 4% more burning of fuel – to increase race speeds we presume – rather than trying to control.

2.2km per litre now? Currently, it appears the fuel efficiency is at best 2.2km per litre. 110 kilograms works out to around 145 litres. Now let’s assume that the car burns only 105 kg or 140 litres (some cars must be burning that much warranting increase to 110 kg mentioned above). This brings fuel efficiency to maybe 2.2km per litre or about 55% improvement in over a decade. While 55% improvement sounds promising, 2.2km per litre is still terrible.

No wonder Vettel says that all the noble talk of reducing emissions is more words than action.

Fuel burnt is a minor part of emissions

The fuel F1 car burns is a tiny portion of its emissions. According to an article in the industry mag Autoweek: ‘In its 2019 report, the (F1) series revealed that 45% of its carbon emissions came through logistics, 27% through business travel, and almost 20% through facilities and factories, 1% came through on-track running, with 7% coming through event operations.’

Will F1 get to Net Zero by 2030?

The track record does not inspire confidence in F1’s ability to do much about its carbon footprint.

In June this year, the Formula One announced that it has developed a synthetic sustainable fuel to be introduced in 2026 as part of its programme to be net-zero carbon by 2030. It is not clear presently what this fuel is; apparently it is being developed in partnership with Saudi Arabia’s oil giant ARAMCO.

Even if this is carbon neutral, this addresses maybe 1% of the problem.

Or should it even exist?

Achieving carbon goals is going to be tall task for humanity. Over the next few years, some hard decisions will have to be made.

The time has come for governments to question the very existence of this so-called ‘sport’. It appears to be just as anachronistic as the gladiatorial contests of ancient Rome, or bull-fighting, which is now banned in most places. Mankind can do without frivolous activities that create wholly avoidable pollution.

Ajay Jindal, CFA
ESG Lead, Algo Circle

Category: Net Zero, Environment
Tags: Sebastian Vettel, Formula One, F1, ARAMCO, synthetic sustainable fuel, The Formula One Teams Association (FOTA)

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