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How do F1’s sustainability goals fit with a 23-race calendar?

When Formula 1 first announced its plan for a record-breaking 24-race calendar last September, the reaction from the series’ wider community was mixed.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W13

The surge in interest from potential race hosts reflected F1’s continued growth and commercial boom, something that is undeniably a good thing for everyone associated with the championship.

But the number of races - ultimately knocked down to 23 after China’s cancellation - only fuelled concerns about the wellbeing of those working the entirety of the gruelling schedule, and the continued impact it would have on their lives away from F1.

The other big question many had was the reason for the scheduling of certain races at certain points. Given there had been an indication F1 would look to better group the races by region, to end up with Australia as a standalone, Baku and Miami as a back-to-back and final double-header of Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi seemed to fly in the face of that.

Fitting an F1 calendar around all the various promoter requirements is a challenge, meaning a significant shift in the schedule in one fell swoop was always going to be difficult. Efforts were made to move races, reaching as far up as the highest levels of government in some cases. But with contracts already in place, it proved impossible.

Yet as F1 continues with its plan to reach net zero carbon by 2030, how do the demands of the ever-expanding calendar match up with its sustainability goals?

Ellen Jones has served as F1’s head of sustainability since early 2022. In a series known for its innovation and ability to find fresh solutions to problems, she felt it was the perfect platform to further sustainability plans. Not only could the technical experience of the finest minds in the sector be harnessed to help develop the plans and enact true culture change, but the reach of F1 also made it an attractive platform to try and spread the message.

“It doesn’t get bigger from an impact side, be it from people’s interests but also from people’s experience,” says 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 will go to Miami the week after Baku, putting the championship's sustainability goals into question

F1 will go to Miami the week after Baku, putting the championship's sustainability goals into question

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Working closely with the race promoters has been an important part of F1’s sustainability plans. Each race is given targets across a number of areas relating to their environmental impact, which can then be tracked. These concern waste and recycling, energy usage, fan travel, 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,” says 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.”

Different races will have different targets depending on their locations and the infrastructure that is in place. There is nevertheless a sharing of best practices not only with the promoters, but also with the other stakeholders in the paddock. An example of this came when F1 debuted its new motorhome in the paddock at last year’s Spanish Grand Prix, with the scale of the structure - bigger than most teams’ hospitality units - raising some eyebrows. Yet it turned out the whole motorhome had been designed with efficiency in mind, aimed as a step to show the teams that it was possible to be more efficient without sacrificing their hosting options.

“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 less cars and less trucks on the road,” says Jones. “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.”

Changing the messaging to those attending events, either professionally or as fans, is also an important part of F1’s sustainability plan. There are clear changes on-track through the push for greater electric power and the use of fully sustainable fuels, something that has brought both Audi and Ford to the table for 2026. Off-track, the series has pushed to eliminate single-use plastic, with reusable water bottles having become a common sight throughout the paddock. There has also been a push for fans to be more mindful of how they can reduce their carbon footprint, be it through recycling, taking public transport to the race or even eating vegetarian options from concession stalls.

“We need fans to engage in that and make those more sustainable choices,” says Jones. “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.”

Logistics, freight and travel contributes to a huge amount of F1's carbon output

Logistics, freight and travel contributes to a huge amount of F1's carbon output

Photo by: Lionel Ng / Motorsport Images

But the elephant in the room for F1’s sustainability push will be its globe-trotting nature. Logistics and travel makes up two-thirds of F1’s race-to-race carbon footprint. No matter how efficient the power units in the cars may be, or the amount of change the promoters make at their events to become more sustainable, the impact of so many air miles will take a lot to combat.

When it launched its sustainability plan in 2019, F1 set a target of cutting its emissions by a minimum of 50%. There were some quick wins, such as switching its offices to run off renewable energy, while the COVID pandemic’s requirement for more remote operations also showed alternatives that could reduce the carbon footprint by having less people and kit on-site, particularly from a broadcasting perspective. But there is still an onus to seek the most carbon efficient modes of travel, such as shifting to more sea freight or using regional hubs to cut distances travelled, as well as looking changes that can be made what is transported from event to event.

“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?” says Jones. “That is not only a sustainability question, but it’s also a future operations 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.”

The calendar is going to be the biggest headache in the immediate future. As contracts expire and demand for new events increases, F1 will be in a better position to group its schedule more by region, positively impacting the amount of travel and aiding its net zero carbon push. It’s a goal shared by all within F1, right the way up to CEO and president Stefano Domenicali.

Mexico sits in the middle of an Americas triple-header towards the end of the year

Mexico sits in the middle of an Americas triple-header towards the end of the year

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Jones recognises it is “hard to manage” given the various demands each event will have - and factors that will never shift, like weather windows - but she is involved in the promoter discussions to try and stress the importance of bringing about this change.

“There’s logistics involved in cities getting ready for this event,” she says. “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’s 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 an absolutely known known. We’re working on that through our promoters and through Stefano and all of those relationships.”

F1’s 23-race season is set to stretch the paddock to its limits, and the sustainability question is one that will remain a big challenge as the years tick down towards 2030. But Jones felt the “magical touch” of the series comes in its hive-mind ability when it comes to innovation and technical advances.

“It’s looking at technologies of the future,” she says. “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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