Formula One (F1) is one of the most popular sports in the world, with more than 700 million fans worldwide.

But as concerns about climate change have become more prominent, F1 has faced increased scrutiny. As a sport that covers five continents and 21 countries and involves 20 drivers racing cars around a track, it isn’t the most environmentally conscious. In recent years, even more races have been added to the F1 calendar, with the current 2024 season featuring 24 races compared to 17 in 2020.

The cars are far from the worst offenders

F1 itself reported that it was responsible for generating 223,031 tons of CO₂ during its 2022 season. However, the cars themselves are only responsible for 1% of the sport’s carbon footprint—49% comes from logistics and 29% from business travel.

According to GlobalData’s 2024 report on Net Zero Strategies in Sport, Scope 1 and 2 emissions (emissions from sources owned by the company and purchased energy), make up only 26% of total emissions in the sports sector. The majority of emissions are Scope 3, which come from sources the business does not own. This includes the production and distribution of merchandise and fan travel. Take for example the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix in 2023, which saw 400 private jets arriving for the race weekend.

In F1, Scope 3 emissions also include the purchase of materials needed to build the cars. Its impact is therefore amplified by the international nature of the sport and the fact that crashes and faults mean parts need to be replaced often.

F1 is speeding towards sustainability

F1 is not blind to this fact. It has pledged to go net zero by 2030 and have all F1 cars use 100% sustainable fuels by 2026. As part of this, during the 2023 season, F2 and F3 cars trialed using 55% sustainable fuel. Furthermore, to reduce transport emissions during the European races, DHL biofuel-powered trucks were used, reducing logistics-related emissions by 83%.

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Individual F1 teams also have their own goals. For example, McLaren aims to reduce CO₂ emissions by 50% by 2030 in comparison to 2019, while Mercedes pledges to achieve net zero for Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2030. The use of electric vehicles is a common strategy among teams to reduce their CO₂ emissions.

Elsewhere, Mercedes trialled the use of HVO100 biofuel in its Mercedes-Benz Actros Gigaspace race trucks. The resulting 88% reduction in freight emissions led it to use HVO100 across the whole European leg in 2023, which cut emissions for race and hospitality trucks by 67%.

F1 is still far from the finish line

Although steps are being made to make F1 more environmentally friendly, it may not be enough, especially considering the growing popularity of championships like Formula E. While this is nowhere near as popular as F1, it could become an attractive alternative for more environmentally conscious fans.

GlobalData’s Net Zero Strategies in Sport report also highlights the importance of sponsors, advising teams that want to promote their environmental efforts to set stricter requirements for their sponsors or risk accusations of greenwashing. This is a particular issue for F1 as a motorsport.

Chemical producer Ineos has a one-third share of the Mercedes team (whose full name is Mercedes-AMG Petronas after its partner Petronas, the Malaysian oil and gas company). Meanwhile, Shell has long been one of Ferrari’s main sponsors and the global partner of F1 is Aramco, a Saudi state-owned petroleum and gas company.

There seems, therefore, to be an inherent conflict between F1 and sustainability. The drivers themselves have weighed in on this. German driver Niko Hulkenberg said that he thinks the polluting reputation of the automotive industry has caused F1’s popularity to suffer in Germany and, in 2022, former world champion Sebastian Vettel admitted he felt hypocritical advocating for environmental causes while being an F1 driver.

As F1 becomes a truly global sport, it must come to terms with its emissions. As the pinnacle of motorsport, it needs to do more to reduce its carbon footprint, or it risks a future in which fans decide its entertainment value no longer outweighs its environmental impact.