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Can Formula E Lead Formula One in the sustainability race?

Written by Katie Jeromson, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri


Dan Ticktum leads Norman Nato and Taylor Barnard, during the Monaco E-Prix; Credit - Simon Galloway/LAT Images

As motorsport comes under increasing scrutiny for its sustainability, Formula E has released its Season Nine sustainability report, detailing how racing can take place with sustainability in mind. So, where does it stand in comparison to Formula One?


On April 22nd 2024, Formula E’s Sustainability Report was published, and even as a Formula E fan, you’d be forgiven for being surprised at how deep they dive into sustainability. The series is committed to 10 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including but not limited to: Gender equality, quality education, sustainable cities, and responsible consumption.


Highlights from Formula E’s social sustainability programs in 2023 include: Six Girls on Track events held, with 1080 girls in attendance; while the Rome E- Prix had 30 volunteers from an offenders rehabilitation programme; and over 800 children in Jakarta became more engaged with the environment. 


This is all in addition to Formula E’s ongoing partnership with UNICEF, bringing about climate disaster resilient water sources and sanitation services to over eight million people.


Strides are also being taken in the world of Formula One, we can’t mention girls in motorsport without taking the case of F1 Academy. Having female drivers now supported by the F1 teams in 2024, and being on the support bill for Formula One in 2024, the series has grown in terms of visibility. 


The number of girls qualifying for the British Indoor Karting Championship (BIKC) local finals increased from 2.5% in 2022 to 9% in 2023, following the launch of the first F1 Academy ‘Discover Your Drive’ programme.


Pitlane during qualifying for the F1 Academy Series Round 7:Austin at Circuit of The Americas; Credit - Jared C. Tilton - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

Formula One is also looking to support those more actively looking to enter motorsport. In 2023, they worked with: Aspiring Solicitors, Social Mobility Business Partnership, Black Collective of Media in Sport, Mission 44, and Bromley Council. 


They have hosted career days and provided avenues for work experience, plus for those further on in their career, provided a select number of Engineering Scholarships to five universities, complete with F1 Team work experience.


It does seem that the world of motorsport is consciously opening its doors to invite more diversity, and find new ways to respect the places they race in. So then, what of the more spoken-about issues in terms of sustainability? 


Both series are working in line with the scientific guidance, to halt global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and reach their goal of Net Zero Carbon by 2030. 


This is where Formula One holds its cards a little closer to its chest, as the F1 2023 Impact Report doesn’t provide a figure for 2023’s emissions. Instead, it cites information from 2022, with a by-line to say further action has been taken, and they remain committed, stating that the 2023 data will be available in the 2024 report.


Formula E however, gets into the data. The total carbon emissions for 2023 were 32,600 t CO2eq, an average of 2040t per race. There is no hiding either, their graphs clearly show more emissions than in season eight, however their baseline to work against is season five, their last season pre-pandemic. 


Using season five as a baseline, they’ve been able to reduce emissions by 17%, despite increasing the number of races from 13 to 16.


Formula E’s total CO2 consumption from season five to season nine with season 10 and 2023 projections, from the 2023 Sustainability Report

You may read 17% and think well that’s not much of a reduction, plus the number has gone up, but this is far beyond Formula One. They are using 2018 as their baseline year, for 2022 (as we don’t have 2023 data,) they reduced their emissions by 13%, to 223,031 tC02eq, still almost seven times that of Formula E. 


Factors must be taken into consideration, such as the cars’ fuel and more races, however, it seems growth and very high emissions don’t necessarily go hand in hand.


So, how has Formula E increased their races to 16 but reduced emissions? Well, one of the answers may lie in their double header weekends. At various locations throughout the season, they race on both Saturday and Sunday. This means the staff are only travelling to one location, the entire race setup and breakdown routine happens one less time. 


Of course it must be noted that the Formula E races are considerably shorter than a Formula One race, meaning less physical and mental driver demand. These shorter races leave more flexibility, with the ability to host practice, qualifying and the race in a single day, then repeat the following day for a double header.


Alongside their double-headers, Formula E have better grouped together some of their European races, and this meant freight has dropped from 70% of their total emissions (Season Five), to 59% (Season Nine).


Formula One has been increasingly public in terms of regionalising the calendar, too. The start to the 2024 season has seen a shake-up, keeping races in Asia to reduce freight. However, the 2023 season saw the introduction of the Vegas Grand Prix, a huge construction project to build paddock and transform areas of Las Vegas, so how sustainable can that be?


Charles Leclerc on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Las Vegas; Credit - Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The Vegas Grand Prix was dubbed by its organisers as a ‘Sustainable Spectacle’, the cornerstone of this being a water conservation program. 


In collaboration with Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), WaterStart and MGM Resorts, the program was set up to compensate for the huge water consumption the event would use. They used new technology, to turn otherwise waste water vapour back into water within the system.


Economically the Grand Prix made a total impact of $884 million, but there was major disruption to those living in and visiting Vegas in the month leading up to the event. 


Clark County Nevada released their post Grand Prix debrief, in which they detail Harry Reid International Airport was the second busiest airport in the US on November 19th, with 2197 operations. 


What this doesn’t take into account is the route Grand Prix goers took to get there, with flights at a hefty cost, even media, such as the Sky Sports F1 Team covering the event, were forced to take multiple flights to arrive, in an effort to cut costs.


This is a stark contrast to the patrons of Formula E, the Sustainability report has the highest percentage of plane travel for a race at just six percent (Diriyah and Rome). 


The highest percentage of guests travelling internationally for a race was Monaco, with just 19%, and the only E-Prix that has the majority of guests travelling over 100km to be there was London, at 75%. 


In a world becoming more conscious about our planet, it seems Formula One has an extra hurdle compared to its all-electric counterpart; its own legacy. Creating huge international spectacles, as well as satisfying stakeholders, it will be harder for Formula One to adapt to a greener way of working. 


Their sustainability strategy was only set out in 2019, with their Head of Sustainability appointed in 2022; Formula E has been created with our future planet in mind. It will, of course, be easier and more linear, for Formula E to be taking additional steps on their way to net zero, without ruffling quite so many feathers. 


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