F1 cleans up its act

Formula One. The speed, the excitement, the glamour, the money, the environmental friendliness. Admittedly, the last bit doesn’t sound quite right.


Formula One. The speed, the excitement, the glamour, the money, the environmental friendliness.

Admittedly, the last bit doesn’t sound quite right. The fact is, however, that international motorsport, though not renowned for its green credentials until now, is also not immune from the pressures on every type of energy-consuming activity to clean up its act.

With this in mind the sport’s governing body, the FIA, has adapted its technical regulations in a manner that will turn the sport into a testing ground for hybrid technology, particularly in the area of energy recovery and re-use (see feature).

Many people will wonder, understandably, about the point of trying to mix the ultimate sporting test of engineering speed and power with energy- saving initiatives.

A bucket-load of scepticism greeted Honda’s decision to brand this season’s vehicle the ‘earth car’ in a bid, according to the team, to boost awareness of environmental issues.

The irony of a Formula One team preaching environmental responsibility while preparing to pack its giant travelling circus into a fleet of aircraft for yet another trans-continental trip was not lost on the sport’s critics.

(As things have turned out, saving the planet is the least of Honda’s worries. The way the ‘earth car’ has performed so far this season, the team might as well have stuck a Civic out there. The results would have been roughly the same.)

Yet the FIA’s new technical regulations amount to something considerably more substantial than a paint job on the side of a car.

And the changes may well turn out to be a canny move by the sport.

First, as the wily politicians in charge of F1 know all too well, the addition of some green-ish technology to its portfolio could act as a useful counterweight to any future demands to make the sport a high-profile sacrificial lamb to the cause of emissions reduction.

Second, the move keeps Grand Prix racing in touch with the concerns of the wider automotive sector.

It would be strange if the technology underpinning the industry’s biggest global showcase bore little relation to the number one priority of the world’s mass-market car makers, namely emissions reduction and energy efficiency.

And how about this for the icing on the cake? The technical changes should, in theory, make the racing itself more exciting by giving drivers access to valuable seconds of power boost from the stored energy that could be used in manoeuvres such as overtaking.

As our feature makes clear, the exact nature of the technology that will be used by teams to meet the new standards is still very much up for debate.

But the fact that work is under way is a positive move for a sport that too often stands accused of being out of touch.

Andrew Lee, editor