Race start, Albert Park, 2022

Why regionalising F1’s calendar is a worthwhile step towards cutting its emissions

Formula E

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All sport has a carbon footprint but international motorsport’s colossal freight logistics present its greatest obstacle to reducing its impact on the environment.

The past few years have seen an expectation arise for motorsport championships to monitor and publicly report their sustainability efforts. And while some are quick to portray the competitions themselves as ‘gas guzzling’, the vast majority of CO2 generated by motorsport comes from logistics.

Formula 1 reported 45% of its carbon footprint in 2019 came from freight and a further 27% from staff movement. Formula E reported even higher percentages, in the same year, with 74% of its footprint on logistics and a further 17% on staff travel. Compared to the emissions of its cars or even the events themselves, moving an international series around the globe is by far its biggest environmental concern.

Comparing series is not straightforward. Each reports its sustainability efforts differently, even when considering similar metrics such as the carbon footprint of a whole season. Variations between calendars also have a huge effect. For example, Formula 1’s 2022 carbon footprint over 22 individual grands prix will inevitably exceed Formula E’s 16 races spread over nine venues, as several of its rounds are double-headers.

Extreme E’s events were designed to produce less emissions
However, there are some ways to benchmark, once you’ve cut through marketing jargon about being a “podium for advocacy” or other completely vague and unmeasurable factors.

Extreme E markets itself on being environmentally conscious. The off-road racing series builds legacy environmental projects and some elements of scientific study into its events, which are held remotely and without spectators on courses that require no barriers or construction. Teams are allowed just one pallet of equipment, packed before the start of the season, and cars and materials are transported on a specially-adapted ship, the St Helena, to try to further control the freight impact.

In its first season, held in 2021, Extreme E produced 8,870 tons of CO2. Over five events with nine cars entered, that represents 197 tons of carbon per car per race. Formula E’s report for last year, comparatively, would have put it at 54 tons of CO2 per car per race over 15 races, from a 19,600 ton overall footprint.

Formula 1’s last published carbon footprint was 256,551 tons in 2019. Since then, the sport has made significant changes due to the global coronavirus pandemic. Two years with significantly reduced numbers of spectators and paddock personnel at races, and working practices altered to allow fewer staff to travel, will have significantly impacted that but working out at 610t per car per race it clearly looms large over either of the more environmentally-focussed series.

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On the other hand, that figure does somewhat flatter Formula E’s logistical challenges. In 2021 FE ran 7 double-header events, so to divide 19,600 by 24 (the number of cars on the grid last year) and then by eight (the number of events actually travelled to) puts it at a more realistic 102t per car per event.

Formula E heads to Indonesia for the first time this weekend
The compromises forced upon series by the pandemic illustrate the huge carbon savings made by cutting races in far-flung destinations. When FE was forced to cancel the second half of its season in 2020 and instead run six closed events in Tempelhof it saved around 21,000 tons of CO2 by not going to Sanya, Rome, Paris, Seoul, Jakarta, the USA and London.

Unfortunately, cutting that many races also seriously compromised the series’ reach, which has had a lasting impact. And let’s not pretend that the intention was to save carbon rather than find a cost-effective way to finish a season which had been struck by a global catastrophe.

This weekend Formula E heads to Jakarta in Indonesia – a single race, for which there has been extensive construction, which will inevitably mean more carbon being emitted. FE’s sustainability director Julia Pallé told RaceFans the realities of running a global motorsport series were that sometimes those choices were made. “It’s absolutely true when you double an event, it’s more efficient. But at the same time, the reality is that sustainability is a triple approach because we have the environmental, social and economic perspective.

“Yes, from the environmental side, it will be more beneficial to have only double-headers in the calendar,” Pallé continued. “But the reality is that from the social and the economic perspective, it is not as beneficial.

“So there’s the environmental perspective but we really take this triple bottom line in the decision making. And yes, sometimes it’s actually one of the other pillars that we decide to favour because we think it brings wider benefits.”

FE has already made itself net carbon-zero through offsetting. However, there is an overall plan to reduce the 45,000 tons it produced in the 2018/19 season (the last representative pre-Covid championship) by 45% by 2030.

The 45,000t produced that season works out as 170 tons per car per event travelled to (12 events, including the New York double-header). FE has made progress to reduce that number already.

Can F1 make similar reductions? It would likely find it hard to persuade teams to scrap their motorhomes for marquees, or to accept a maximum of two sets of Pirelli tyres per day in the same way Formula E does. Or that the calendar should be spaced with huge gaps, as FE’s often has, in order to replace carbon-costly air transport with more sea freight.

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However, as the costs of freight continue to soar and teams find their development budgets impacted by the cost of getting to races, the arguments for minimising freight may become more existential for the calendar. Especially following the decision to not replace the Russian Grand Prix being based on freight cost and logistical limitations.

Christian Horner, Red Bull Team Principal, Monaco, 2022
F1 can make cost savings through calendar tweaks, says Horner
Some solutions might be more tolerable than others, however, especially when already proven. F1 and Formula E share a logistics partner in DHL and the smaller series is more willing to experiment. “When we go to trucks and boats, we use biofuel, which is new and really has been implemented thanks to DHL having basically sharing the same objectives because by 2050 they’re aiming to be near zero carbon,” Pallé explained. “So it’s also for them an opportunity to test and see how they can roll out that to the rest of their fleet.”

Recently F1 has indicated its will take steps to reorganise its races on future calendars to minimise its long-distance travel. This has the potential to drastically cut its emissions as well as costs. As a case in point, only two of F1’s four races in North America run back-to-back this year. After next week’s race in Baku, the series will travel 9,000 kilometres to Montreal, then return to Europe.

“If you look at the calendar it makes sense to group some of the races together, whether it’s some of the American races, some of the Asian races, Europe obviously,” says Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.

“Some of the calendar this year, when you look at the geographics of it, Azerbaijan to Montreal, going to Australia for a weekend, it’s about as expensive as you could make.”

Motorsport has long driven technological change forward on the track. But in the coming years there may be greater opportunities to take that technology and understanding of efficiencies and applying it to the global logistics problems that will dominate the next decade.

Formula E

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Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a motorsport and automotive journalist with a particular interest in hybrid systems, electrification, batteries and new fuel technologies....

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37 comments on “Why regionalising F1’s calendar is a worthwhile step towards cutting its emissions”

  1. Formula 1: We want to save CO2 emissions by putting geographically close tracks together on the calendar.

    Also Formula 1: We’ll totally add a South African GP on a Grade 2 track that is a 12h+ flight away from any team’s home base and cannot be twinned with any other race.

    1. So no South africa maybe a Marrocco one is also Africa?

      1. Oh, I’m sure Formula 1 are on the lookout for a natural-resources-rich, image-poor dictatorship, preferably (geographically) close to their favourite bunch of bone saw enthusiasts. (for the CO2 savings, of course!)

        Unfortunately, none has been forthcoming in the past three decades, so they are left floating that totally real, fully financed, someone is sure to bring that track in the middle of a suburb up to F1 spec, South African proposal again.

        1. If you want to save the plant, stop using batteries requiring severe pollution to make.

          1. Planet

          2. Right, and vote for Trump while you’re at it? What a dumb take.

    2. If they thought Brazil was dangerous, wait until they get to SA. What an idiotic idea. The regime is comparable in corruption, violence and disorder (worse in the latter areas) to some of the worst Eurasian regimes F1 is already dealing with.

    3. Alianora La Canta (@alianora-la-canta)
      5th June 2022, 8:06

      @proesterchen With some creativity, it’s possible to twin South Africa with a current venue – if the twin is also a flyaway race. I’m thinking Australia, Brazil or one of the Middle Eastern rounds (depending on where the series was coming from and where it was going to). Hey, it’s more plausible than Baku/Montreal, which is a thing this year.

  2. I’m happy F1 finally made regionalizing the race calendar a target, but I’m looking forward to seeing how easily their plan works eventually.

  3. Every time the calendar is published, it seems more insane, almost like they are trying to produce the worst possible itinerary: Middle East (x2) – Australia – Europe – Americas – Europe again! (x2) – Asia – Americas again! – Europe again! (x7 phew) – Far East (x2) – Americas again! (x3) – Middle East.

    1. Much of this is a function of the hosting city’s climate, which really doesn’t care about how inconvenient the scheduling turns out to be for your travels, though the Melbourne-Imola-Miami nonsense is a clear own-goal by Formula 1.

    2. Yeah it used to be more logical.

      Australia Middle East Europe (Canada) Europe Americas Asia Middle East

      1. I never understood that jaunt to Canada part way through the European season.

        This year’s calendar is nuts. I’m glad some effort is being made to sort it out.

        1. RandomMallard
          3rd June 2022, 17:08

          @dang My understanding is that due to Montreal’s geography and climate, it has to be held in a few weeks in the summer, otherwise it would be too cold, and there’s a high possibility the cars would have to be replaced with snowmobiles. It wouldn’t fit in with the rest of the America’s calendar as it would likely be too cold, and for the same reason can’t go any earlier in the calendar. That’s what I’ve been told at least. But I agree it’s unfortunate, and the rest of this year’s calendar is bonkers.

          1. You shouldn’t be so negative about our Canadian weather and climate. Not as bad as you make it out to be.
            An aspect of bundling races on this side of the globe, is that all of the venues are over 2,000 km apart. Regardless of how you schedule things, every race, Montreal, Miami, Austin, Las Vegas, Mexico and Brazil, are all Fly-In events. All the gear, cars, equipment and people will be flown to each and every event. Road travel is just too long, slow and not cheap either. If you added a flight back to Europe or two into the mix, it won’t make much net difference from the fractured schedule they have now.
            End result, scheduling may help, but it won’t be a big save.

        2. Alianora La Canta (@alianora-la-canta)
          5th June 2022, 8:08

          @dang Until this year, it made sense. Nobody was silly enough to pair Canada with an Asian race as a double-header, and Miami didn’t exist.

          Now, pairing with Miami would grant the climate requirement and also save some (not massive amounts of) carbon emissions.

          1. If Miami is keen for the second weekend in May (Mother’s Day in the US), it’s slightly early for Montreal. Not terrible, but cooler and damper.

            Miami-Mexico?-Monaco-Montreal would be tough for May-June. It’s not like it was when it was twinned with Detroit or Mexico.

  4. The Dolphins
    2nd June 2022, 15:06

    I’m curious to see how much of an impact this will actually have on F1’s carbon footprint.
    – Given teams already have something like 4 sets of kit traveling around the world via sea and road there is not much that can be done to reduce the emissions or fright costs there.
    – Cars and parts are typically flown overseas and most often make a trip back to the factory for inspections, repairs, and upgrades. Perhaps introducing more chassis could mean less back-and-forth travel for the cars.
    – Team members travel home after every race, with the exception of certain staff in the case of double-headers. Senior leadership and drivers will almost never go directly from one venue to the next, even in the case of a double-header (even in the case where it’s the same track back-to-back!) Add to this their “homes” may be in Monaco, factory in the UK, and races in the Americas: that’s a lot of air miles! Surely this is an area of improvement but to keep staff away from home/family in the name of sport and money is inhumane especially when the source of the problem is the growing calendar. One solution may be to introduce multiple “long traveling teams” alongside regionalising the calendar such that there is less travel and time away from home is, on average, the same. However this goes back to my initial statement: I’m curious to see how much of an impact this will actually have on F1’s carbon footprint. Surely introducing more staff for the purpose of reducing carbon emissions will put a strain on an already tight budget cap.

    1. It should have a massive impact, if done correctly. I bet you could see a 50% reduction in transportation emissions if they centralize the calendar and link race locations that are close together. You are correct about all the plane miles, don’t forget the many multiple lorries, ships and buses. The planes are biggest culprit, especially the private ones being used to transport parts and personnel on almost a daily level. Just think about Australia to Italy to Florida right back to Spain and then Azerbaijan over to Canada then back to England. And all of this is done in a rush, at max speed. They go back and forth to NA three different times, some just for one even. Add all those private plane back & forth miles up. They should go to the Arabian peninsula once after Azerbaijan instead of going there twice but it’s not as far as going to NA or Asia.
      All the teams are Euro based and that should be the focal point and try to have more races there, when they leave that zone, they need to smartly map out the route to minimize carbon footprint. Sounds like they’re going to try but I doubt they’ll make any sizable chunk in improving it without lot’s of lawsuits from tracks and race promoters.

      1. @redpill Post-Azerbaijan for the Arabian Peninsula would mean unbearable heat within Northern Hemisphere summer months.
        Middle East events can only occur in the early & late-season phases, while Baku’s ideal window runs from later Spring to earlier autumn.

        1. @jerejj This is correct and you’re right, Azerbaijan is not exactly a nice place to visit in winter time. Maybe it will be one of those tracks could go on hiatus due to it’s remoteness when F1 is looking for ways to making geographic track locations more logical.

    2. @The Dolphins
      Maybe with double-headers (or triples) in Europe, but everyone certainly goes straight to the next venue within flyaway ones besides Baku-Montreal & Sao Paulo-Middle East location as Europe is effectively between these respective trips.

      However, double-headers such as COTA-Mexico City, Singapore-Suzuka, (& or Melbourne-Sepang whenever they were on consecutive weekends), with both locations far from Europe (mostly also the Middle East, especially in 2020 with COVID restrictions in place that would’ve otherwise prevented entry), no one does unnecessary back-&-forth travel within mere days.

  5. petebaldwin (@)
    2nd June 2022, 16:53

    The big problem here is the promoters won’t like having a bunch of local races near their race in the calendar. They’ll continue zig-zagging all over the globe because that’ll make them more money and that is more important than the climate.

    1. @petebaldwin This old theory is (& has always been) pretty invalid without concrete evidence, especially since Spa & Zandvoort were sell-outs last season despite being on consecutive weekends, & I reckon they’ll also be sell-outs this season.

      1. In Europe, with such a large fan base, races close together in time and location don’t seem to be a problem.
        In North America, not quite the case. A race in Miami and a week later in Texas will be drawing from the same pool of spectators. Las Vegas will pull from California so no problem there.
        Consider that Miami to Las Vegas is over 4,000 km by road, 5 hr by plane. If the races are a week apart, it is still an Air-Lift for all the equipment and kit. Austin is about half way, only about 2,500 km. Just a 2 day drive then another 2 days to Las Vegas.
        Montreal is far enough away from the others that it likely doesn’t matter, but the promotors are a sensitive bunch and this concern will get trotted out regularly, valid or not.

        1. @rekibsn Miami-Austin distance is greater than Austin-Mexico City & the latter two have regularly formed a double-header, so somewhat contradictory.
          LV-Austin is shorter than Miami-Austin & greater than Austin-Mexico City.
          For another reference, the Sakhir-Jeddah distance is roughly the same as Austin-Mexico City.
          A distance of more than 2000 km is far from nearby geographically, so the word ‘only’ is weird.

      2. “”The decline of spectators started without doubt when Singapore came in 2008,” said Mr Razali.

        At that time the Malaysian Grand Prix was held near the start of the season. But when it was moved last year to two weeks after Singapore, a growing problem became a crisis.

        Last year, just 45,000 spectators populated Sepang’s cavernous grandstands, which are designed to hold 120,000.”

        1. @Delphi Yet Sepang still wanted a late-season flyaway phase return for 2016.

          1. Alianora La Canta (@alianora-la-canta)
            5th June 2022, 8:24

            @jerejj It was meant to be a one-off measure, because otherwise there would not have been time to upgrade the circuit according to FIA and FIM request (the venue was prone to flooding, which the FIA wanted the venue organisers to finally do something about, and the venue also wanted MotoGP). Bernie obliged them to take a 3-year deal instead of the hoped-for 1-year (this may have been part of the reason why Malaysia left the series afterwards).

      3. Alianora La Canta (@alianora-la-canta)
        5th June 2022, 8:20

        @jerejj Right, so we need a win-contending driver from every single venue (or at least, one within the race travelling distance of every venue, which is how come Dutch fans can sell out Belgium and Austria, and could probably sell out Germany if it still had a race). And to require venues to have fewer seats available at their races, even though this will also mean organisers take a loss (or a bigger loss, for the government-supported venues).

        Not sure how that would be done without some impressive artificial efforts.

  6. Will be interesting to see what they end up doing because the calendar was never the way it was/is simply because that’s the way everyone wanted it, It was organised the way because the goal was always to try & get the best of the weather in each country as well as try try either avoid or partner with local events which the promoters felt would be harmful or beneficial to be around.

    And you also need to consider things like hurricane season & similar such natural climactic occurrences around the world.

    There is a risk that races get shuffled & we end up seeing more situations like what happened when the British GP was moved from July to April in 2000 which led to a weekend of chaos because the UK in April tends to suffer from very heavy rain showers.

    It’s also something I know the organisers & promoters of other categories are concerned with as many tended to try & organise things to stay away from F1, Especially for categories that may have a lot of fan crossover. The expanding F1 calendar has already made it difficult for some other categories to put together a calendar trying to avoid clashes & a shuffle to the order of F1 races is going to have a knock-on effect for everything else & I know that it is something those other categories are concerned about. But of course that isn’t something F1/Liberty really consider or care about.

    1. @gt-racer
      The climate factor indeed is important & certain climatic aspects make a Miami-Montreal double-header challenging.
      If Miami moved to June with Montreal, the hurricane season (runs from the 1st until November-end) effects could already impact Miami GP, while Montreal before mid-May can still be chilly, albeit usually warm.
      However, temp fluctuation risk still exists, so both sides have downsides.
      Therefore, a better alternative would be to keep Canadian GP as a solitary NA event & pair Miami with COTA or LV instead.
      Concerning the last paragraph, other categories are secondary, so why should F1 consider those? If F1 accounted for all motorsport (sports generally) categories or series & events, no weekends would remain for their races, so only factoring certain ones is better.

  7. It is an excellent idea, but I am sceptical as to just how far they’ll go, given that Abu Dhabi insists on being the final race, and other races (like Montreal) have such a small window of ideal weather. It’s difficult but certainly possible to group all the regions together while still largely ‘following the sun’.

    If the whole racing calendar were brought forward by a month, then I think it could be done with many races keeping their regular date.

    Start the season in February with the Middle-East leg.
    In late March, start the Asia-Pacific leg with Australia, followed by the Asian races.
    The European season can run from May to late August/early September as usual.
    Begin the Americas leg in late September in Montreal (okay, that one may be a bit difficult to justify), followed by the many US GPs, Mexico, and finishing in Brazil by early November.

    Of course that’s all fantasist, but if reducing travel emissions is truly a priority, then I think that’s the way to do it.

    1. @jackysteeg 2x Middle East races on both ends is a perfect spread, i.e., Bahrain-SA in the early season phase as is already the case & Qatar-Abu Dhabi at the tail-end.
      Qatar getting paired with Abu Dhabi will most likely happen anyway.
      For the NA events, a good choice would be COTA-Miami & Mexico-LV on both ends, respectively, with Montreal, the only solitary one as climatic aspects make pairing it with any above mentioned same continent location challenging.
      I’m also okay with the further-east Asia/Oceanic spread, although Melbourne’s somewhat globally isolated location makes things difficult.
      Even though your pattern is only fantasy, I merely want to point out that while Montreal would fall outside its predominantly ideal window (mid-May till mid-September), Miami would fall within the hurricane season (1.6-30.11).

  8. Perhaps by grouping regional races together, we could have regional championships to break up the season long world championship battle? It could add climax and interest during the season.

    This way, there would still be one World champion, but also an Asian champion, European champion, and American champion.

    1. @Olivier Not a bad suggestion, but possibly easier said than done.

  9. Prashanth Ramadas
    4th June 2022, 22:07

    People want content. No matter where it comes from.

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