Will Gray

Gray Matter: Can F1 go green?

Will Gray

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Formula One's recently announced plans to move towards environmentally friendly racing looks good on paper - but can it really happen, or is it all false pretences?

The F1 teams' association has revealed plans to tackle green issues in the coming years after an environmental research analysis of the sport, starting with a reduction in carbon emissions by more than 12 per cent in the next three years.

With every company under the sun focusing on carbon cutting, this is nothing new - but it is of vital importance given the globetrotting nature of Formula One.

It is the energy cost required to put on the show that burns through most of the sport's green credentials and given the fact that F1 cars are actually quite fuel efficient, it is the international travel that creates the sport's biggest carbon cost.

The calendar is expanding more and more, with Bernie Ecclestone pushing for a regular 20-plus races, and the fact teams are now off to Asia and the Middle East on a regular basis means less truck travel and more air travel and shipping. It will be interesting to see how the sport gives that one a positive green argument.

If travel is one area that remains under question in terms of cutting carbon emissions, though, activities back at base do not.

One of the biggest moves in recent years, the reduction in track testing and wind tunnel time, was done on the basis of cost reduction but it has also had a very positive impact on the sport's carbon cost. No more flights and lorry runs to southern Spain means a reduced carbon footprint and turning off wind tunnels, which require a huge amount of power to whizz all that air around, can only be a good thing.

But scrapping wind tunnels in favour of CFD is potentially false logic, because the supercomputers required to crunch the numbers also take up plenty of power and cooling energy - so perhaps an overall restriction on CFD usage could also be on the horizon (after all, it would even up the playing field even more, so could only be a good thing).

Important considerations like these need to be made if F1 is to get its house in order environmentally and in environmental thinking it is a case of every little helps

But while that is of relative small importance on a global scale, F1 can give back something much more important by developing solutions to benefit the world - and teams must grasp the opportunity.

Formula One is a hotbed of engineering talent, and it is unique in the sporting world in having an aggressive and progressive focus on high technology.

The KERS systems, which were a fundamentally fine idea, have been an embarrassing failure so far having come and gone and come back again for next year. But it is the decisions on the future engine rules, in 2013, that are most crucial for the sport.

"Everyone wants to do it, we now just have to finalise how to do it," said Martin Whitmarsh at the recent Santander F1 fans' forum. "A new engine, lower capacity, direct injection, kinetic energy, turbo charging, thermal recovery, they are all technologies Formula One should be showcasing."

History, however, shows F1 engineers have it built into their psyche that they will only push the boundaries if it means gaining a competitive advantage - but Mercedes race engineer Jock Clear tipped a fuel restriction solution as a good way to lead engineers towards the kinds of environmentally friendly fuel efficient design development the sport is looking to provide and promote.

"If we start a race with five per cent less fuel, that's 8kg less at the start of the race, and that's equivalent to a quarter of a second which over the course of a race you're talking 15-20 seconds," he said. "Races are won and lost by much less than that. It is this kind of incentive you need to give to these clever people, and they will come up with some clever technology."

Formula One is not about to go all-electric, but petrol cars will be around on our roads for some time to come and anything that F1 can feed back to make them more efficient is a good thing.

With a bit of competitive spirit, that could happen and perhaps F1 can truly go green after all...

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