A winning formula: F1’s roadmap to sustainability

Formula One may not appear to be an inherently sustainable sport, but it is uniquely placed to play a critical role in the definition, development and implementation of new automotive and technological solutions. In fact, its very ethos means it not only occupies a place within sustainable culture, but can actually provide steps to improve it, finds Leigh Stringer.

Next year will be Formula One’s last season with 2.4-litre V8 engines and fairly low-powered Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS), which turn mechanical energy under braking into electrical energy that can be stored into devoted batteries. In their place will come 1.6-litre V6 units with turbochargers, direct injection and energy recovery systems that are more sophisticated and powerful.

These changes are being made not only to reduce the environmental impact of the sport itself, but also to bring forward environmental technologies for the “greater good”, says F1 team Vodafone Mclaren Mercedes’ managing director, Jonathan Neale.

“In a sense, Formula One acts as a sort of test-bed for innovations that are then carried through into the wider automotive industry”, says Neale. “We’ve already seen this with the transfer of KERS, which has been implemented into hybrid road cars”.

Over the last few years, Formula One has made a concerted effort to review its regulations to ensure that the technology it delivers is useful to the future improvement of road car efficiency. “It’s vital that the sport stays relevant to the wider world,” says Neale.

In January 2013, the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) commissioned a research study into the environmental impact of its member teams. The study found that FOTA F1 teams had reduced their carbon emissions by 7% between 2009 and 2011. The governing body of Formula One, the FIA, has also launched a sustainability programme, helping stakeholders worldwide to measure and enhance their environmental performance.

In February, McLaren became the first ever recipient of the FIA Institute’s Environmental Award for the Achievement of Excellence.

McLaren also announced its ongoing carbon neutral status in May, after being re-awarded with the Carbon Trust Standard. Neale says achieving these accolades is no easy feat, but as an engineering company Vodafone Mclaren Mercedes has a hugely valuable in-house resource: its engineers.

“It is their expertise and creativity that has ensured we are leading the way in the development of more efficient technologies and processes. Whether it is via the equipment used by the race team, in the production centres or operational headquarters, or by refining our methods of operational deployment, we are constantly pioneering new methodologies and relentlessly innovating in order to improve the automotive and technological processes that could, one day, be used to power our homes, vehicles and appliances,” he says.

There is no doubt that committing to a more sustainable way of operating is a long and complex process, however, McLaren has successfully made some crucial first steps by introducing a number of key energy-saving initiatives across all of its UK operations.

Recently, these efforts have been focused on increasing the energy efficiency of the team’s Woking headquarters, The McLaren Technology Centre (MTC). It has optimised air conditioning systems so that they only run in occupied areas, and more efficient lighting and controls have been installed throughout the site. In fact, this initiative involved the work of a McLaren engineer, who designed, developed and manufactured bespoke low-energy lamps to illuminate car parks and access roads.

Closer to the racetrack, the team is working with its partner ExxonMobil on a driver efficiency competition that will see the Mclaren team truck drivers rewarded for fuel-efficient driving throughout the European leg of the F1 season. Drivers will be monitored for their pedal movements, engine operation and idle fuel consumption. Encouraging safe and economic driving is a major focus of the team’s transport operation and this competition aims to improve its safety and sustainability performance.

However, progressing towards a resource-efficient, low-carbon sport is not only important for environmental sustainability, it is also about how the sport can survive and how it can enable smaller teams to flourish. This is all part of the process of making the sport sustainable in a broader context, Neale says.

A part of this means ensuring that every F1 team is able to, and encouraged to, use its resources efficiently and to minimise waste. This has a dual effect, as every pound that is spent on heating the buildings the teams operate or powering the vehicles they drive, is a pound less spent on car development.

This is largely why teams accept the efforts to make F1 more responsible and sustainable. There are reasons beyond simply being green or altruistic – it works as a “win-win by delivering both environmental and cost efficiency” Neale says.

Sharing the learning is, however, just as important. Formula One has always been a vehicle for technology development, assisting with the transfer of those technologies to the wider industry.

“There is an obvious connection between F1 and transport, and it is logically going to be one of the areas that benefits from the technologies developed within the sport,” says Neale.

The McLaren P1, Vodafone Mclaren Mercedes’ latest hyper car, which is designed solely for performance, is also efficient because of its use of electric technologies which are directly driven by the development of KERS in F1.

“As this high-level, high-performance, hybrid technology becomes more common, we anticipate that one of the barriers to the acceptance of “green technologies” in wider life will be broken down. People will not think of electric cars, or certainly hybrid cars, as being an alternative to performance. Instead, they will see that the two can go hand-in-hand, and the fact that it is connected to F1 will give it genuine credibility,” Neale says.

Formula 1 technology is not, however, limited solely to transport. McLaren Applied Technologies (MAT) takes technologies, processes and “know-how from the racetrack” and delivers them to improve the operations of other industries. For example, MAT has worked closely with major pharmaceuticals firm GlaxoSmithKline to improve the efficiency of some of its manufacturing facilities, and air navigation service provider NATS to map airport taxiways and runways and reduce the energy consumption of planes through inefficient taxi routes.

“A lot of this isn’t strictly ‘technology transfer’, but more ‘intelligence transfer’. It’s about better understanding what you are doing, so you can manage it more effectively,” adds Neale.

The team is also involved in developing significant environmental changes to other motor sports. McLaren Electronic Systems has worked with Freescale to develop and integrate a new fuel-injection and engine control system for NASCAR, in line with a step-change to fuel-injected engines.

The outcome of this is increased performance with better fuel economy.
It is becoming ever-more apparent that people – fans, customers, partners, prospective partners and legislators – want to see evidence, not claims. Formula One as a whole therefore needs to continue to act positively and demonstrate real substance.

By being at the cutting-edge of efficient technologies, F1 is making itself relevant and compelling for the car industry, because the efficient technologies that are pioneered by teams such as Vodafone McLaren Mercedes trickle down to road cars that people can buy.

“The shift towards more carbon-efficient transport is inevitable, and for Formula One to remain sustainable, it must lead that shift,” says Neale.

Leigh Stringer, edie energy and sustainability editor

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