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Formula One Fails To Address Its Own Irrelevancy

Formula One spews hundreds of millions of pounds of carbon emissions into the atmosphere every year. Is it relevant to a world in crisis?

Two things happened this week that illustrate why Formula One racing is irrelevant. First, news reports emerged that the sport has struck a deal with RSE Ventures, owner of Hard Rock stadium in Miami, to hold a round of the 2021 Formula One championship in its parking lot and a collection of nearby city streets. The city of Miami had previously nixed a street race in the city, citing the enormous disruption to traffic that would occur. Hard Rock stadium is the home of the Miami Dolphins.

Stadium races and street circuits are boring in the extreme. Formula One should have learned its lesson from the disastrous street races in Detroit in the 80s, but money can do strange things to memories. Formula One has now sunk to the level of monster truck racing. Historic tracks like Hockenheim and the Nurburgring will be off the schedule so fake tracks in parking lots can take their place. Pitiful.

The second bit of news is that Lewis Hamilton, who is on pace to win his sixth world driving championship this year, took to Instagram recently to lament that he feels “like giving up on everything. Why bother when the world is such a mess and people don’t seem to care. I’m going to take a moment away to gather my thoughts.” Hamilton went on to talk about the environment and the impending “extinction of our race.” He ended by saying that becoming a vegan is “the only way to truly save our planet.” His Instagram posts were later deleted.

Lewis Hamilton has won 82 Formula One races, just 9 short of all time leader Micheal Schumacher. When he is crowned the 2019 champion, he will have 6 world driving titles to his name, one short of Schumacher. Nothing is certain in Formula One competition, but the odds of him breaking Schumacher’s record for race wins and tying him for number of driving titles is good and likely to happen next year.

Mercedes has dominated the era of hybrid technology since it began and the rules will be virtually the same next year. Although Ferrari has made great strides this year, Mercedes so far has been able to see off the challenge from the Maranello team.

There are lots of CleanTechnica readers who understand Hamilton’s gloomy world view. We hear every day about dire predictions for drought, famine, sinking cities, and melting ice caps while political leaders bumble and dither their way into an uncertain future. Here is a man who has more money than Croesus, who has options available to him that mere mortals do not, and yet he is filled with existential angst. The absurdity of spewing out almost 150 million pounds of carbon dioxide each year just so 20 cars can race in exotic locations every year has got to weigh on the mind of everyone associated with the sport.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the racing was actually exciting, but it is not. 90% of all passing on the track in each race is made possible by an artificial device known as DRS which stands for drag reduction system. If a driver is within one second of the car ahead, he (there are no women drivers in Formula One) can press a button that flattens a section of the rear wing and gives his car a 12 mph increase in speed.

No skill is involved. No years of racecraft gained via head to head competition. Just press the button and glide on past as the announcers go into a frenzy every time. A two-year-old could pass in Formula One today, and in fact teenagers are becoming the new face of the sport while drivers in their thirties are seen as grizzled veterans.

It helps that every driver is little more than a robot programmed and controlled from the pits where terabytes of data are analyzed continuously by hundreds of engineers so the drivers can be coached when to accelerate, when to brake, when to shift, when to pit, and what gear to select at every point around the track. This isn’t racing. It’s roller derby or WWE — a stage managed event that is to real racing what processed cheese food is to cheese.

Formula One prides itself on “the show” — the pomp and circumstance that precedes every race. Pit lane commentators report breathlessly on which nabobs and potentates are in attendance. Is that Beyoncé over there? Did someone say Brad Pitt had been spotted in the crowd? Is that Nazi sympathizer Bernie Ecclestone strolling by? Why oh why do people create so many carbon emissions over such shallow, self-absorbed drivel?

Because tyrants around the world are willing to pay the sport obscene amounts of money every year to bring the show to their nations. It’s a way to put a happy face on political oppression in Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, and other oil soaked regimes.

A few years ago, the so-called “guest workers” in Bahrain got a little rowdy before race weekend, so Saudi Arabia cheerfully sent its American-made tanks across the causeway to quiet things down until the glare of publicity passed. The sport happily travels to Russia every year, a nation that illegally invaded the Ukraine a few years ago in violation of all international conventions. If there is money on the table, Formula One will be there to scoop it up.

But underneath all the glitz and glamour, Formula One is one of the biggest polluters on the planet as it extends its insatiable quest for profits. Yes, some teams boast about how green their factories are and how they buy renewable energy credits to offset the carbon emissions at their headquarters. But the cars could run on pixie dust and the factories on moonbeams. It still wouldn’t alter the fact that flying hundreds of tons of equipment to 21 or more distant locations around the world leaves hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide in its wake.

The powers that be in the sport like to say the hybrid technology it uses to power its cars trickles down to road cars, but have you heard of Honda, Mercedes, Renault, or Ferrari — the only engine manufacturers in the sport — offering hybrid cars for sale to the public? In other words, the sport is blowing sunshine up our skirts and hoping we won’t notice.

There was a time when motor racing really did improve all automobiles. Disc brakes, anti-lock brakes, electronic fuel injection, and turbochargers all crossed over from racing to road cars. Increased durability and reliability are also a product of racing. But Formula One teams today spends at least 50% of their annual budgets on aerodynamics, a topic that has no interest to racing fans and little significance to road cars. offers its readers a detailed analysis this week of how Mercedes tweaked the shape of one part of its front wings to gain a slight aerodynamic advantage at the Japanese Grand Prix. For this we should consign the Earth to an early death? Formula One can no longer justify its own existence. It’s a sport whose time has passed. Today it is nothing but a component of the existential threat posed by overheating the planet with carbon emissions.

Lewis, there’s more to life than gallivanting around the world driving a race car that runs on gasoline. If you’re feeling philosophical, call me. We should talk. A man of your stature and intelligence could contribute much to the transition to a zero carbon world.

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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we heed his advice.


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