Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Eco-friendly Formula One

Everything is going "green" these days and that is not a bad thing. There has been a huge uptick in energy prices as well as concerns for carbon footprints and greenhouse gas emissions. If you have watched the Olympics you have seen the smog, athletes wearing masks, and the efforts of the Chinese to reduce the pollution prior to the games; Formula One is not any different. So, how does an industry such as Formula One that wastes fuel and pollutes for the sake of entertainment become environmentally friendly and conscious? Well, like anything in F1, it is done through action, technology and marketing.

Firstly, F1 is carbon neutral. the FIA, F1's governing body, worked behind the scenes to make F1 carbon neutral since 1997. It has been financially supporting the Scolel Te project in southern Mexico to offset the emissions caused by both the Formula One World Championship and the World Rally Championship. The FIA offsets the greenhouse gas emissions of the two world championships through buying credits in the project's trust fund, the Fonfo BioClimatico. I have my opinion about cap and trade systems, but given the nature of what F1 is and what it's purpose for existing is, it is a commendable effort.

Secondly, the introduction of the KERS in 2009. The purpose of Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) is to recover energy used by the car in braking and recycle it back to be stored energy in batteries. This will help save fuel and reduce green house gas emissions while in theory adding to the on track show by having this recycled, extra power and will be available via a "boost" button.

Finally, Honda's Earthdreams campaign. Honda embarked on a project to raise environmental awareness in 2007. Earthdreams is a unique global positive marketing programme whose message was carried on last year's RA107 race cars via a dynamic livery of the Earth in space. They have carried on with the theme on this year's RA108 and the initiative is supported throughout Honda Racing F1. The earthdreams initiative is a long term commitment which is based on Honda's core values of good corporate citizenship. $1.2million has been committed, $700,000 of which has already been allocated to environmental charities such as Marine Stewardship Council, Green Light Trust and Wiser Earth.

Although these measures are being undertaken by the sport, I have some regrets and criticisms. In sportscar racing in the 1980's there was Group C. This was a formula based on fuel consumption. It is kind of like "hypermiling" but only at 200mph over a race distance of 600+ miles with a maximum fuel use of 132 gallons; by racing standards, a rather difficult achievement. An example of this concept was explained by former Benetton F1 mechanic and SPEEDTV analyst Steve Matchett in regards to Michael Schumacher and his Group C days ( Drivers had to drive more efficiently and manufacturers had to produce more efficient engines. Why F1 could not introduce comparable limits is a mystery. In addition, in the early 1990's teams were looking into regenerative braking systems which would have made the cars more efficient. This would have been a beneficial racing application because teams were not allowed to refuel the car during the race. However at the end of 1993, the FIA in an effort to reduce the reliance on technology, banned a whole range of electronic "gizmos" in an effort to elevate the importance of the drivers and improve the show as well as allowed for teams to refuel the cars. From an environmental standpoint one can argue that it set back "green" technology for racing back a decade. Moreover, I believe that F1 would have perfected hybrid technology for today's market long ago and it would have had a more sporting and acceptable image to the masses. Also, I believe that car manufacturers would have implemented this technology in road cars sooner as the market would have called for it sooner due to exposure in F1.

We now have this introduction of greener technology such as the KERS however there are calls that the system as constituted is not very advanced. Toyota engine chief Luca Marmorini said in an interview with Italian magazine Autosprint, "the adoption of energy recovery leaves me rather perplexed because the system chosen by the FIA is really primitive. (They are) extremely simplified compared to the system we have on the Toyota Prius road car, or even on the Toyota Supra HV-R that won the 24 Hours of Tokachi. The potential of hybrid engines is immense, but the solution chosen by the FIA restricts itself to recover energy from the rear wheels. The parameters involved should be more. Let's say that, if the Supra that races at Tokachi recovers 70% of the dissipated energy, the system chosen for F1 restricts itself to 20%. This system will end up being the same for everyone too, and in this case we'll refer to it as an accessory, devaluing a great technical issue along the way."

Still, even after these sorts of statements, Toyota is unsure if the KERS will be ready for 2009. The system is experiencing some problems and there are concerns about safety. This past July there have been 2 publicized incidents related to KERS; a factory fire at Red Bull Racing and a BMW Sauber mechanic was electrocuted and knocked to the ground during a test when he touched the car. Again, perhaps if F1 was allowed to continue working on similar systems in the 1990's or had adopted strict fuel limits like in Group C, it would not be a concern.

I certainly applaud and like the continued push, but I am to wonder what could have been. Still, I rather it be late than never.

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