The cancellation of the Imola Grand Prix drew attention to climate-related issues, and now F1 is facing calls from sustainability pace-setters McLaren to help teams drive change

F1 has set the ambitious goal of reaching net zero by 2030, but with pressure from F1’s cost cap, teams are forced to pit progress against performance.
June 7, 2023

Source: Formula 1[i]

Facing criticism around the sports environmental impact, F1 organisers target net zero by 2030

Formula One, or F1, is a sport which is long used to criticism of its environmental impact. However, it is not just the nature of the sport itself- the racing of petrol-engine cars which utilise notoriously difficult-to-recycle carbon-fibre bodywork, but also its wider impact where the F1 season sees teams and personnel travel the globe. Competing within a packed calendar, the sport is famous for its logistical mastery in transporting huge volumes of machinery, technology, and people across the world. This year’s championship would have seen a record-breaking 24 Grand Prix events were it not for the cancelation of the Chinese Grand Prix and, more recently, the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, also known as Imola.


The 2023 Formula One calendar as it initially stood (China and Emilia-Romagna [Imola] have since been cancelled)

Source: GetCalendar


Imola has been the focus of much press coverage due to the devastating floods in Northern Italy, which at the time of writing, had led to the deaths of 15 people and had seen more than 36,000 residents displaced. With severe climate-related events expected to become more commonplace across the globe, the events in Italy will likely increase pressure on F1 to do more.

We recently discussed whether Formula One can become net zero by 2030, a goal set back in 2019, alongside a strategy that includes switching to synthetic fuel and regionalising the F1 calendar. Previous changes and environmental advancements in the sport include the adoption of hybrid engines back in 2014[ii], as well as a more recent switch to E10 fuel in the race cars for the 2022 season. The next upcoming major change is the implementation of carbon-neutral, fully sustainable synthetic fuel in new engines that will be mandated for 2026, just four years from the net zero deadline. The FIA state: “This 100% sustainable ‘drop-in fuel’ – meaning it can be used in a standard internal combustion engine without any modification to the engine itself – will be laboratory-created, using components that come from either a carbon capture scheme, municipal waste or non-food biomass, while achieving greenhouse gas emissions savings relative to fossil-derived petrol of at least 65%.”[iii]


With recent events at Imola, F1’s sustainability progress comes under the microscope

The timing of the cancellation of the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix could not be more poignant, hours after the event was called off, locally-based team AlphaTauri announced they had achieved the highest level of sustainability recognised by motor sport’s governing body, the FIA. To achieve the ‘FIA Three Star Environmental Accreditation’, Scuderia AlphaTauri has implemented the use of entirely green electrical energy to run its factory from 100% renewable sources both in Italy and the UK. Other measures include the removal of single-use plastics from the team’s facilities, reducing energy use, improving efficiency, and even a bike-to-work scheme[iv].

Highlighting the recent events at Imola, Enrico Fastelli, Facility Management & HSE Director at AlphaTauri, said: “We are all now fully aware that this is the time to act and commit to the sustainability of our actions. Climate change is affecting the lives of all of us and only recently our home town of Faenza has been hit by floods and heavy rain which has led to extensive damage, affecting our friends and employees. To the city of Faenza go all our thoughts at this difficult time.”[v]

McLaren call for rule changes to back teams in driving sustainability

Yet other teams argue that not enough progress is being made. McLaren racing have long been front runners in Formula One’s push for sustainability. The Woking-based team were the first to achieve the FIA Three Star Environmental Accreditation mentioned above, having held it for a record nine years as of April 2022[vi].

McLaren has now called for changes to Formula 1's rules to make it easier for teams to pursue sustainability, arguing that the sport’s ‘cost cap’, which limits the amount a team can spend on its cars over the course of a given calendar year[vii], is, in fact, causing teams to pitch sustainability against competitiveness. The cap, which stands at $135 million per team this season, was brought in to improve competitiveness, helping smaller teams compete with larger teams who have far-bigger budgets.

Now Zak Brown, CEO at McLaren, has said that he believes the cost cap needs to be changed to allow teams to invest more into sustainability: "There needs to be a way to define areas you can spend outside the cap so we can work towards making F1 more sustainable," he recently told the BBC.

Whilst Brown said that one of McLarens ‘moon-shot’ ideas is to create a fully circular race car made from recycled materials and designed to be minimal in resources used, he feels there is more that the FIA can do now to help teams become sustainable:

"Sustainability has been on the radar for some time. Now everyone is getting rightfully stuck into it, there are areas we think we can invest in sustainability technologies that may not bring a short-term performance benefit that are not really addressed in the financial regulations… what we'd like to see is some adaptation of the financial regulations that allows you to clearly invest in sustainability, whereas (currently) if teams have the opportunity to invest in immediate performance benefit (in areas that) aren't sustainable, there will be teams that make those investments."[viii]

Kim Wilson, McLaren’s director of sustainability, told the BBC that she believed the incoming 2026 technical regulations could prove an ideal chance to create a level playing field in terms of sustainability within the sport. She suggested:

“It might be a certain proportion of the car needs to be made of sustainable materials without jeopardising the level of creativity for winning the constructors' champions…” Wilson added: “We also have the opportunity to research and develop, and the incentive to develop, for sustainable material being used in the car."[ix].

Her comments come as discussions around the 2026 technical regulations remain ongoing. Further, the sport sees an approaching deadline for applications from new teams wanting to join F1 from the 2025 season. Any increase in the current ten teams operating within the sport will only add fuel to the fire from environmental campaigners, presently unhappy about the global impact F1 has.


[i] Pat Symonds on how Formula 1 are creating the next generation of 100% sustainable fuels | Formula 1®

[ii] F1 2014: All aboard the 'power train' - new rules explained - BBC Sport

[iii] WATCH: How Formula 1 is striving to create 100% sustainable fuel | Formula 1®

[iv] FIA Three Star Environmental Accreditation | SCUDERIA ALPHATAURI

[v] Ibid

[vi] McLaren Racing - McLaren Racing retains FIA three-star Environmental Accreditation for ninth year

[vii] F1 cost cap: What is it and how does it work? (

[viii] F1: McLaren calls for rule changes to improve sustainability - BBC Sport

[ix] F1: McLaren calls for rule changes to improve sustainability - BBC Sport

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Lauren Foye
Head of Reports

Lauren has extensive experience as an analyst and market researcher in the digital technology and travel sectors. She has a background in researching and forecasting emerging technologies, with a particular passion for the Videogames and eSports industries. She joined the Critical Information Group as Head of Reports and Market Research at GRC World Forums, and leads the content and data research team at the Zero Carbon Academy. “What drew me to the academy is the opportunity to add content and commentary around sustainability across a wealth of industries and sectors.”

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