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Formula One Is Going Green: No, That's Not a Joke

Craig ChristopherAnalyst IJuly 1, 2010

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 11:  Jenson Button of Great Britain and Honda Racing in action during practice for the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya on May 11, 2007 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Kermit the frog used to sing a sad little ditty called, “It isn’t easy being green.” If Kermy is still alive today, he’s singing a much different tune. Nowadays, not only is it almost a crime not to be green, it’s also a business imperative to become as green as possible.

You would think, however, that Formula One would be immune to this pressure to be environmentally sensitive.

Sadly, no.

The F1 Teams Association, FOTA, has publicly stated that by 2012 it aims to cut carbon emissions by 12 percent from 2009 levels. A noble sentiment, to be sure, but is it also a hollow gesture designed specifically to appease the sponsors' desperate need to be associated with a green product?

Most rational people would question the thought processes of a sponsor who wants to be simultaneously associated with motorsport and environmental consciousness.

After all, a sport that uses fuel at a frightening rate during competition and travels around the world using many jumbo jets full of cars and equipment is going to struggle with its green credentials.

Not that similar attempts haven't been made in the past. Honda produced the laughably forgettable "Earth Dreams" car with its alien vomit livery. It's difficult to imagine that the relationship helped sell more Honda hybrid vehicles.

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Nevertheless, FOTA has gamely taken up the challenge with its emissions target, and while it is applauded on one level, you can only imagine that the FOTA Chairman, McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh, had trouble keeping a straight face when he declared, “This is a very exciting time for Formula One, and I am delighted that our sport has been able to take a global environmental lead in this way.”

That’s a huge statement—move over Greenpeace, step aside Sierra Club, FOTA is the new global green force. Maybe not.

This is the sort of stuff you expect from men with anachronistic ponytails, thoughtful beards, and corduroy jackets with elbow patches, or free-spirited youngsters wearing rasta hats and hemp clothing. You don’t expect it from rev-head royalty.

It is nearly impossible to produce a rational argument in favour of motorsport. To claim that this is important because fuel efficiency breakthroughs such as turbo charging, fuel injection, and KERS (kinetic energy recovery systems) all came from F1—which is questionable—is to argue that war is essential because it gave us satellite navigation.

But then, so many things that are central to modern society are illogical and unsupportable. Opera, Calvin Klein, Hollywood blockbusters, television, mountain climbing, Miley Cyrus—none of them are absolutely necessary. Why have chateaubriand with dauphinoise potatoes when mung-beans and fire-roasted squirrel would do?

But if the enviro-fascists have their way, we’ll all be living in a global version of North Korea.

Heaven help us if Formula One’s green push gains too much momentum. I would no more want to watch F1 cars that are open-wheeled versions of the Toyota Prius racing than watch the Olympic 100m sprint contested by fat people. Motor racing is about speed, noise, and engine fumes.

Take those things away and the sport is doomed—and so, I suspect, is the planet, because we’ve decided to let symbolism supplant meaningful action.

A couple of weekends ago, I planted 300 trees on my property and then came inside to watch the V8 Supercars and the Monaco Grand Prix. Strangely, I wasn’t strangled to death by my own sense of irony, but the dichotomy didn’t go unnoticed. For me, motorsport and environmental action sat quite nicely together, they just remained separate.

Perhaps that’s not a bad philosophy.

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