Racing for the Environment

Friday 07 July 2023

Climate change is affecting everything around us, and motorsport is no different. As the world warms, and evidence points to our impact in accelerating this process, most people are starting to realise that we must act now before it is too late. Fortunately, though, that does not mean hanging up your helmet just yet – it just means racing more responsibly.

For the sake of the sport’s future, this issue needs to be quickly addressed, as Motorsport UK’s Head of Sustainability Jess Runicles explains: “We have to act because if society keeps going the way we are going, there will not be a planet to compete on. We are seeing the effects of climate change in a very visual way already – the flooding that cancelled the Imola Grand Prix this year is a perfect example.

“In the future, as global warming takes effect, there will be increasing instances where people physically will not be able race. Equally, there are lots of stakeholders involved in motorsport who know that turning a blind eye is just not acceptable.”

The competition element of motorsport is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to carbon impact. There are many factors that you might not think of, but everything from the emissions caused by driving there to those involved in printing out competitor signing-on forms makes a difference.

Over the course of the last year, the Sustainability Team at Motorsport UK has been working hard on calculating the baseline of emissions for a typical event, for each of the different disciplines run under its banner. Only by understanding what the main issues are can the sport, the Clubs and the individuals involved then begin to tackle the challenge.

“When we consider environmental impact, we talk about buckets of emissions in five key areas,” explains Runicles. “That is competition, team logistics, marshals and volunteers, spectators and the venue. Everything can be attributed into one of those five categories and we have been using that as a basis to try to work out how much we emit as a sport.

“It has been a huge exercise and we have spent a whole year working with a specialist consultancy who have experience in calculating environmental impact for sport. We have been talking to different clubs with different disciplines, interviewing them and understanding what a standard event looks like. There are lots of different factors that affect the emissions – for example the type of event, the number of competitors, marshals and so on.

“We have then created algorithms that can calculate a total emissions figure dependant on these factors and we can then extrapolate that based on licenses and permits. Not all of our events have spectators, and each different type of event has its own different emissions profile, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution.”


Environmental impact can be measured by the carbon footprint a Club or event creates through its operations. This is a combination of all the different elements that are involved, including vehicle emissions (recces as well as at event), use of paper, venue electricity, waste (and the emissions created by removing it), etc.

To make things simple, Motorsport UK has developed a Carbon Calculator that enables Clubs to enter details of their event and calculate its carbon footprint. Not only does this give a baseline from which to start reducing it, but it can also help engage with wider stakeholders and educate them on the event’s environmental impact. It could be a real gamechanger.

“It probably takes around half an hour to go through the calculator for a grassroots event,” says Runicles. “Once you get the system set up to answer the questions it becomes really easy and you can make it easier by integrating data collection into things you already do – for example, collecting postcodes and asking how people got there when they sign on.

“The Carbon Calculator is for Clubs, but anything an individual does will be counted for the Club’s footprint. So, we would hope that Clubs can encourage the idea that everything an individual member can do supports their Club and the wider community. A Club could even run a ‘Sustainable Member of the Year’ award to reward positive actions.”

The online Carbon Calculator tool, which feeds from and into a growing database, allows users to select a specific discipline, permit type and even a specific venue, if relevant, from a set of drop-down menus. This then pre-fills the form’s categories with baseline figures from the Motorsport UK research.

The baseline values are split into the five main analysis categories – competition, team logistics, marshals and volunteers, spectators, and venue – and the auto-fed data can then be over-ridden with more specific data, where available, to allow a more accurate picture to be built for that particular event.

The competition section, for example, includes fields for duration, number of competitors, distance of competition, idling time, type of vehicle, fuel consumption, and so on. The logistics section focuses on travel to events, covering things like number of competitors, marshals, spectators, distance travelled, use of trailers and generators.

Once all figures are input, the tool shows the amounts of emissions created in each different sector in graphical and numerical form, in terms of kgCO2, with the ability to drill down further into the detail. If there are multiple events – for example with a series – it provides the ability to develop a set of core assessments then modify and adapt each one.


Every Club has the potential to become more sustainable, whether that is by making a sustainability pledge, creating a strategy or implementing certain core policies. Motorsport UK has developed lots of online support documentation to help, and the FIA also has a “Guide for Sustainable Events’ which can be found online.

Runicles sits on the board of the FIA Sustainability Commission and helped to roll out the Motorsport UK Sustainability Accreditation. Many Clubs are now applying for this – the first of which was Bath MC – and the process involves completing the ‘Environmental Sustainability in Motorsport’ online module and workbook and creating an Environmental Management System (EMS) for the Club.


The direct use of fossil fuel – for competition, logistics and competitor, marshal or spectator travel – is one of the biggest pieces of the pie when it comes to carbon footprint. Indeed, globally the emissions caused by transportation is one of the biggest targets for urgent reduction and technology in that area is advancing fast.

The world of motorsport is already exploring a wide range of carbon neutral solutions – including hybrid technology, battery electric, hydrogen and synthetic fuels (also known as e-Fuels). Formula One, for example, has had an electric element for more than a decade (originally as KERS in 2009) while Formula E and Extreme E have pioneered full-electric.

Fortunately, for those who want to be more sustainable with their combustion-engine cars, innovation has provided potential options, initially in the form of biofuels and fuels from waste and, ultimately, through the industrial-scale manufacture of synthetic fuels, which can be made from carbon dioxide in the air and water, powered by renewable energy.

Alongside electric and potentially hydrogen, these fuels are an equally important solution for motorsport and already many championships – from F1 to historic racing – are adopting biofuels, with synthetic fuels under development for future potential use. As their production becomes more widespread, grassroots motorsport will benefit from the low-carbon solution that they offer.

Former F1 team technical director Paddy Lowe left the sport in 2019 to develop his own Zero synthetic fuels, which can run in any engine without modification. A member of Motorsport UK’s Sustainability Committee, he sees a future where motorsport will become a pioneer in developing many different technologies to replace fossil fuels.

“Motorsport has a history of taking the lead technologically in many sectors and that should apply in the context of sustainability too,” Lowe commented last year. “It is important that motorsport faces up to the core challenge – the combustion of fossil fuels – addressing the consumption of fossil fuels at a fundamental level in a sustainable and scalable manner.

“We essentially have three solutions. We can be all electric, we can be hydrogen powered or we can be liquid fuels like petrol – or a hybrid of one or two of those. In that order, electric, hydrogen, petrol, you progress down an energy density graph, where batteries are 50 times heavier than the equivalent energy within a volume of petrol.

“In a racing context, that is a very significant number. You simply could not build an F1 level of performance in an electric vehicle. What I see in motorsport is that all three solutions will emerge in different contexts. Each has its merits, but I do think that liquid fuels are here to stay for high-energy formats.

“Fully synthetic fuels create a circular process so the fuel, whilst it emits carbon dioxide on combustion, that same carbon dioxide is reused in due course to make new fuel, so the net carbon is zero, it’s completely fossil free, there’s no fossil carbon involved, it’s all circular carbon via the atmosphere.”

Several UK series have already taken the step towards sustainability by using biofuels or fuels from waste which, although limited on long-term scalability, are already available in larger quantities.

The ROKiT F4 British Championship certified by FIA series, for example, began using Carless fuel in the 2022 season. This contains 20% renewable components – of which 15% is second-generation ethanol content and 5% renewable hydrocarbons. This allows for an up to 18% reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases when compared to current pump fuel.

Runicles says: “At the moment, it is a work in progress. It is a huge strategic pillar for us, but we are very much in the research and discussion phase. We are trying to support adoption of electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles and new technologies such as sustainable fuels, which are a good way solution for existing internal combustion engines.

“There is a growing number of options out there for sustainable fuel, so it is so much easier to get hold of them than it was, say, even just a year ago. The price has also quite significantly dropped. It used to be 5-10 times more expensive. It is still more expensive, but it is not as disproportionate as it was.”

There is, of course, a cost issue when it comes to making a sustainability choice as these fuels are developing technologies and are limited in availability and comparatively high in cost. However, those who can afford to be early adopters will lead the way and over time wider use will lead to natural market forces that help bridge this gap.

Just one more way how new motorsport-pioneered technologies can be embraced to support the transition to net zero, alongside how they can benefit the mobility sector in wider society where relevant.