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GP Week : Issue 17
F ORMULA 1 has existed for 50 years as an exercise in excess, where millionaire playboys play politics and sport on an international tour whose stops read like a location list for a James Bond movie. But in a world of ever increasing social and environmental consciousness, the sport has become an easy target. Gone are the days when thoughts of environmentalism were the reserve of tree- hugging hippies. They are now our everyday fears and an ever present reality. Can this sport then, which flies thousands of people and hundreds of tonnes of equipment around the world to shoot fast, fossil-fuel burning cars around in circles for 20 weekends a year, seriously hope to survive in this day and age? “You know, it’s a difficult question because you want high technology. You want it to be good racing,” says Force India F1’s Chief technical Officer Mike Gascoyne of the environmental question. “You don’t want to be racing electric cars at 50mph around the circuit now do you? You’ve ended up with reciprocating- piston petrol engines for a reason, and that’s because they’re pretty good. You need a very efficient, high revving, quick power delivery type thing and the best thing to do that is the sort of engines we’ve got at the moment … otherwise we’d have different ones.” So where do we begin? Well, in truth, Formula 1 has already started. 2008 was a landmark year for the sport, as for the first time biofuels have been used to power the cars. It may only be 6 percent of the fuel that goes into a modern F1 car, but it’s a start and a move towards a possible switch to using 100 percent biofuel at some point in the future. “I think that we would be very supportive of such a move – however what we’d also need to do is make sure that the source of that bio-fuel was appropriate” Honda Racing F1 CEO Nick Fry told GPWeek at the Canadian Grand Prix. “There’s been a lot of publicity around the world about using a grain which could be used for human food for biological fuels and clearly that’s an issue. We would need to make sure that the source of that fuel is from an area that couldn’t be used for anything else.” The Honda Racing F1 Team has been the first F1 team to take an active stance in its environmental position. For the past two seasons it has carried no sponsorship save for its message of protecting the planet on which we live. While some have decried the stance as a publicity stunt and cover- up for the team’s inability to find a title sponsor, the squad keeps reinforcing its green credentials week on week. It’s a theme which is catching on. “McLaren Mercedes supports any initiative towards a greener Formula 1,” says McLaren’s CEO Martin Whitmarsh. “Formula 1 can’t shy away from environmental issues. We’ve got to demonstrate that we are concerned and aware. Formula 1 is actually about developing efficiency and therefore just because our cars are noisy they’re not necessarily as un-green as people might assume. I think it’s right that Formula 1, which has a fantastic pool of creative engineers, can be an environment in which we can do some really interesting things.” The first steps then, have been made. But where to next? The simple answer, and one making all the headlines of late, is Kinetic Energy. KERS is the mot du jour in F1. Simply, it will harness braking energy and store it for redistribution by way of a boost over the course of a lap. Clever, yes, but questions remain over its effectiveness and, most importantly for an eco-update, its green credentials. “KERS creates a fascinating challenge,” Whitmarsh confirms. “In one sense it’s fascinating 26