by Cortland Navarette
You sit in awe as the cars fly by at over 200 miles per hour, battling for position mere inches from each other. You look up, and see a helicopter flying by, trying to keep up with the cars. You look down from your seat in the stands, and see hundreds of crew members running back and forth, installing new tires and making calculations. Above the pit lane you see many wealthy business people and celebrities enjoying themselves. You look behind the stands and see the large trucks full of all the equipment the teams need for this week’s race. You are amazed at how much has gone into the weekend, all for it to be gone tomorrow, headed off for another country. It is said that the first auto race happened at the creation of the second car. It is in human nature to compete, and auto racing is no exception. Formula One, a racing series, stands at the top as the pinnacle of technological development and speed. Teams spend millions of dollars designing their cars and transporting themselves all over the world. Formula One is special because its cars are designed and built entirely by its teams, also called ‘constructors’. Because the cars are designed and built by the teams, the ones with the most money are the ones that win. Races take place all over the world, typically in very luxurious cities like Singapore, Abu Dhabi, and Monaco. During races, teams go through hundreds of tires and thousands of gallons of fuel. Most of the drivers come from millionaire or billionaire families, who can support them in their early careers and also bring money to the teams that hire them. Because of how much money is involved, Formula One has come to stand for luxury and excess. It is a world filled with high-end brands, private jets, and the consumption of resources, and it promotes unsustainable practices as desirable.
Formula cars are open-wheeled, open-cockpit, single-seat vehicles. These regulations create a car that is lightweight and easy to escape from, but also give the cars their iconic look, which is based in tradition. The ‘formula’ in Formula One is the rules that the car must be built to. The modern format of Formula One began in 1950, but its origins reach back to the 1920s. Now, it has grown to be the most popular racing series world-wide. Since its inception it has been a development series; while certain parts of the cars are regulated, most of them are designed by the teams. Seasons typically contain twenty races, and a team will travel with up to eighty people from race to race. Many of the teams belong to large automobile manufacturers, like Ferrari or Mercedes, who use their research from Formula One to implement new technologies into their production vehicles.
Formula One is not an environmentally ethical endeavour. But should it have to be? And if it is not, then should it be gotten rid of? These are the questions that environmental ethics asks. Because Formula One reaches so many people and because it represents the best of technology and ourselves, I believe that it has the duty and the responsibility to be an environmentally ethical sport. If it fails to meet this challenge, than it cannot be considered ethical moving forward Formula One is inherently bad for the environment. In 2018, Formula One’s total carbon emissions were 256,551 tons (Edmondson). Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and a key driver of global warming (Environment and Society 26). Forty-five percent of these emissions were due to traveling and transporting the cars and teams to all the races (Edmondson). Drivers fly by private jet between races. A typical commercial jet may burn one gallon of fuel per second, but that it is spread across up to 500 people (Science). A private jet only carries a few. Formula One cars are covered in advertisements. Many of these promote fashion brands and petroleum companies. The fashion industry is Earth’s second largest polluter (Sustainyourstyle). Fashion factories use large amounts of water, mixed with chemicals and heavy metals, to dye their clothes. Because they often operate in countries with little environmental regulations, they dump their untreated wastewater into rivers. Shell Oil, a key sponsor for Formula One, has been guilty of corruption and exploitation in Nigeria, where their operations resulted in uncleaned oil spills, which have caused damages to human and environmental health (FoEEurope). Because Formula One is such a popular sport and revered by many, it is unethical for it to promote a lifestyle that is damaging to the environment as something to be held in high-esteem. Furthermore, Formula One’s environmental impacts itself are not something to be ignored, as the automobile and transportation industries remain key contributors to climate change.
A political-economy lense of looking at the relationship between society and nature “stresses that the roots of social and environmental crises are in the economy” (Environment and Society 157). Of course, it seems almost impossible that capitalism can create a positive relation between society and nature. Its competitive nature and prioritization of profits creates many problems, many of which Formula One proudly displays. Formula One is itself a microcosm of capitalism. Its teams are not on equal footing, which results in the rich ones getting richer as they win more races, and the poorer teams struggling for points. Furthermore, Formula One is a display for all the modern results of capitalism, like fast fashion and expensive watches. Unfortunately, this luxury and convenience often comes at the cost of environmental damage and the exploitation of marginalized groups. Formula One takes place all over the world, in cities deemed as models for the rest of the world. It promotes cities like Singapore as examples of the modern age, when in reality, Singapore’s dredging projects to increase its land mass are destroying the environment and ecosystems of Cambodia (Lost World). Furthermore, Formula One takes money from many corrupt governments to bring their races there and show these cities in a positive light (the Drive). Baku, a city in Azerbaijan, which has a government that tortures and imprisons those who speak against them (HRW Azerbaijan), is home to a Formula One race. So is Bahrain, which has a “dire” human and civil rights situation (HRW Bahrain). Formula One and these governments both see it in their best interests to hide or disregard their problems and instead focus on the excess and pageantry created by their races being hosted in these spectacular cities, for the sake of profits and their economies. Unfortunately, this encourages environmental and human disregard, which is exacerbated during the weeks of the races. Therefore, Formula One is representing the value of entertainment for wealthy people as being more important than the health and well-being of people from countries that exploit others and damage the environment.
Formula One represents the best of human capabilities, where engineers work tirelessly to extract every bit of performance they can within the regulations, and drivers push their cars to the limits to shave mere milliseconds off each other’s times. This is why people love to watch it. However, Formula One is unnecessary. It serves little purpose other than as entertainment, for which other forms exist. It has become a medium to promote unsustainable lifestyles and corporate power over the environment. In the future, can globetrotting, resource consuming sports like Formula One ethically and responsibly exist? Or will our entertainment need to be rethought for the sake of our planet?