McLaren-Mercedes managing director Jonathan Neale gets the irony of a company winning a sustainability award when it builds cars that use about 75 litres of fuel for every 100 kilometres travelled.
But, he added quickly, the reality is that the action on a grand prix weekend is only a small part of a Formula One team’s operations, albeit a high profile one that can mask its environmental efforts.
“Obviously, the most visible part of our fossil fuel consumption is [drivers] Sergio [Pérez] and Jenson [Button] honing around a circuit and tearing the place up and creating havoc,” Neale said.
“But in reality, for a business like ours, if you look at the amount of energy that we consume in compute power, in manufacturing, in our wind tunnels, shipping 40 tons of freight to 20 races around the globe anywhere from Brazil to Austin, Tex., to the Far East, the Middle East and back again, what gets consumed on the track, although being the most visible, is an important but almost insignificant part.”
That part does attract lots of attention. For the past two years in Montreal, protestors have targeted the Canadian Grand Prix, denouncing it as a symbol of capitalist excess while trying to disrupt the annual F1 party with a bicycle-centric demonstration on the eve of the race.
The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Institute awarded its Environmental Award for Excellence to McLaren earlier this year. The award rewards teams for measuring and reducing their environmental impact as part of the FIA Institute’s Sustainability Programme.
McLaren is the world’s first motorsport outfit to be recognized for its efforts and it was also the first F1 team to be carbon neutral, although the outfit does openly admit that it is difficult for a business of its size and scale to be fossil fuel neutral and it buys credits to make up the difference. The team has also won several awards for its environmental policies.
Because of its success in becoming more green, the push to be even more environmentally friendly has become a focus in the everyday operations at its McLaren Technology Centre headquarters in Woking, U.K.
“We’ve been inventing new light fittings to reduce light around the place because we want it to be impactful and well lit, but we can do it with less energy,” Neale said.
“All of our truck drivers compete with one another to see who can drive in the most environmentally friendly way and because of the technology in the cabs now you can see how often you are accelerating, how much fuel you’re consuming, how much brake wear are you doing and they’ll even compete on that. We are all fiercely competitive.”
And while Neale stressed that what happens on the circuit is a fraction of the team’s energy consumption, he was also quick to point out that the team will be making huge gains there too.
Increasingly, the FIA has pushed greater efficiency and fuel economy from the cars in the past few years, and that will only get more acute as the series adopts a new 1.6-litre, V-6 turbocharged powerplants in 2014 to replace the 2.4-litre, V-8s used this year.
“Even if you look at the end product – the racing car itself – F1 is moving to be a much more energy constrained series,” he said.
“There’s a really good technical story that’s exciting for a number of reasons: It’s socially responsible, it’s right square in the middle of where a lot of the automotive manufacturers are directing their product development research at the moment ... and it’s exciting for a lot of science, technology, and engineering graduates to work on as well.”
One area that has helped is the elimination of testing in F1, which has reduced the amount of time the team is on the road and running its cars at tracks around the world. Although that does reduce the team’s environmental footprint by eliminating travel and track time, Neale insisted that the team must be careful that it doesn’t simply move that energy consumption to other areas such as high performance computing and complex fluid dynamics, to compensate for the lack of track time.
Despite the changes on track, McLaren’s real push has been on the business side of the operation, where many initiatives have produced huge gains.
Like most businesses, McLaren began adopting corporate sustainability policies in response to expectations of investors, customers, and fans among others. It started down the sustainability road in earnest in 2009 as a way to respond to these expectations, not to mention help the results on track.
“The last thing we want to do is something that isn’t authentic or do something that’s a form of window dressing that’s not who we are or what we are about,” Neale said.
“We wanted to do something that was smart and cost-effective. Energy like anything else is a commodity that we have to buy and every dollar we waste on energy is a dollar we aren’t spending on lap time or drivers or another performance facet.”
If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at email@example.com.
Follow us on Twitter @Globe_Drive.
Add us to your circles.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter.