Somebody who knows me well asked me last week for my professional opinion on my own liking for motorsport's flagship series, Formula One.
It's true - I'm a fan of F1. I don't know why it's particularly attractive to me - probably the physics and machinery of the whole thing. An internal combustion engine (sorry 'hybrid powertrain' this year) is a massively complicated, yet fundamentally simple thing, so to push it to its limits requires an incredible amount of team research and investment. From aerodynamicists to mechanics to strategists, the team is key, however much its not them we really see on TV.
And then there's the nutjob. Every team requires at least two of them to drive the things at up to 200 mph around a track sometimes 50 times. People who hate it always say, "but it's just cars going round and round" - and that's the point. If the Chinese GP last weekend had been done on a road, it would have seen the top 2 cars travel 186 miles and finish 0.2 seconds apart after an hour and a half.. That's amazing, and that's why I love it.
But sustainability is an issue. Each car in China used around 144kg of fuel just for the race. Add to that Free Practices 1, 2 & 3 and qualifying, and that's a lot of gas, with 22 cars in the field. Flying the teams from race to race is going to be a much larger impact, and then at the new night races, the sheer quantity of lighting needed to even make the TV cameras work is another massive demand. There's no denying that the footprint of F1 is huge.
There is another side, though, and that's the one my brain wants me to see (it's called cognitive dissonance). F1 is watched by around 450 million viewers over the course of a year, and dividing the footprint by that many people makes it in fact pretty miniscule (although of course, you can argue that the energy to power the TVs to watch it on is also pretty big).
Restrictions have been placed on teams in recent years to improve both the sports ethical face, and it has to be said, its PR face - teams used to be allowed a spare car - they're not now, and this year, maximum fuel consumption rules have been applied. Coupled with that, engines are now hybrids, and must recover a significant amount of energy from braking to be stored in batteries and used as a power boost during the race. There are even restrictions on the number of staff travelling to each race, and all have large teams monitoring the race and the cars performance from the factory.
F1 has contributed an enormous amount to road car safety over the years, especially since Senna and Ratzenberger's deaths in 1994, and the social benefits of safer cars are manifest all around us. The new engine rules absolutely will change the way road cars are made - indeed Mercedes, currently the on-track leaders by some margin - recently said they only stayed in F1 this year, because of the benefits of hybrid R&D trickledown.
In my mind, and maybe I'm making excuses, I think therefore F1 is part of the modern world, and its mass entertainment model has many parallels with theatre - we don't need to do either, but we do - it's just about doing it responsibly!
I look forward to your thoughts below....!
Thank you Tim,
Hands up, I asked the question, but I asked more out of curiosity than because I hold a strongly opposed view.
Very interesting to read your answer however, and of course, it does essentially follow my own similar views if someone were to suggest that theatre was a extravagantly wasteful industry, i.e., it can be, but with a large enough audience the carbon footprint is shared.
The R&D justification is interesting. I imagine it would happen regardless, but clearly competition drives sport and scientific exploration equally.