When a Formula One car screams past you at a pain-inducing 150 decibels, the other sense called to action is your sense of smell. It’s actually a slightly sweet aroma — apparently something to do with unleaded petrol burning at the incredible rate of almost one litre per kilometre.

Add to that the F1-branded 747 transport planes that leave their own carbon stains all over the skies every other week or so and it’s hardly surprising that the world’s fastest sport is more than a little worried about all climate change. After all, if the polar ice caps ever do start to dampen our socks, it’s not too hard to imagine which recreational pursuits will be among the first to feel the politicians’ axe.

The art of mere survival, however, breeds innovation (something about necessity), and F1’s governing body could be set not only to save world from motor sport but also make it a poster-child in the fight for a carbon-responsible future.

Personal vehicles account for 20% or so of the world’s carbon emissions, and six of the biggest auto manufacturers — including Toyota and Honda — spend vast sums of money hawking their four-wheeled polluters on the F1 tracks. Most of the others, including the likes of Ford and GM, are also incurably addicted to the marketing benefits of motor racing of some sort.

Governing these racing fiends is the Paris based Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), whose president, Max Mosley, dropped a bombshell in recent days in the form of a heads-up about radical environmentally friendly rules for 2011. The final copy is due to be rubber-stamped before New Year’s Eve.

What’s so clever about Mosley’s plan is not just that it will remove motor sport’s head from the greenies’ guillotines, but it might also do some good. Corporate “greenwashing” is one thing — like the fact that F1 has actually been carbon-neutral for a decade, through a tree plantation scheme in Mexico — but there is no escaping the fact that grand prix racing is perceived by car makers as a clever way of selling lots more cars. And — a few trees in Mexico or no — the world’s car industry is very much a carbon monster.

The centrepiece of F1’s green revolution will be a rule requiring manufacturers to develop a 20kg device that stores wasted braking energy that can be used for a boost of acceleration on the blast to the next corner. The engines, meanwhile, will be lower-revving and smaller (road car-like) V6s, powered by fuel derived not from fossil fuels but from plants or animals, with a premium on making the most of a limited amount of juice per race.

Slightly more far-fetched is the theory that standardised aerodynamics will do away with the need for wind tunnels, but it might end the ridiculous notion of teams needing two (TWO!) such full-scale facilities, guzzling mind-boggling amounts of electricity as they run giant helicopter-like fans literally 24/7.

Throw it all into the formula one melting pot and some will find it’s way into Joe Normal’s new Lexus. Or inspire a 15-year-old rev-head to seek a set of wheels that – just like world champion Alonso’s — also gets 75 kilometres per litre of squeezed soybean juice.

Peter Fray

72 hours only. 50% off a year of Crikey and The Atlantic.

Our two-for-one offer with The Atlantic was so popular we decided to bring it back.

But only for 72 hours.

Use the promo code ATLANTIC2020 and you’ll get 50% off a year of Crikey (usually $199) and a year of digital access to The Atlantic (usually $70). That’s BOTH for just $129.

Hurry. Ends midnight this Thursday.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

Claim Now