Heavy Rainfall has led to the worst flooding in the Emilia-Romagna region for a hundred years, raising questions about F1’s commitment to net-zero.

After a drought in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, heavy rainfall led to the worst flooding in the region for a hundred years. The scale of the impact on Formula 1 (a cancelled race) pales in comparison to the impact on residents of the area: at least nine people lost their lives and 23,000 are still homeless more than a week later. While climate scientists need time to understand if climate change worsened the flooding, the floods highlight F1’s exposure to the climate crisis.

A global calendar means that the sport is uniquely vulnerable to the disruption of extreme weather. Races take place in some of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, such as Australia, Brazil, China, and, as sadly demonstrated, Italy (Global Climate Risk Index Paper). The Imola Grand Prix was not the first race to be affected by extreme weather, with high temperatures sometimes leading to drivers losing over 2kg of water during races. Challenges that have been manageable in the past may soon place considerably more stress on drivers, machinery and infrastructure.

“Only 0.7% of the 256,000 tonnes of CO2 the sport produces per year come from the cars themselves”

As one of the few sports where fossil fuel consumption is required to compete, it is in pole position when it comes to the climate debate, highlighted by Just Stop Oil’s disruption of last year’s British Grand Prix. In 2019, F1 set itself the ambitious target of becoming net carbon zero by 2030 and has made considerable strides towards that goal. For instance, the sport uses some of the most efficient road car engines ever built. In 2026 F1 will adopt new engines which it claims will help “drive a green revolution”, most notably through the introduction of ambitious 100% sustainable synthetic “e-fuels”.

Ironically, however, only 0.7% of the 256,000 tonnes of CO2 the sport produces per year come from the cars themselves. By contrast, 73% comes from the logistics of racing in 20 different countries. The inefficiency of the current calendar at times boggles the mind, with the last three races seeing the F1 ‘circus’ travel from Azerbaijan to Miami and then back to Italy. There are plans for a rationalisation of the schedule so that the distances travelled, and therefore emissions produced, are reduced.

Experts are sceptical of the impact of these changes, suggesting that short of a green revolution in airfreight, there is little prospect of F1 meeting its target without huge, and controversial, carbon offsetting. Furthermore, the lack of appetite in the sport to face the incongruity of its net-zero target with its frequenting of petrostates such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, raises questions of genuine sincerity.

Nevertheless, the sport has taken considerable steps to reduce its emissions and clean up its polluting image. It will undoubtedly be commercially beneficial to F1’s owners, Liberty Media, to do so as they strive to attract a younger, more climate-aware, audience. It is worth putting the 256,000-tonne figure in perspective: the 2022 World Cup produced between 3.6 million and 5.03 million tonnes of CO2.

F1 clearly has an opportunity to take global leadership on climate change, especially given the high level of transferable technology between F1 and regular cars. However, as demonstrated by events in Italy, the climate crisis is here and further disruption will occur — it is only a matter of time.