Laying down the guilt on F1 – Stuff

The business of Formula One is complex with many different layers built up over 70 years of competition.  It is a multi-billion dollar industry with many stakeholders, particularly a number of major motor vehicle manufacturers.  It is an industry that has survived both financial and political ups and downs and will continue to surmount what ever comes its way, proving that it is adaptable, even to climate change.

Most only see the first layer, that of a Grand Prix while the Netflix series ‘Drive to Survive’ has allowed us to see and gain some understanding of some of the layers (and personalities) that make up a Grand Prix weekend and often what goes on between races.

Last week we had Stuff reporter Sam Wilson questioning the sustainability of Formula One (Formula One’s image problem – and the ambitious plan to cut its carbon footprint) in regard to climate change.  One must question whether a Stuff sports reporter in NZ is in the best position to make claims and judgements about a sport that they haven’t been immersed in, let alone gain quotes from domestic observers.

The article essentially takes pot-shots at these ‘gas-guzzling cars looping around a racetrack – not a good look in the climate emergency age.’ 

It quotes both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel having a dig at manufacturers and F1’s governing body, Dr Sergio Biggemann, from Otago University and Barbara Nebel, CEO of Thinkstep ANZ (I’ve never heard of them)

The problem with this Stuff article is that it points out the obvious and then lays down the guilt.  There is little inquiry into what’s good about F1 and some of the amazing technology that Formula One has developed. It is not a balanced article.

Instead, it raises questions like, ‘Why doesn’t F1 just go electric?’ – I would have thought that any ‘expert’ in motorsport would understand the reasoning behind that (look at the lack of popularity of the Formula E category for a start).

Wilson has Barbara Nebel, who seems to specialise in language, sustainability and business, making assumptions and opinion on a subject in which she is clearly out of her depth.  It is all very well to quote F1 drivers out of context when both Vettel and Hamilton have been happy to compete in the category for well over a decade.  But to seek opinion from people within New Zealand, it begs for too many assumptions to be made. Where is the international commentary and opinion?

Formula One is a highly complex business that has evolved over many years.  As a business, it is arguably very sustainable as it has endured and grown over 70 years.  There is a high involvement from motor vehicle manufacturers (particularly European who are manufacturing for the future under some pretty tight regulations) with others scrambling to get on board.  I have full confidence that it will be around for many years yet.

Why?  Because it has the ability to adapt, the money to do so, an established governing body and plenty of stakeholders that also want to see it continue, whether it is climate change, political change or economic crisis.

What Wilson and Stuff don’t take into account, is that both TV and digital audiences continue to grow for the sport.  The cumulative rise in viewers numbers topped out in 2019 at 1.922bn before the Covid lockdowns, only dropping 4.5% in 2020 due to a much-revised season.  2021 saw a 4% increase.  Obviously, people are voting with their feet. People love Formula One, even in its current form.

Let’s face it, no motorsport is good for the planet, even any electric category.  While lowing carbon footprints or off-setting the use of carbon is all very well, the reality is that is purely a justification for continuing what is not good for the climate (at the moment).

But then with motorsport tossed into the ‘no-good-for-the-planet basket’, there is plenty more that we can throw in as well – driving to work, farming and tourism for a start (both key income earners for the NZ economy).

I am not a climate change denier, more a realist.  Taking pot shots at F1 is a light-weight form of journalism, although maybe it is a reflection on the standard we currently have in New Zealand. It would have been better for Wilson and Stuff to have sourced international comment. Then that is the problem I see with Stuff. It has an agenda and it works to pursue and justify its status in the fourth estate.

Benjamin Carrell is a freelance motorsport writer and currently edits He writes for a number of Kiwi drivers and motorsport clubs. That's when he's not working in his horticultural day-job or training for the next road or mtb cycle race!

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