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The Environmental and Social Benefits of Electric Motorsport

Sagie Evbenata
Feb 16, 2021

Guidehouse Insights electric car

Motorsport is big business, with its most established championship, Formula One (F1), generating revenue of $2 billion in 2019. However, its image of lavish events with extravagant fossil fuel usage is in stark contrast to society becoming more environmentally and socially aware. Although F1 introduced hybrid powertrains by 2014, in 2019, it was responsible for 256,551 tonnes CO2e, prompting the F1 sustainability strategy to become net zero by 2030

The Emergence of Electric Motorsport

Zero emissions championships, such as the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship (Formula E), Extreme E (XE), and FIM Enel MotoE World Cup have been emerging since 2014. Formula E races vehicles based on the Spark-Renault SRT05e chassis, powered by 250 kW electric motors with 54 kWh McLaren Applied Technologies battery packs. Promoting a youthful new image, Formula E has a radically different racing format than traditional motorsport races. Races take place on short city center circuits, attracting new urban audiences, and are inspired by the growing popularity of e-sports, especially during COVID-19. Innovations include temporary power boosts from FANBOOST for drivers top ranked from social media voting and ATTACK MODE where a 35 kW boost is given to drivers passing certain track sections.

XE is an off-road racing championship featuring electric SUVs racing through extreme conditions in challenging remote regions. The inaugural race is scheduled for April 2021 in a desert in Saudi Arabia. The race vehicles are Spark Racing Technology’s ODYSSEY 21 EVs, each featuring a 400 kW motor and 54 kWh Williams Advanced Engineering battery charged by a solar-powered hydrogen fuel cell generator. In contrast to the dirty image of SUVs, XE is committed to being net zero and brings attention to climate change and the environmental impact of human activities. Each race will be accompanied by a legacy program to support initiatives helping local communities, and the creation of a documentary episode to highlight the issues in the location. Social equality is also being promoted with a requirement for gender equality for competitors, and F1 champion Lewis Hamilton’s team will also focus on creating opportunities for ethnic minorities.

Building Momentum

Traditional motorsport fans may miss the sound of high revving combustion engines and the huge engineering budgets along with the glamour of events such as F1 Grands Prix. However, electric motorsport’s popularity is rapidly growing, especially for younger audiences, with its gamification innovations, audience interactivity, and new racing formats. Formula E has attracted major racing teams including Mercedes, Porsche, Nissan, Nio, and Jaguar. Chip Ganassi Racing has recently announced that its vehicle styling will be inspired by the Hummer EV, following GMC’s sponsorship. XE has secured high profile support from teams launched by racing icons including current and past F1 champions Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, and Jenson Button, and INDYCAR legend Michael Andretti.

Can It Make a Tangible Impact?

Emissions from race vehicle powertrains account for a tiny proportion of the total motorsport carbon footprint, only 0.7% in the case of F1. The vast majority results from logistics, business travel, and factories. However, Formula E has been carbon neutral since its launch (by investing in certified projects to offset emissions) and XE aims to replicate this achievement. This carbon neutrality is still miniscule in comparison with the carbon footprint of road transportation, but the chief accomplishments will be related to influencing perceptions of zero emissions vehicles and highlighting environmental and social issues. These emerging motorsports will reach out to new audiences, promoting diversity as well as an exciting image of EVs. A significant achievement is attracting the investment of major sponsors and influencing the behavior of younger generations.