Column: Fuel-careful F1 less of a guilty pleasure

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 17, 2014 at 4:17 am •  Published: April 17, 2014
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PARIS (AP) — As Earth's atmosphere warms alarmingly and fills with heat-trapping gases, and the writing on the wall — "People, we're in trouble!" — looms ever larger, Formula One has steadily become a guilty pleasure, the motorsport equivalent of blue whale burger or wearing panda fur.

All that precious fuel going up in smoke, speed, and outrageous noise. Unsustainable and increasingly unjustifiable.

So F1 deserves a pat on the back for now doing its little bit for the planet.

Let's not kid ourselves: Strapping drivers into combustion engines can never be a "green" sport. Polar bears on retreating ice sheets shouldn't dance with joy —"We're saved!" — simply because F1 downgraded this season from monster 2.4-liter, V8 engines to somewhat less viciously thirsty 1.6-liter, V6 turbo hybrid engines.

But it is something. More than that, it recognizes that if we are to have much of a collective future, then everyone must make and accept compromises, eke out and protect resources and learn to do more with less.

To cover a meager 190 miles, the length of all F1 races except the shorter Monaco Grand Prix, the V8s guzzled around 50 gallons of fuel — sometimes a bit more, sometimes less, depending on the track and conditions. That was just on race day. Now add practice and qualifying sessions, and multiply all this by 19 races a season, for a truly staggering fuel bill.

In the real world, a midsize Toyota Prius hybrid might cover about 2,500 miles on those same 50 gallons, almost enough to cross the United States from Washington DC to Los Angeles, according to fuel economy figures for that model from the U.S. government's Environmental Protection Agency.

F1 wouldn't be F1 without excess. Fans worldwide wouldn't tune in for world champion Sebastian Vettel driving a Prius. F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone got fabulously rich with the sales pitch of bigger, faster, costlier, noisier equals vroooom.

"Rush," director Ron Howard's glorification of 1976 world champion James Hunt has the notorious bad boy of F1 mouth-rinsing with champagne and puffing on an illegal-looking cigarette before races in his early Formula Three days. Swap the risk and glamour of F1 for quiet-as-a-mouse electric engines and showers of dandelion tea on the podium and you can be sure that petrol-heads would walk away.

But as road cars become more fuel efficient, with electric and hybrid-engine technology making increasing inroads, F1 needed to reconnect with its time or risk becoming an anachronism, racing on regardless the costs to the environment.