In Articles

F1 tyre warmers ban is borderline stupid

F1 mechanic working on a tyre

Tyre blankets ban is just around the corner, but how many polar bears will it actually save?

The story

In 2018 the FIA announced that it signed a contract with Pirelli as the sole F1 tyre supplier between 2020 and 2023. At the same time, it made clear that all rubber developed for the 2024 season and onward should provide safe performance even when cold. That clause was introduced, of course, in anticipation of the complete ban on tyre warmers usage taking effect in 2024. Though similar attempts were made in the past, none of them succeeded. This time, however, it seems that FIA managed to make this move stick.

However, phasing out the blankets was not to happen overnight. To give teams time to adjust to new reality, the maximum allowed tyre temperature was to be progressively reduced over the course of a few seasons: 100 degrees front and 80 back in 2021, 70 all around in 2022, and only 50 in 2023. This last step was scrapped, however, due to negative feedback from the drivers, forcing Pirelli to remain with 70 centigrade limit.

Many high-profile drivers have already voiced their opposition to the ban, including Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. Both cited safety issues, yet FIA seems adamant that blankets must go in the name of the sustainability of the sport and to reduce its environmental impact. But how much is to be gained, anyway?

The numbers

F1 tyre closeup
Instead of going into the debate bare-handed, let’s do some proper maths.

Let’s begin with how much electricity a set of tyre blankets needs for operation. Though blankets manufacturers are surprisingly tight-lipped when it comes to publishing power rating figures, it’s still possible to find some numbers floating around in the abysses of the internet. For instance, Sparco lists their product as drawing 2800 watts to heat a set of four tyres, while the ones from Thermal Tech are happy with a slightly smaller number of 2600 watts. So far, so good.

Next, we need to know how long the blankets are actually running during a season. We can obtain this number by looking at the rules governing tyre allocation over a race weekend. First, every driver gets 13 sets of dry, 4 sets of intermediate, and 3 sets of wet tyres. However, that’s where things get hairy, as some sets have to be returned after particular sessions, and some can be used — and heated — more than once. Let’s assume the absolute worst-case scenario in which all twenty sets are used twice. That contributes to a total of 40 tyre-heating operations for every driver each weekend.

But how long does the heating take? The official 2023 F1 rulebook says that tyres can be placed in blankets no sooner than two hours before a session. It means that in total, the blankets are turned on for 1600 hours every race weekend, or 36 800 hours during the entire 2023 season.

Now that we have the running time and power rating, the only thing left is to multiply those two numbers to get the worst-case estimate of how much electric power is needed for their operation. This gives us a grand total of 344.5 gigajoules of energy. Note, however, that in reality this number will most likely be significantly lower, as not all races require the usage of wet tyres, and the warmers do not operate at the maximum rated power at all times.

The bigger picture

DHL aircraft landing
Transporting F1 gear between venues by air has an environmental impact orders of magnitude higher than using tyre warmers.

On the face of it, every initiative to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions is worth appraisal. But before we start patting the FIA on the back and sending it ‘job well done’ postcards for saving the planet, perhaps it would be a good idea to look at the ban from a wider perspective.

The energy saved by not using tyre blankets during the entire 2023 F1 season is equal to the amount of heat released by burning 8 tonnes of jet fuel. Though it might seem like quite a substantial figure, it is also how much electricity 20 average French households consume over a year. Twenty. In a country of over 67 million people. Climate crisis solved folks, exit stage left.

It only gets worse when you realize how big the environmental impact of Formula 1 is, regardless of the tyre blankets. For starters, there’s the petrol the cars burn every race: over 50 tonnes a year, in fact. Add to that what’s necessary for practice and qualifying sessions, and savings made by the ban wane in comparison. Oh, and on top of everything, there’s the transporting of cars, crew, and everything else the show needs to go on around the world. And that’s a lot.

For every race, each team brings about 75 people and 60 tonnes of freight. Media equipment adds about 150 tonnes, and hospitality equipment reportedly requires about 30 containers for shipping. DHL claims that during an entire F1 season, a fleet of six Boeing 747s flies 132 thousand kilometers around the globe to move all that cargo. That means each aircraft spends around 147 hours in flight, burning 9 tonnes of fuel every hour for a grand total of 7938 tonnes for the entire fleet. Eight thousand times more than what could possibly be needed to use the blankets, and that’s not including transit to and from airports, maritime shipping, or road transport that’s sometimes used when travelling between the races in Europe.

The salt in the wound

Las Vegas skyline at night
Las Vegas, the worldwide capital of environmental conservation, will host an F1 race for the first time since 1982 this very year.

Equipment is not the only thing that arrives at the race track — spectators need to get there, too. 2022 British GP alone was attended by over 400 thousand people that came to Silverstone by car, bus, or air travel. All that adds to the environmental impact of Formula 1, and it’s a contribution that’s borderline impossible to avoid. After all, F1 would not exist if not for the fans, including me and — given that you’re still reading this — probably you as well.

But one can argue that an average Joe usually arrives at the track in a rather unremarkable manner. The same, however, cannot be said about the drivers or F1 officials, many of who choose to fly private jets between venues. Max Verstappen’s Dassault Falcon 900EX alone can load up to 9.5 tonnes of fuel onboard, which is hardly a zero-emission operation. On the other hand, tyre blankets can be powered using electricity from renewable sources, contributing nothing to climate change. In fact, it could be mandated by the FIA that this is the case.

But a much bigger saving can be made by modifying the race schedule. Having events grouped by geographical location or simply fewer events on the calendar means shorter total distance travelled over an entire season and thus lower emissions. For instance, in 2023 the distance between all tracks is over 132 thousand kilometers. Moving Canadian and Miami GPs between Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi events reduces this number by whopping 26 thousand. However, this option is apparently off the table.

The epiphany

I know that Formula 1 — and motorsport in general — have always been associated with extravagant lifestyles, burning money left and right, and all the glamour that comes with it. In a way, it’s the equivalent of modern-day gladiator battles, with some of the rivalries ascending to legends over the years. And that’s fine. Maybe that’s why racing is so appealing — we all want an element of heroism in our lives.

But claiming to be conscious about the environment and allowing all that lavishness at the same time is nothing more than virtue signalling. Greenwashing is a huge thing right now, but as a Polish saying goes: no time to grieve for roses when the forests are burning. And that’s exactly what the tyre blanket ban is.

You Might Also Like

No Comments

Leave a Reply