One would think that a generation so environmentally conscious, facing the worst of the consequences of climate change, would form a sirenly chorus of dissent and accountability for the carbon that this sport and its enablers emit. One, in this case, would be wrong; Liberty Media, the co-producers of the four-season-long “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” series with Netflix and the owners of Formula 1, have masterfully woven a narrative that casually irons over the sport’s glaring infringements of environmental responsibility.
Impakter has already spoken on the recent climate apathy shown in the race calendar for the next season in 2023, showing that the schedule could cut carbon costs by up to 46% just by changing dates around, without any cancellations.
This went down easier amongst the multitudes of fans of the sport primarily due to the misdirection of discourse that Formula 1 and its teams have learned to bake into their marketing strategy. It is no coincidence, for example, that the aforementioned calendar was released in the midst of F1’s “Silly Season” — the part of the year where the bulk of racing drivers sign their future contracts with teams.
The drama of this season revolves largely around the departure of Daniel Ricciardo, a fan favourite thanks to his charm and humour exhibited in the Netflix Series. The series capitalises heavily on this particular aspect of Formula 1, and this has cleverly not escaped the notice of Formula 1’s administrators, who used this timing shrewdly.
The cunning here was in the fact that any ecological criticism would be hidden in the thousands of articles and social media posts arguing about these drivers’ suitability for — and right to — the seat that they have signed for.
This is arguably a “long game” tactic where feeding the online fandoms is a fantastic pull of favourability and public defence for the brand. Formula 1, increasingly, is hyper-aware of the marketability of a green agenda, and has made broad platitudes in that direction under the NetZero 2030 plan, aiming to reach carbon neutral status by 2030.
With that stated, but not broadly publicised, the social media conversation was easily steered to the charm and personalities of drivers over a well edited and curated montage of drama and erupted passions, with little to no mention of any controversial social or environmental causes. This has made the world of fandom, especially on Twitter and Tumblr, rife with fan fiction, sultry video edits and memes, which, apart from fulfilling the primary objective of Liberty Media (i.e., pulling and retaining young viewers), has also helped create a favourable public dialogue for Formula 1 as a concept, engendering fewer critics from the younger, more aware and vocal fans.
find someone to look at you the way charles leclerc looks at lewis hamilton pic.twitter.com/vlskTz0hOR
— 🍒 تانيا (@leclercscherie) October 1, 2022
This has been an admirably prolific re-education campaign, where those introduced to the sport via the series, myself amongst them, have heard no mention of the promises made to be environmentally responsible, nor of F1’s failure to keep these promises.
Related articles: Europe: The New Frontier for Electric Cars | Formula 1 Releases Its 2023 Calendar and Forgets the NetZero Pledge
Instead, it has been a steady stream of moving parts and alleged ulterior motives, scandals and secrecy, and F1 media has filled in the gaps with even more of this, between seasons of the show and the sport. This lie of omission has created a safe and comfortable wall around the uncomfortable talking point of carbon emission accountability, with a soft, easy catch-all answer in the form of the NetZero plan, for when it does come into question.
It would make you skeptical about the sport and jaded to hear all this, especially after investing time and emotion into the show and the sport. What might help a conscious and green human being is the inevitable backfiring of this narrative, in the form of Formula 1 wunderkind and now legend, Sebastian Vettel.
Sebastian Vettel has captured the affections of fans, new and old, by simply stating the obvious truth. He appeared on BBC’s question time, calling himself a hypocrite and no saint, but added:
“When I get out of the car, of course I’m thinking as well ‘Is this something that we should do, travel the world, wasting resources?'”
This, in combination with overt gestures of protest against the sport’s negligence, like his T-Shirt at the Miami Grand Prix, saying “Miami 2060 — first grand prix underwater — Act Now or Swim Later,” have garnered affection in his direction and attention in the direction of F1, adding a wall of accountability, which Vettel has been lauded for by his colleagues Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton.
The four-time F1 world champion has also announced his retirement from Formula 1, in part due to his conscience regarding his contribution to carbon emissions.
This brings us nicely to an elephant in the room, or in the F1 paddock: Oil money.
Vettel was clearly perturbed by his racing team, Aston Martin Cognizant, announcing a major, long-term partnership with Arab state-owned gas and petroleum giant, Aramco. According to ClientEarth, Saudi Aramco remains the world’s largest corporate greenhouse-gas emitter and Aramco’s strong links and future plans with F1 as a whole don’t bode well for the sport’s supposed green goals.
The coverage that recent seasons of Drive to Survive have given the various iterations of the Aston Martin Cognizant team has directed all the more sets of uncritical eyes to the team, and this is helpful to Aramco, more than anyone. The editorial process on the show has an unabashedly forward marketing purpose and that is a major point of contention for people like Vettel or myself who would like an environment of accountability rather than one of agreeableness around the show and the sport.
The Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 team, the dominant team in the last decade due to Lewis Hamilton, have a problem that’s…..well, it’s in the name, isn’t it?
A team and driver at the pinnacle of the sport for a decade have done PR work for another state-owned oil and gas giant (Malaysia, in this case) and the anti-climate change value of this cannot be understated. Making the company a household name is doubtlessly lending credence to their industry and damaging to any green cause as a whole.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Formula 1 race. Featured Photo Credit: Abed Ismail.