• Opinion

    By Chris Bowers Editor, T&E Bulletin In June 2004, I wrote an open letter to the FIA, the governing body of Formula 1 motor racing, suggesting it ought to limit the amount of fuel available to drivers in grand prix races.

    [mailchimp_signup][/mailchimp_signup]That way, I argued, it would make Formula 1 more a test of a driver’s all-round ability, showing that the sport was in tune with modern-day environmental reality, and would add an extra element of excitement which could lead a driver who has used the gas pedal too enthusiastically running out of fuel a few metres from the finish line. Six years later, the FIA has finally announced measures along these lines.

    It would be wrong for T&E to take the credit for this, especially as the FIA’s movement is largely a result of pressure from the teams that enter F1 races. And it would also be wrong to get too excited. Although the FIA is proposing fuel limits to come in at the start of the 2013 F1 season, and the F1 teams association wants a cut in the sport’s overall emissions of 15%, the average F1 car still gets through about 160kg of fuel per race, making for a fuel consumption of close to 60 litres per 100km. And the fuel consumption of cars is a small percentage of the sport’s overall carbon footprint.

    Nevertheless, the FIA’s proposals effectively recognise that any decision to do with fuel-powered vehicles has to take into account that fossil fuels are not infinite and will run out one day. This is a message ministers and MEPs would do well to note when they come to finalise the EU’s first legislation limiting carbon dioxide emissions from vans. The Commission’s proposal is for a long-term target of 135 grams per kilometre, but the European Parliament’s industry committee is already trying to weaken this to 150g.

    Not only is this irresponsible, it is the result of misguided thinking. It is falling into the trap of believing that because car engines have got more powerful over recent years, van engine sizes must inevitably do the same. But why? Vans aren’t meant to go at massive speeds, and the amount of weight they have to carry is limited by law.

    The reality is that the smartest engine for a van is a smaller engine. It can help cut emissions by up to 16%, reduce the cost of buying a van by around 10%, and knock around 12% off the running costs. It’s a win/win/win situation! The only reason people missed it was that they were too fixated on the costs of advanced technologies, while simpler and more effective technologies have been available all the time.

    For the record, I did get an answer to my letter – albeit a short and rather irritable one – from Max Mosley, then the head of the FIA, saying there were already environmental elements to F1. What they were I could never work out, but that’s not important. What’s important is that it was a simple idea whose time has come, and after a six-year gestation period, the FIA has accepted the wisdom of the argument.

    Could it be that the boy racers in Formula 1 are ahead of ministers and MEPs in their appreciation of the need to limit fuel consumption? That would probably be going a little too far, but the FIA’s recognition is an important one. It effectively says the best racing car has the smartest engine, the definition of ‘smart’ to include a high level of fuel efficiency. There can surely be no excuse now for anything less than 135 g/km for vans for 2020.