Ambitious F1 motorsport carbon targets only possible with more innovation, D&I – exec

Katherine Sale


LONDON (ICIS)–Formula 1 racing has set itself ambitious carbon neutrality targets that can only be achieved with more sustainability and innovation as well as diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workforce, an industry executive said.

Claire Williams, former deputy team principle at Williams Racing, added D&I principles transcend both the chemical industry and Formula 1 motorsport.

She was speaking at the ICIS World Base Oils and Lubricants Conference, held in the UK earlier in May.

The Formula 1 industry is aiming to use 100% of sustainable fuels by 2026 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.

“They’ve set themselves some really ambitious targets,” said Williams.

Sustainability in Formula 1 would cover more than targets for the fuel and engines of the vehicles, she added, and a holistic approach to the industry’s operations is needed, especially as Formula 1 looks to expand its global reach, with new races in the US.

“The sport has to really change and look at itself to look at all those areas because if it doesn’t have a sustainable future, it doesn’t have a future,” said Williams.

Sustainability was a key theme throughout the ICIS World Base Oils conference, including hybrid engines and the impact on lubricants, given the changes in operating conditions.

More transparency and traceability along the base oils and lubricants value chain is needed to achieve the target of carbon neutrality; there has been rapid progress in, for example, calculating carbon footprints in the lubricant industry, but more is needed.

“Formula 1 has always been one of those hotbeds of innovation,” said Williams, highlighting that progress made in the sector trickles down to impact the consumer.

“Industries such as aerospace, defence, obviously automotive and motorsport as well, healthcare in hospitals… they’re using the technologies, the knowledge base, the skills and the expertise we use, leverage and learn from the Formula 1 side,” she said.

Formula 1 was also a pioneer in the pursuit for electric engines, introducing hybrid engines in 2014.

“Electrification was one of the key areas of that level of innovation. That’s where so many of the teams now and the sport are focusing on,” added Williams.

Electrification had been an area of uncertainty for the base oils and lubricants sector, according to Ian Field, founder of Ian Field Consulting and chairman of the ICIS Technical programme, who highlighted there has been a shift in sentiment in the industry.

“The lifetime use of lubricants for electric vehicles [EVs] gives us hope for the future,” said Field, who stressed hybrid engine offer a space for growth, as well as developments like the ‘stop-start’ functionality, which has increased the stopping of the engine tenfold.

Williams highlighted the vital role the lubricants industry plays in the successful performance of a Formula 1 car, particularly around the optimisation of the engine.

“So many failures in Formula 1 are down to engine issues. Therefore, if you don’t have the right lubricant in your engine, you are in trouble. It can be a game changer,” she said.

In 2022, Williams Advanced Engineering (WAE), a company providing services to the automotive industry, entered a five-year technical partnership with lubricants producer Castrol to co-develop high performance EV fluids.

The agreement includes the supply of EV thermal fluids for WAE’s electrification and motorsport activities, including Formula E, a championship for EVs.

A key success in Williams’ career was increasing the female representation in the team to the highest of any in the paddock, up from 7% to 17.6% in five years.

This was achieved through active recruitment, unconscious bias training for staff, mentor programmes and a change in culture.

“That’s quite considerable change, but it doesn’t come just organically,” said Williams.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the inequity of women in the workforce, with more of the so-called ‘shecession’, a downturn where job and income losses affect women more than men, reversing many of the equality gains achieved since 2017.

“We have to get the critical mass at the grass roots level,” she said.

Women entering science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects at degree level are still significantly outweighed by male counterparts, impacting the diversity of talent to both Formula 1 and chemicals.

“Girls have got to start focusing on the STEM subjects in school. If you haven’t got that pipeline, then it’s going to take a generation to transform things,” said Williams.

The pipeline all the way to leadership role was key to Williams to transform the sport, with no female team principles since she left in 2020, and her expectation that it will take a generation to see a female Formula 1 driver.

According to Williams, diversity in the workplace goes much further than gender – accessibility is also a key aspect, as Williams knows well as her father, Frank Williams, was a wheelchair user since 1986.

“Accessibility in the workplace is one of the biggest factors,” she added, highlighting how difficult it can be to simply gain access to a workplace that is suited for wheelchair users.

The ability and desire to adapt to attract a more inclusive workforce will be key to the future of both the chemical industry and Formula 1, highlighted for the latter by the huge success of the Netflix series Drive to Survive and the recent conquering of the US market.

“So many work environments just aren’t set up for women. They’re set up for men, and women have to work within them and adapt accordingly,” concluded Williams.

“I think Formula 1 needs to make those changes to see more women be able to reach the glass ceiling and smash right through it.”

The next ICIS World Base Oils and Lubricants conference, will take place on 6-8 February 2024 at Park Plaza Westminster, London UK.

Interview article by Katherine Sale

Front page image: Claire Williams (left) speaking at the ICIS World Base Oils and Lubricants Conference. Source: ICIS


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