Formula One’s Green Grovel


NASCAR may have conquered the U.S.A., but U.K.-based Formula One is still the world’s motorsports king. And like all auto-related endeavors these days — particularly those based in righteously green Europe — the sport is under intense pressure from environmentalists to repent for its sins.

Last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix brought one of those familiar, cringe-inducing moments when a Green-targeted “environmental criminal” grovels before its accusers. To much fanfare, F1’s organizers decided to shod the world’s premier race cars with green-grooved, Bridgestone tires to symbolize its commitment to the planet. The starting grid of 20 cars looked absurdly like too-big toys sitting on spearmint-striped candies.

“We hope the launch of the ‘Make Cars Green’ tire will draw public attention to the many environmental initiatives in and around Formula One,” Bridgestone CEO Shoshi Arakawa announced.

If this sounds pointless for a globe-trotting sport that draws 100,000 spectators in RVs, trucks, and cars each weekend to watch the world’s fastest race drivers flog machines with engines revving to 19,000 RPM, producing 750 horsepower, and gulping gas at a rate of 3 mpg — it is.

F1 advertising itself as green is a little like Al Gore doing a news conference in font of his 10,000 square foot home (though I doubt that today’s in-the-tank political press would even notice the irony).

Fortunately, however, the world’s automotive sporting press hasn’t been brainwashed (greenwashed?) and Bridgestone’s stunt was met with the howls of derision it deserved.

As Edward Gorman of the London Times reported, Bridgestone’s “green” initiative seemed to involve little more than urging its customers to keep their tires inflated (thus allegedly improving fuel mileage). “This will do little to convince the skeptics,” wrote Gorman, “who argue that even if F1 is trying to embrace hybrid technology and cut costs, the best contribution the sport could make to stopping global warming would be to put itself out of business.”

But things really got comical when Formula One rolled out two of its multi-millionaire stars, Lewis Hamilton of England and Felipe Massa of Brazil, for a press conference to explain how they contribute to “greener motoring.” The two drivers looked uncomfortable and stage-managed and for good reason: They both jet-set from race to race aboard their own private jets.

Massa explained with little conviction how he always checks the tire pressure on his car. Then Hamilton claimed that he tries to take public transport as much as possible.

That was too much for the assembled scribes, who needled Hamilton, asking: “The bus service in Geneva is pretty good is it, Lewis?” (Hamilton lives in Geneva for tax reasons). He was then asked — to more guffaws — if he used the bus in London. “No way,” admitted one of the planet’s most recognizable sports superstars (if you live outside the U.S. anyway). “It would be a disaster. I’d have to have a moustache and a hoodie.”

Next presidential debate, I say ditch Bob Schieffer and hire a British automotive journalist.


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