For Staff Health and Safety, Formula One Schedule Isn’t Sustainable

Formula One has been lauded for its initiatives to be net zero carbon by 2030. And while addressing the effects of climate change is necessary, it’s time for F1 to address how its grueling schedule is affecting its staff.

In a September article by F1 Correspondent and Presenter, Lawrence Baretto, he noted how the environmental impact report during the 2019 season revealed that 256,000 tons of C02 emissions were generated. It was around this time when F1 set an ambitious timeline to achieve net zero carbon by 2030, and that since the declaration was made, everyone from teams to promoters jumped on board with the plans.

You don’t have to have a strong opinion for or against climate change to realize that from pollution to deforestation, humans have caused environmental damages around the globe. Therefore, it’s important for businesses to address their environmental impacts and set tangible plans to minimize damages. But for the global circus sport that is Formula One, those impacts and damages contain a special human component that’s just as important.

F1 is already recycling and reusing race materials, as well as donating unused food to charities in race communities, which helps. But an interesting note in Barretto’s article highlighted promoter guidance for 2022 with a point of emphasis on “wellbeing and nature.” Does this mean VIP oxygen bars and sound baths or organic snacks and track walks as opposed to vehicular tours? While F1’s initiatives for race events are well intentioned and important towards achieving its goals (both environmentally and for profitability), more needs to be done to ensure the wellbeing of its staff to maintain the quality of race events.

This begins by making sure that the 2023 schedule isn’t duplicated.

Before the Chinese Grand Prix was cancelled for 2023 due to COVID, it was estimated that the 24-race schedule spanned 83,000 miles. For reference, the equatorial circumference of Earth is 24,901 miles, making the F1 schedule about 3.3 trips around the globe. We already know the environmental impacts of commercial and freight flights involved in this schedule, as well as private jets, hotels, and ground transportation. What we also know is that if world-class athletes capable of sustaining up to six g-forces in a race aren’t impervious to jet lag, then neither are the cameramen, presenters, pit crews, or anyone else who makes these races possible. Also, keep in mind that most of these ancillary crew members are also contracted out for support races, so it’s not like they’re just sleeping or leisurely gallivanting between F1 events.

According to an NCBI journal from 2012, “prolonged transmeridian air travel can impart a physical and emotional burden on athletes in jet lag and travel fatigue.” In the review, they also determined that “jet leg is recognized as a sleep disorder that is experienced after rapid travel across multiple time zones.” The review also determined that jet lag was “associated with impaired daytime function and general malaise and may include other somatic complaints, such as gastrointestinal disruption.” The journal specifies that jet lag and travel fatigue symptoms can be expected for “one day for each time zone crossed until the body realigns its circadian clock, regardless of direction traveled.” Meaning, if a crew flies from London to Las Vegas on a Sunday, they’re crossing nine time zones. So by the maths provided, that crew wouldn’t even be fully adjusted by the time they returned home from the race.

Moreover, when teams hire and train pit crew members–for example–they’re put through a demanding rigor of physical and mental conditioning so they’re the best at their jobs. Muscle memory is critical in what they do and repetition is a huge part of that. But if scheduling is depleting these people mentally and physically without resolve, teams could be looking at an increased attrition rate. Obviously, that aspect is speculative, but something teams should be paying extra attention to this upcoming season.

We know that Formula One isn’t going to be deducting races from the calendar, nor should they. F1 is having a meteoric rise, which is a welcome sight considering that just a few years ago, we were all concerned about its viability. This era of F1 has been legendary, and the new rules have brought a curious and energized fan base that’s been great for the sport. That said, Formula One and the FIA have to do everything in their power to make the product better. Therefore, to align with its environmental goals, regional schedule blocking is the most responsible way to go from next season on.

For less than two hours every other Sunday from March through November, we’re blessed with watching land fighter pilots stretching technology to the limits, and usually under hot, and exhausting conditions. Behind the scenes of Formula One are men and women who sacrifice sleep, health, and major moments in their families’ lives to put on these tremendous shows, and we owe it to everyone who is a part of this circus to make sure they’re supported.

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