“We want to demonstrate what’s possible in an exciting and innovative sport”

“We want to demonstrate what’s possible in an exciting and innovative sport”

Mercedes F1’s head of sustainability, Alice Ashpitel, discusses the team’s ambition to be the ‘world’s most sustainable sports team’

F1 aims to be net zero by 2030. Many other sports organisations have similar goals, but the inextricable connection between F1 and technological development has established a direct link between the sport and everyday society, where other sports must find ways to generate this connection themselves. 

For instance, one of F1’s main sustainability goals is developing a sustainable fuel that will power the cars’ hybrid engines as soon as 2025, which could eventually be used in road cars. 

Another goal is maximising logistics and travel efficiency, but organisers of the sport are not alone in these ambitions. Eight-time constructors’ champions Mercedes also places heavy emphasis on sustainable fuels in its sustainability strategy. Mercedes is one of the few sports teams in the world to invest in sustainable aviation fuel. 

Last month, the team announced its plans to use biofuel-powered trucks for the entire 2023 European season, targeting a 60% emissions reduction after a successful trial for three races in 2022 resulted in an 89% reduction in freight emissions.

Alice Ashpitel, head of sustainability at Mercedes F1, talked to TSR from the team’s headquarters in Brackley – where many sustainability initiatives have also been enacted – to discuss the team’s biofuels scheme, their sustainability ambitions, and the wider sustainability landscape in F1. 

TSR: When did tackling Scope 3 emissions become a strategic priority?

AA: Scope 3 emissions are core to our business due to the international nature of the sport. And there’s been some great work in the team for a number of years to drive down emissions. So since 2018, the measured emissions of the team have gone down by over 50%. There’s been some really great work but a lot of that has been in Scope 1 and Scope 2, getting our own house in order. So looking at the energy on site and things like that. 

And what we realised we really want to do as part of our net zero strategy, which we launched last year, and our new sustainability approach, is that this international impact of our sport is where we really want to drive our impact. It’s where we’ve got an opportunity to have a big reduction in our emissions and demonstrate what is possible in such an exciting and innovative sport. So that’s where the focus on Scope 3 has come from. It’s why we’re looking at these deep emissions cuts in transport logistics. And it’s a really exciting place to sit at the moment because it allows us to go beyond our own direct approach in the factory and look at the entire impact of the team. 

TSR: What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome to make the biofuel trucks initiative become a reality?

AA: Our sustainable fuels strategy covers a broad spectrum of initiatives, and within the biofuel trucks for the European season one of the interesting challenges following the trial that we did last year for the final three races of the season was understanding that it’s still a new market. And so while the European market is fairly evolved in terms of biofuels, there are still some significant sourcing challenges in some parts of Europe. One of the challenges this year, and what’s been one of the drivers for us, has been understanding what is possible and where we need to work further to unlock sourcing, so that’s why we’re on this journey to get to a 100% sustainably fuelled European season. It’s definitely been an interesting experience and a learning curve. I think this is going to be a game changer given that these trucks drive 9,000 kilometres. That’s a huge impact on our footprint and why we really want to be tackling this.

TSR: How can this supply issue be addressed? 

AA: Being able to show that you can go racing at the highest level and that you can get to all of the races across the European season, be competitive on track and do that in a sustainably fuelled way is going to be really key. And that’s what we hope we can use our platform to demonstrate. It’s really pleasing to see F1 also just announced that its got biofuels in its trucks for this season as well. It’s about creating this wave of change and showing that there is an appetite in the market as well, and that will hopefully stimulate further uptake.

TSR: Do you think you’ll end up using the trucks beyond Europe or to reduce flight travel distances?

AA: F1 will make decisions on the calendar ultimately, and we welcome the work that they’re already doing to streamline that. The reason we’ve launched the sustainable fuels strategy now is because it’s the work that we can do right now to reduce that footprint. The European season is target number one. It’s also why we’ve looked at sustainable aviation fuels to tackle most races where at the moment we are flying and where we have to fly. We want to be doing it in a more sustainable way.

TSR:  On aviation fuel, do you think it will be possible to go beyond a 50% reduction in emissions?

AA: Absolutely. I think what’s really, really exciting is the announcement we made last year to invest in sustainable aviation fuels was the start of our journey in this space. What we’re hoping to do is now grow that investment. We truly believe that sustainable aviation fuels can be the tool that allows us to continue to go racing but in a more sustainable way. So we’re continuing to explore more book and claim options and as the market becomes available, we will also be really interested in direct refuelling with sustainable aviation fuel as well.

TSR: For a world championship, it’s kind of unavoidable and has to be confronted at some point, doesn’t it?

AA: We wanted to show that there’s a market appetite for this field and that we believe it can be a game changer. And we’re willing to invest in it. We want this to grow and we want this market to scale so that we can continue to race at the most exciting level.

TSR: You’ve touched on the team’s platform to show what you’re doing. Has there been a favourable response amongst fans so far? 

AA: You hear people talking about the Netflix effect and ‘Drive to Survive’ has been incredibly positive for the fanbase of the sport. And it’s also brought a younger and more socially engaged fan base than we’ve ever had before in the sport, which makes my job really exciting because it allows me to tap into that and all of the work that we’re doing to drive sustainability, right from the top of the business down. Embedded in all of the decisions that we make is creating this positive wave of change that we’re seeing people respond to in a positive way. And that’s been really exciting and what we hope to continue to do in the future.

TSR: Do you think it’s a case of actions speaking louder than words for the team and F1 to show what you’re doing?

AA: F1 announced its net zero commitment in 2019 and that was a really strong signal that the sport and the teams are driving towards a more sustainable future. We announced our net zero commitments last year. So that’s where we want to reduce our emissions by 50% by 2026, and 75% by 2030. These are really ambitious targets for any organisation. For a sports team to be doing it, that’s travelling around the world, if we can demonstrate that it can be done and we can do it in a credible way, I think it’s a really powerful tool to show that sport has this massive positive influence on the climate crisis and on sustainability. 

I think it’s a really positive step change that a very small part of the team’s emissions come from racing a car; a much larger part of the team’s emissions come from our logistics transport, and that’s where demonstrating that we can make a positive change is really our platform.

TSR: There’s an increasing trend in sport where away from the field of play, teams are open to sharing and collaborating in terms of sustainability. Are Mercedes open to that?  

AA: I think we’re really open to using the sport, the collaboration with F1 and the other teams to make this positive change. There’s already a group set up within the sustainability leads of the F1 teams to come together, set up by F1, to allow us to collaborate, acknowledge the challenges, share information about what’s happening trackside and what we’re doing back at all of our various bases, because we’re all in this together and that’s where we can have the biggest impact.

TSR: Biofuels are also going to be powering the team’s base at upcoming tracks, and there’s obviously the new regulations on the horizon in 2026 with the new power units. Are there any other sustainability initiatives coming up for Mercedes? 

AA: Sustainability is embedded across everything that we’re doing at the moment and the sustainable fuels strategy is just one arm of our whole approach to net zero. We’ve recently announced a lot of work that will be going on at our base here in Brackley to embed sustainability across the site as we redevelop it and really ensure that our home, as well as trackside, is as sustainable as possible. So that’s going to be a really exciting journey for us over the next few years. 

We’re also looking at a whole host of activities that are both small and big. So looking at our commuting impact as a team. We are in a lovely part of Northamptonshire, but the public transport is not necessarily as good as it could be. So looking at ways in which we can reduce our team’s commuting impact is a priority for us, as well as enabling everybody to have an impact on our sustainability journey, whether you are based at the track or here in the factory.

TSR: You’ve improved the knowledge of staff within the team about sustainability and why it’s important. Has there been a positive response to that overall, with people happy to get behind the initiatives that you’re doing at the factory?

AA: Yes, overwhelmingly, so it’s been really great to see. I think what’s fantastic is that it’s driven from the top down. I see the senior leaders of the team talking about this, engaging with staff, then the whole team kind of challenges me when I’ll be walking around and someone will go, ‘I’ve had a great idea about this, could we talk about it?’ So it’s quite rare for me to go a week without having different conversations with new members of the team about ways we can improve, and I think that really shows that the passion for sustainability is embedded right across the team and it makes my job a lot more rewarding and enjoyable.

And they’re the experts in their field. As the sustainability leader, I can provide them the principles, but it’s really to empower them to make these positive changes.

TSR: Okay, so going back to the new regulations in 2026 again, there’s been talk of a better sustainability framework separate from on-track regulations. Where do you think the team will invest from 2026 when hopefully this new framework is in place?

AA: The first thing to say is that we really welcome the changes that the FIA made to the regulations last month to allow sustainability innovations to be unlocked pre-2026. And that’s really enabled us to get started today. Then we welcome the collaborative discussions to unlock a whole new set of sustainability initiatives from 2026. But really our focus is a lot has been unlocked, and we want to, embed biofuels across our work, embed the sustainable aviation fuel strategy and explore what is a host of really exciting opportunities between now and 2026.

TSR: Either now or from 2026, are there one or two things that you’d like the FIA to do to make the sport more sustainable, or do you think they’re on the right track?

AA: The collaboration that’s been set up between the teams has been incredibly powerful and allowed us to work together to constructively drive sustainable change. And we’re all at the start of this adventure to make the sport more sustainable. It’s really positive to see the changes that have been made around net zero and driving engagement across all of the teams so I think we’re on a really good path here.

TSR: Mercedes have this ambition to be the most sustainable sports team in the world, so you’re pushing to be at the frontier of this area. For 2026, there’s the new engines that require an element of sustainability as a minimum, but do you think F1 needs to incentivise teams to go beyond the minimum requirements for this and to take sustainable action, or do you think everyone across the board is showing motivation in this area to push the boundaries and go for it?

AA: It’s difficult for me to speak for other teams, but given what we’re seeing in the engagement of our team members towards sustainability and wanting to really be active and involved in this space, I think it is naturally coming across in our team here at Mercedes. We’re really seeing that the change is happening and that we’re driving these positive improvements within the frameworks that we have. We’ll obviously welcome constructive discussions to expand those even further, but we’re already seeing a really positive impact.

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