McLaren Racing: How Spending Rules Slow Sustainability in F1

McLaren Racing’s 3rd Sustainability Report calls for a costs cap rethink in F1 and Formula E to help teams invest in carbon reduction and ESG

Top executives at McLaren Racing want cost-capping rules to be changed in F1 and Formula E, to enable teams to invest more in sustainability.

In the company’s 2023 Sustainability Report, CSO Kim Wilson and CEO Zak Brown say the cost caps have the “unintended consequence” of restricting spending on carbon-cutting measures.

The report outlines a number of positive sustainability developments.

But Director of Sustainability Kim Wilson says: “When I look back on our sustainability performance in 2023, one thing that strikes me is that just as with our F1 on track performance, it was very much a year of two halves.

“We started the year wanting to invest in sustainability but finding that this was restricted by the F1 and Formula E cost caps, as an unintended consequence of the financial regulations.”

McLaren Racing's Director of Sustainability Kim Wilson

Time to ‘bake in’ sustainability

CEO Zak Brown says: As a sport, we must continue to raise sustainability standards and aim to lead by example.

But only strong collaboration with partners, other teams, rights holders and regulators can help us have a meaningful collective impact.

“For example, we’d like to see further progress around the 2026 regulations, an opportunity to firmly bake key sustainability requirements into this framework.”

Kim adds: “Incremental operational efficiencies are not enough to help us reach our net zero targets.

“We must lean into technological advancement to effectively address the emissions intensity of our operations and I am convinced that collaboration across sectors is the key to unlocking our collective potential to find climate solutions.”

McLaren Racing's global race footprint

Accelerating change

The report includes plenty of examples of McLaren Racing prioritising carbon-cutting initiatives. Progress includes:

  • 16% reduction in race emissions against 2022
  • First team to use recycled carbon fibre on an F1 car, at the 2023 US Grand Prix
  • 25% reduction in Scope 1 and 2 emissions from fuel and facilities since 2019
  • 24.4 tonnes of old kit recycled, reused and repurposed
  • First motorsport team to have a validated Science-Based Targets initiative net-zero target.

Zak says: “We pioneered the use of recycled carbon fibre on our F1 cars at last year’s US GP – an important step towards our ambition of developing a circular F1 car.

“We are proud to have made significant progress towards our ambitious DE&I targets – 45% of new starters in 2023 came from an underrepresented background, including women, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, neurodivergence, the LGBTQ+ community, people from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and military veterans in the US – up 6% from 2022.”

He adds: “This means that, in total, 29% of our team are now from an underrepresented background and we are on track to reaching our 40% target by 2030.”

McLaren Racing has published its 2023 Sustainability Report

Pivoting to data to drive sustainability

The difficulty of negotiating the cost caps has forced McLaren Racing to be creative in order to cut carbon.

Kim says: “This tested our ability to keep our long-term sustainability goals in sight and we had to quickly pivot our strategy.

“Nonetheless, we delivered some great progress within these constraints: using data to gain a much more granular understanding of our GHG footprint, benchmarking ourselves against recognised best practice, driving operational efficiencies and delivering two pioneering programmes to support women’s careers in motorsport – 60 Scholars and the award-winning Returnship.”

The result is a stronger sustainability strategy, says Kim.

“We used those insights to better understand the levers we need to pull to unlock positive change and reduce our negative impact.

“I believe that our sustainability strategy is much stronger as a result and I am encouraged that we have received external validation from the Science Based Targets initiative, the Global Benchmark for Sustainability in Sport and the Carbon Trust.”


A five-point plan

The report reveals that McLaren Racing’s sustainability strategy is guided by five key principles:

Adopting a data-first approach to establish credibility and transparency  

The report says: “To set the standard, we need to be credible. That’s why our approach is rooted in data, and why we’ve invested resources into improving how we track, store and measure our sustainability data.  

“However, in the same way you couldn’t mark your own coursework at school, we can’t just trust that we’re moving in the right direction without having our work checked.  

“To this end, we’ve had our greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint assured by the Carbon Trust for the second year in a row, ensuring we’re equipped with the right insights to make decisions.”

Controlling the controllable and influencing wider change 

The report says: “We're not only taking steps to influence issues outside of our control but also working harder than ever to drive what is within our control.  

“We now use renewable electricity in all our sites, and we’ve installed a HVO biofuel tank at the McLaren Technology Centre, which will reduce emissions of outbound journeys by up to 90% compared to regular road diesel.  

“Where possible, we send our freight by sea rather than air, which in 2023 saved 97% of emissions per kilo and has avoided a total of 1,215 tCO2e since 2021.”

Building a legacy with the Climate Contribution Programme  

The report says: “Greenwashing has understandably led to scepticism when it comes to climate projects - it’s now more important than ever for companies, like ourselves, to use our platforms for genuine good, to accelerate progress and thoroughly consider the reasons behind a project beyond how it looks.   

Reducing our emissions alone isn’t going to be nearly enough, and that’s why, in 2023, we launched the Climate Contribution Programme, which will allow us to contribute to projects we truly believe in.

A circular economy brings significant innovation opportunities

The report says: “Our long-term circular F1 car project has continued since the release of our last Sustainability Report, but we’ve also made inroads in other areas as we work towards a more circular economy.   

“In 2023, we decreased our hazardous recycled waste by 80% by upgrading our machinery and reducing our use of coolant and cutting oil. We also use soluble oil and water to clean and maintain our machines, and our electronics waste is now refurbished, redeployed or reused.   

“As part of our Circular F1 Car project, we worked to develop our understanding and use of data. This allows us to trace the journey of the materials we use - equivalent to 550 F1 cars in weight across a season - from extraction through their use phase all the way to disposal.”

Making diversity, equity and inclusion central to our identity  

The report says: “By 2030, we want 40% of our team to be made up of people from underrepresented groups, which includes women, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, neurodivergence, the LGBTQ+ community and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds.  

“Last year, 45% of new starters and 29% of our team overall, came from underrepresented backgrounds. Twenty per cent of our team, and 31% of our early careers’ population, are now female.”


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