x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

How green is your grand prix?

As race day draws closer, we examine the environmental credentials of the newly opened Yas Marina Circuit.

An aerial view of the Yas Marina Circuit, where all manner of environmental issues were taken into consideration when the site was being developed.
An aerial view of the Yas Marina Circuit, where all manner of environmental issues were taken into consideration when the site was being developed.

In June this year, the Isle of Man hosted a zero-emissions grand prix. It was a motorcycle race involving 13 electrically-powered motorbikes. Meanwhile, last year, the Wales Rally GB, part of the FIA's World Rally Championship, held a carbon-neutral event - research revealed that the rally cars contributed just five per cent of the event's carbon emissions - so other strategies were implemented, such as carpooling for race officials, recycling and the purchase of carbon credits from The CarbonNeutral Company.

Motorsport doesn't have a great reputation for being eco-friendly, although Formula One does claim to have been carbon-neutral for more than a decade. However, the organisations involved in the development of Yas Island are keen to make the public aware that a motorsport facility has been created with the protection of the environment in mind. Cosmetically, the Yas Marina Circuit is certainly looking green, with velvety green turf rolled out around the track along with the planting of established trees. It's more to create a television-friendly image rather than any serious attempt at carbon offsetting. But behind the scenes, all manner of environmental issues had to be taken into consideration when the site was developed. These issues will be far from the minds of F1 fans on race day, but if you are one of the ticket-holders tomorrow, spare a thought for the people who have made sure that Abu Dhabi's world-class motorsports facility is an environmentally sound as possible.

Being an island-based development, the Yas Marina Circuit developers had to ensure that the extensive construction would not affect the water quality or marine life in the area. To create an environment where dolphins can still swim within earshot of a grand prix was no small task.

Iyad Alzaru, environmental manager for KBR, the project management company for the Yas Island development, explains that a balance had to be struck between creating a world-class motorsports facility and protecting the natural habitat. An environmental impact study was conducted before work began and a management plan devised to cover a range of issues.

"We monitor the water quality with staff from the UAE University in Al Ain," says Alzaru. "They have excellent facilities and lab technicians. With proper monitoring we can predict adverse impacts on the environment and make plans accordingly." When dredging took place around Yas Island to keep tides at bay and create facilities, such as the marina where people will be watching the race from yachts, silt curtains were used on the dredgers. The silt curtains prevent sediment from covering fish eggs - which kills them - keeps the underwater environment clear, so fish can see their prey, and stops sediment from lodging in the gills of fish and suffocating them.

Keeping land-dwelling wildlife safe while the track and surrounding facilities were being built was another consideration when Yas Island was transformed into the home of Abu Dhabi motorsport. Alongside Yas Island is Mini Yas Island and Alzaru says the gazelles and ostriches of Mini Yas are "all protected" and haven't been affected by the development on the main island. A 2 sq km mangrove forest has also been built to preserve the natural environment on the western shores of Yas Island with 115,000 mangrove plants donated by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed. The centrepiece of the facilities, besides Yas Marina Hotel, is the looming Sun Tower, a viewing building located at Turn One, just beyond the start/finish line. According to circuit officials, solar panels will make this VIP viewing area, which is designed to mimic traditional Arab male formal robes, completely self-sustainable for electricity.

John Wigham, marketing manager for Cracknell, the landscape architecture firm working on the Yas Island development says their plans go beyond making the site picturesque enough for the television cameras for tomorrow's race. "The world doesn't end on grand prix day," Wigham says.

Describing Cracknell's strategy for Yas Island as "revolutionary", Wigham says their Yas Island project does not just involve cosmetic improvements, but the development of a community where people will live, work and spend their leisure time. To this end, rest areas, cycle paths and a grass car park for the grand prix that will become a public leisure space on non-race days are all part of Cracknell's plan.

Other amenities such as football pitches. exercise parks and tennis courts will eventually sit along with the race track and Ferrari World, which is expected to open in 2011. Tamsin Faragher, a landscape architect for Cracknell, took The National on a tour of the site, in particular the areas that will be used for parking at tomorrow's race. "It's a green park with room for 10,000 cars and, after the race, it will be a family picnic area," explains Faragher. The area will be covered with a "fortified grass", describing it as "Hummer-proof".

An extensive tree-planting programme has also been undertaken, with plenty of date palms, Washingtonia palms and Indian almond trees already in place. "We need lots of plants that use less water that we know will survive these conditions," says Faragher. Other plants, such as the colourful, tough bougainvillea, are also being used on the island, with Faragher saying she was not a fan of the plant when she worked in her native South Africa, but since moving to the UAE she says she likes "any plant that grows here."

Volcanic rock and a water-retaining soil additive have also been used to cut down on irrigation costs on Yas Island. The island will shortly have its own sewage treatment plant so the grey water it produces can be used for irrigation. This will not only save money and water but will also reduce traffic and emissions on the island, as water trucks will not be needed. Even the thoughtful disposal of racegoers' rubbish has been considered, with the installation of Envac, a hi-tech vacuum-based rubbish disposal system on Yas Island. Normal looking bins actually conceal a network of powerful vacuum suction devices and pipes that channel the rubbish to a central waste collection point. This will eliminate the need for excessive rubbish collection trucks all over the island and help minimise carbon emissions.

In October 2007, the FIA released a rather turgid document entitled "Make Cars Green" which simply repeated statements made by organisations such as the United Nations and the European Union's parliament about improving the carbon emissions created by cars and promoting alternative fuels. But it was six years earlier in 2001 that the FIA started to put the theory into practice with the establishment of the FIA Foundation, a registered UK charity that promotes environmental protection as well as safety in roads and motorsport. To offset the carbon emissions from F1 and World Rally Championship races, the FIA has, since 2002, contributed to forestry projects in Mexico.

Other green projects the FIA Foundation has undertaken include funding climate change conventions in Edinburgh, Milan and Rio in 2003 and, from 2008, the FIA has supported Plan Vivo, which offsets carbon emissions through reforestation initiatives in Mexico, Mozambique and Uganda. KERS - or Kinetic Energy Recovery System - is another innovation the FIA introduced this year to make the Formula One cars more environmentally friendly. In basic terms, KERS devices convert some of the waste energy from the braking process into electricity, which is stored in the car and used for a boost of power when the driver wants it.

Since 2008, FIA rules for F1 have included the stipulation that 5.75 per cent of fuel used in the cars must be a biofuel. Mike Evans, a fuel specialist for Shell Global Solutions, the fuel providers for the Ferrari team, says that using renewable fuels is "part of F1's campaign to be more environmentally aware." "The fuel we supply the F1 team is very similar to the Shell V-Power that you could put in your car [elsewhere in the world]," he told students at the pre-Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Mastering Motorsports seminar. "But it has to be a light fuel that can go a long way in a race - this offers an extra challenge to the team."

Evans says that teams can't cheat with the new rule either, explaining that every fuel has a "fingerprint" and the FIA can take a fuel sample at any time for analysis. From the ongoing carbon offsetting programme of the FIA to ensuring racegoers' rubbish is responsibly disposed of and protecting natural wildlife, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix's green credentials may surprise F1 fans. With the Abu Dhabi race no longer being the title decider, there may be time for fans to contemplate the water quality and wildlife of Yas Island. Possibly.