DHL faces challenges to decarbonize Montreal Formula 1 race logistics
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EV Fleets
Jun 7, 2024
Mehanaz Yakub

While emission reduction logistics strategies are working well in Europe, the North American races are still hard to electrify

DHL has been the logistics partner of the Formula 1 World Championship for 20 years. Photo: DHL

While emission reduction logistics strategies are working well in Europe, the North American races are still hard to electrify

It is one of the first truly hot summer days in Montreal. The sun blazes down on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, where the Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix race is set to take place in just a few days.

The grandstands are empty, void of chants from the audience or glimpses of famous faces like Lewis Hamilton, Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen from Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, respectively.

Instead, the circuit is buzzing with DHL employees, dropping off Formula 1 freight containers, unpacking and building equipment and handling forklifts and utility vehicles to make sure everything is in place for practice sessions today and the race on Sunday.

DHL has been the logistics partner of the Formula 1 World Championship for 20 years. The logistics company is responsible for ensuring the delivery of Formula 1 freight — which includes everything from the race cars, tires and fuel, to hospitality and broadcasting equipment — at each race.

The longstanding partnership is evolving and the latest change this year focuses on sustainability.

Ahead of the big race, DHL invited Electric Autonomy to tour the paddock and pitlane, offering a behind-the-scenes look at the logistics and showcasing efforts to reduce emissions in their operations.

Efforts towards cleaner fuels

In 2019, Formula 1 released its plans to achieve net-zero carbon by 2030. As part of the initiative, the F1 organizers mandated its logistics partner, DHL to help reach its goals.

DHL employs a multimodal approach, incorporating air, sea, and road transport solutions, to help reduce the carbon footprint of Formula 1’s transportation methods.

Last year, DHL began using more sustainable operations for Formula 1 by introducing a small fleet of biofuel-powered trucks for road transport during European races.

The operation with the biofuel trucks has been going very well and smoothly, says Mathieu Levasseur, motorsports event manager at DHL Global Forwarding.

According to DHL, each biofuel truck reduces emissions by an average of 83 per cent compared to conventional diesel trucks.

Because of the success of the trucks, DHL is more than doubling its fleet of biofuel-powered vehicles this season, bringing the total to 37.

Levasseur also notes that the biofuel trucks are performing well in terms of cost efficiency and expects this positive trend to continue within their fleet.

DHL and Formula 1 in North America

Meanwhile, in North America, incorporating zero-emission or lower-emission fuels presents more significant challenges.

The Canadian Grand Prix is the second of four North American races. After the first race in Miami takes place on May 3-5, each team’s kits and all the critical equipment must be transported to Montreal.

“North America is a bigger challenge because the distances are big. From Miami to here, we’re talking 2,500 kilometres, then we have to go to Austin, which is almost 3,000 kilometres. So, for sure, trucking with electricity or biofuel is going to be difficult [over] these long distances,” says Lavasseur. “Short distances [like in Europe] are feasible.”

The top priority for Formula 1 and DHL is speed and efficiency. All kits and equipment must arrive at their next race destination as quickly as possible.

Due to this challenge, DHL relies more on air freight in North America. However, even for air freight, the company has made changes to help further reduce emissions.

“When we book a flight now, we try to book flights where we have the capacity to reduce the fuel on the flight, and not go with big freighters,” explains Levasseur

In recent years, DHL has transitioned to using Boeing 777 aircrafts. According to DHL, using the newer, more efficient 777s achieves a 17 per cent reduction in emissions compared to the Boeing 747 legacy aircraft.

Shipping Formula 1 freight by sea

The final option DHL utilizes is transportation by sea.

Sea freight includes non-race-critical equipment that DHL opts to ship by sea instead of air. The challenge with sea freight is that it requires meticulous planning and shipping months in advance. (For example, the sea freight container for the Montreal race was shipped from Japan in April and arrived just in time at the beginning of June.)

But recently, “sea freight operations are increasing. So every year we get more and more sea freight containers,” says Christian Pollhammer, senior event logistics co-ordinator, Formula 1.

There are two main reasons for this: to reduce the carbon footprint and cost, says Pollhammer. Air freight is expensive compared to sea freight, so teams are trying to reduce their reliance on it and reduce carbon emissions.

“There’s constant progress on the environmental front, but it will take some time to get where we need to be in 2030,” adds Pollhammer.

Beyond transporting freight, there are also opportunities to use electric vehicles, such as electric forklifts and utility equipment, during the setup and dismantling of each race.

But the technology isn’t quite ready yet, Lavasseur says. Though he is confident it will get there eventually.

“We tried electric forklifts, but the speed of the forklifts is not at the level we need in performance. Everything needs to be quick and fast, both inbound and outbound. We need equipment that can perform for that reason,” says Lavasseur.

“They’re going to continue developing over the years. We’re not there yet, and a lot of technology is still improving…for sure in the future, it’s going to be part of our operations.”

DHL Group’s electrification goals

In addition to Formula 1’s emission reduction goals, the DHL Group (which operates several divisions including DHL Global Forwarding, DHL Express, DHL Freight, DHL Supply Chain and DHL eCommerce Solutions) has established overarching sustainability goals for the company.

The Group aims to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

To reach this target, DHL Group is implementing several measures including electrifying their vehicle fleet, developing zero-emission facilities and utilizing sustainable fuels across all modes of transportation.

In Canada, DHL Express manages a fleet of 375 vehicles. Each year, these vehicles collectively cover over eight million kilometres.

As part of its commitment to sustainability, DHL Express has already electrified 26 per cent of its Canadian fleet. The company has set a goal to increase this to 60 per cent by 2030.

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