On this day in 2007, in an effort to raise awareness of environmental issues, the Honda Formula One (F1) team unveils its Earth Car, a race car emblazoned with a large image of the planet instead of the typical advertising and sponsorship logos featured on most F1 vehicles.
Honda announced that people who made a donation to an environmental charity through a special Web site would get their name (in the size of an individual pixel) on the Earth Car. The vehicle’s debut came at a time when F1’s governing body was interested in shedding the sport’s reputation for gas-guzzling vehicles and wastefulness. As Reuters reported in July 2007: “[G]reen winds of change are blowing through one of the world’s most popular sports, and a growing number of team bosses say they want to make Formula One a high-tech pioneer and leader in fighting climate change rather than a whipping post. Proposed changes include smaller engines, using bio-fuel and restricting the use of wind tunnels — which may be anathema to hardcore fans for whom speed and victory are what count.”
Referred to as the world’s richest sport, Formula One is an elite level of racing in which competitors drive highly sophisticated and technologically advanced single-seat, open-wheel vehicles capable of speeds well over 200 mph. The cars are typically built by large automakers, including Porsche, Ferrari and Toyota, who are known in the racing world as “constructors.” Formula One (individual F1 events are known as Grand Prix races) began in Europe, but later spread to other continents, with drivers competing for national teams that have corporate sponsors. Formula One racing is governed by the Fédération International de l’Automobile (FIA), which in 1950 named its inaugural world championship driver and constructor.
When the Earth Car launched, its owner, Honda, had been involved on and off in Formula One racing since the 1960s. Starting in 2000, the British American Racing (BAR) team used Honda engines in its cars and in 2006, the Japanese automaker purchased the team. However, on December 5, 2008, Honda announced it was withdrawing from Formula One due to the worldwide financial crisis and “the quickly deteriorating operating environment facing the global auto industry.” The cost of operating Honda’s two-car race team in 2008 was an estimated $217 million, according to a December 2008 report in the New York Times.