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Formula 1

Vettel in full: Society, activism and why F1 risks ‘disappearing’

by Mark Hughes
10 min read

As our writers continue to pick their highlights of The Race’s 2021 content, Assistant Editor Josh Suttill selects the in-depth interview with Sebastian Vettel that Mark Hughes was a part of. 

You’ve seen Sebastian Vettel the activist, the F1 driver wearing the rainbow t-shirt in support of the LGBTQ+ community, the green proponent who helps build bee colonies, who tidies up litter in the stands post-race, who advocates equality of race and gender.

But the beliefs underlying these actions are in some cases counter to the actions of the sport in which he’s made his name and which he still loves. That brings a conflict within him and even though the sport has recently sent out messages and statements of support for such beliefs, Vettel is pushing for more action and a deeper engagement with the outside world. He sees a planet in a climate crisis and a sometimes very unjust society – and he wants to talk about it and inspire action around these issues.

So here is Sebastian Vettel’s unabridged take on the issues which are currently concerning him.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Turkish Grand Prix Race Day Istanbul, Turkey

Q – Is it easier to speak up about issues since leaving Ferrari?

Sebastian Vettel: I don’t think so. I have the feeling you speak up once because you get the question, then from there the next questions are going to be asked and I have no problem repeating.

I have certain views on some things. Obviously, some of those things are my opinion and I can see that not everyone agrees but that’s the way I think and I’m happy to stand up for my opinion and equally I’m happy to hear other people’s opinions and learn in the process but there are certain things that we as a society are getting right and certain things that are wrong.

Q – Some people start to change their views on some of these subjects at a specific moment. Has that happened to you?

SV: There’s not been a trauma, an event which has changed my view, no.

We live in a time where certain things are very, very important for us to understand and to apply change and not just to talk about but to act because we don’t have a choice, there is no alternative. To maintain our lives and futures on this planet I think we need to take care of the planet more. That’s one thing.

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin, On The Grid

Then when it comes to human rights, equality, how we treat people, it’s a process. In younger years you don’t necessarily not see these things but you just grow up and mature and see more things and become more and more aware of certain things that are going on in the world.

The disappointing thing for me is that we have had so many shortcomings, so many examples of things we did in a bad way yet we are so, so slow – in F1 terms – to apply change. It’s like doing the same mistake over and over again. In F1 you do it wrong and you can just lose some points and not win the championship. What does it matter?

But in the real world, we are hurting people, not taking care of people and it has a huge impact on their lives. Not just a result or points in a championship, but their chances going forwards in life. It’s a feeling of injustice and this feeling is not right and I’m happy to speak up on it.

Q – What are your views of the recent German elections?

SV: Whoever is going to be in charge, we need to start applying a lot of good things and set examples for the rest of the world. When it comes to the fight against the climate crisis and increasing social justice.

Those are two big points I see and they have huge impacts on other fields. I’m not an expert but that’s exactly what we want, to have a government in charge which has more expertise than previously and will help to finally ring the bell and start the 21st century.

“There are certain countries I think are no-go. We go to some of those places and roll out a red carpet with nice messages on it. I think it takes more than just words, I think it takes actions.” :: Sebastian Vettel

Certain people have had their chances in the past. They’ve been talking about the climate crisis but too little things happen. The Greens I would trust more to make things happen. The other thing is social justice.

Not everyone has the luxury of living a life where you can choose how many times a week you will eat meat or have any discussion about whether the speed limit is right or wrong. We need to look out for those people. It’s only fair and just.

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin

Q – The LGBT movement has different levels of acceptance in all the cultures we visit in F1. Do you think F1 should be more militant about it as a group? Should it be putting on a Pride display in the middle east, for example? Where should it be pitching to get that message across without alienating anyone?

SV: There are certain topics too big to neglect. We all agree – and it doesn’t matter where you come from – that it’s only fair to treat people equally. Countries have different rules in place, different governments, different backgrounds. I can’t speak for all the countries and be an expert because I don’t know.

But there are certain countries I think are no-go. We go to some of those places and roll out a red carpet with nice messages on it. I think it takes more than just words, I think it takes actions.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Hungarian Grand Prix Race Day Budapest, Hungary

You proposed [in your question] something and I don’t know what is the best way of communicating and not just relying on a flag which lies on the track for a couple of minutes, what the best action is.

But certainly, I feel our sport could apply a lot of pressure and could be of immense help to spread that fairness around the globe even more.

I think it’s not right to judge people or apply certain laws which differentiate people just because they happen to love a man instead of a woman or a woman instead of a man. That’s one thing, or the way they look, or their background or the things they believe in. I think any form of separation is wrong.

We should be… we are so much richer because we have all that. Imagine if we were all the same. We wouldn’t progress. Imagine all the cars looked the same in F1, the same colour, the same aero bits. It would be boring and we’d never made progress. We’ve made progress because we were happy to apply different ideas, forms, cultures. Same for us.

We have evolved so much as a species because we are all different and I think we should celebrate the differences rather than be afraid of it.

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Q – A stock response from some is that sport should be neutral and not be involved in issues in the wider world because it brings people together more that way. How do you answer that?

SV: The trouble is that a sport, same as a country, is governed by individuals and they have individual opinions, backgrounds, whatever. It’s difficult but we have to find the perfect people to govern our sport and then find the right path for going forward. There’s more than just that interest of course.

There’s also a huge financial interest but I think at some points the people in charge need to ask themselves the question – does the sport have a moral compass and therefore can it say no to certain things, or do you just say yes to any big deal that’s around the corner? For the wrong reasons. That’s the bigger picture stuff.

Q – Are you ready to hear the criticism of people who say Vettel has gone green but is still running in F1?

SV: Sure and I think it’s valid because F1 is not green. We live in a time when we have innovations and possibilities to arguably make F1 green as well and not lose any of the spectacle, speed, challenge, passion. We have so many clever people and engineering power here, we could come up with solutions.

But the current regs are very exciting, the engine is super-efficient but it’s useless, it’s not going to be an engine formula that’s going to be on the road and which is going to be in your car when you decide to buy a new car.

Therefore, what is the relevance? There are certain things being talked about for future regulations that could shift the change into more relevant areas and if they come that’s a good thing. If they don’t come I’m not optimistic. I think F1 will disappear if they don’t come – and probably rightly so. Because we are at the stage where we know we’ve made mistakes and we have no time to keep doing mistakes.

Oct 11 : Turkish Grand Prix review

Q – Are sustainable fuels the solution for the future?

SV: I’m not a specialist on all the fuels but I’d rather synthetic fuels than biofuels because with biofuels it’s a bit complicated but you need to source your carbon from somewhere. I think there could be some complications there.

“We don’t have time to talk about personal interests or one manufacturer over the other and whether it has been concluded and there is a piece of paper. Because there is something much, much larger at stake.” :: Sebastian Vettel

It’s definitely right F1 pursues renewable fuels, a usage for synthetic fuels but as it is now we have a content of only 10% of e-fuels in the car – which is not a revolution. You have been able to buy that at fuel pumps around the world for several years.

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin, In Parc Ferme

It doesn’t match the ambitions that F1 has to be a technological lead. We react rather than be proactive and lead the way. I’m afraid we might be doing that with synthetic fuels as the engines will be frozen after 2022.

There is some talk something might change but frozen until 25/26, so another five years of no progress which I think will put our sport under huge pressure because in those five years I think a lot of pressure will hopefully be applied around the world and putting things under pressure which haven’t applied any change.

Q – What do those changes need to be?

SV: I don’t have all the answers. But we have lots of engineers. If you look at mobility we could find a solution. We have more than 1 billion cars in the world fuelled with fossil fuels every day. Planes, trains, ships fuelled with fossil fuels. Finding a real alternative for them will have to be one of the solutions for the future other than electrifying cars of finding hydrogen powertrains or maybe something else a clever man or woman will invent in the future.

I think F1 should be introducing synthetic fuels as soon as possible even if some of the regs are already done. We don’t have time to talk about personal interests or one manufacturer over the other and whether it has been concluded and there is a piece of paper. Because there is something much, much larger at stake and we could use our resources- intelligence of F1, all the clever people facilities and money.

And don’t forget for the last 10 years we’ve spent a lot of money on an engine that basically has no relevance to the normal person on the road or the next generation of cars. Each manufacturer spent more than a billion developing those engines. Some of that money is around to push the right cases.

I don’t know what the best solution is but we have to be doing it now rather than discussing it for the next five years.

Q – Is your post-F1 life coming into focus? Are you thinking of a campaigning role or moving into politics?

Gp2116 072829 J5a9675 1

SV: No! Not being a fan of the media I’m not sure politics would be the right place for me. Look at my age and I’m not going to be around F1 for the next 10 years.

For sure I’m thinking about what might be next. I’m easily captured by passionate people even if it’s things I don’t currently have an interest in. I can easily grow a new passion.

For any sportsman or racing driver in the past, it’s been a big challenge to find something. The easiest way would be to become a Sky reporter and find yourself in the same place for the next few years. I don’t see myself doing that but I love the sport and don’t want to turn my back on it and say “never again”.

For sure I’m thinking about other things. I have a family so it’s easy to have things to take care of when I retire.

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