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Formula 1

Why Vettel’s protest support is impactful not hypocritical

by Edd Straw
4 min read

Lewis Hamilton has justifiably been lauded for using his global platform to fight for causes he believes in. It has had a tangible impact on Formula 1, as evidenced by the pre-race ‘unity moment’ that is staged before each race. But in a very different way, Sebastian Vettel has also been making an impact.

Hamilton is F1’s megastar, a phenomenon on and off the track with an enormous social media following. He can speak directly to so many through his platform and has used it to positive effect.

Vettel is also a megastar on the track, with four world championships to his name even if his star has waned a little since his time at Red Bull. Yet he’s invisible on social media with what might be termed an old-school attitude to the online world.

Vettel could have an even bigger footprint and speak to more people were he to embrace social media Hamilton-style, but he’s a different character. And as a different character, he can speak to people in different ways.

He showed that earlier this season when he participated in a post-race litter clean-up at Silverstone – one that did make an impact on social media – and again at Zandvoort when he spoke positively about the objectives of Extinction Rebellion, who will stage a protest against the Dutch Grand Prix on Sunday.

Regardless of where you stand on the myriad Extinction Rebellion activities around the world, its message of needing to take action on the climate emergency is what Vettel supports.

And given the overwhelming evidence for anthropogenic climate change, it’s difficult to argue with that message compellingly.

Vettel cut through the rhetoric and the arguments and simply stated the fact that things need to change, that F1 has already made some improvements but much more needs to be done. It was a constructive, non-polarising message.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Belgian Grand Prix Race Day Spa Francorchamps, Belgium

Some who read about Vettel’s comments on this will have dismissed him as a hypocrite. After all, how can you support tackling the climate emergency while simultaneously warning that “if we don’t get it, “then I think there is no future” when you are involved in Formula 1?

To some, that might appear to be the definition of cognitive dissonance. How can you participate in something that is, by definition, frivolous but that consumes and emits so much?

But Vettel can back the activities of an organisation that is protesting the staging of a grand prix because he understands that the solutions lie not stopping activities, but in change. And for change – real, fundamental change – to happen it demands understanding.

Understanding can be achieved in different ways for those attempting to enlighten others. Vettel’s measured explanation of some of the ways F1 needs to change to reduce its contribution to climate change offers tangible, achievable steps that it’s difficult to argue with. After all, who can seriously be against the reduction of unnecessary rubbish?

Vettel could easily have dodged the question or dismissed the protests, but he offered a strong personal position and then, when asked to do so by The Race, reeled off some meaningful action that could be taken.

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

Hamilton’s position is more headline-catching, certainly. It probably reaches more people, but Vettel’s more low-fi approach conveys the message in a slightly different way. Different people have different ways of communication, and the same applies to those listening. You need to cover all bases and the pair make effective, contrasting ambassadors.

And neither is afraid to speak their mind, as Vettel showed at Zandvoort and Hamilton did at Spa with his calls for fans to be refunded for a Belgian Grand Prix unworthy of the name. Before the summer break, both drivers also spoke out against what’s widely seen as an anti-LGBTQ+ referendum in Hungary.

Sep 02 : S4 E9: Multi 21 - Malaysian GP 2013

Vettel wore a ‘same love’ t-shirt and rainbow face mask, the latter of which he’d take onto the Hungarian GP podium – a second place finish that he’d later be stripped of.

It’s a shame Hamilton and Vettel have never, and likely never will be team-mates. What a duo they would make, on and off track.

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