Sebastian Vettel: the F1 'hypocrite' who won't be silenced
On the track, Sebastian Vettel continues to trail the pack. However, when it comes to issues like environmental protection, sexism or racism, the former F1 champion is making his voice heard – not to everyone's liking.
After a one-week break, Formula 1 returns to the track this weekend with the French Grand Prix at the Circuit Paul Ricard near Marseille.
Yet again, 20 cars will race in circles at speeds of almost 300 kilometers per hour (186 miles per hour), the traveling F1 caravan pumping countless tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In 2019, the last season before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, F1 accounted for a total of 256,551 tons of the environmentally harmful gas being released into the atmosphere.
However, just 0.7% of this was due to emissions from the cars themselves. That's "only" 1,795.8 metric tons of carbon dioxide per season. The lion's share is made up by logistics (45%) and staff travel (27.7%), according to a sustainability strategy study published by Formula 1 in 2019.
By comparison, the footprint of a men's football World Cup is much larger – the 2018 World Cup in Russia generated about 2.1 million tons of carbon dioxide.
'Save the bees'
That Formula 1 isn't the most environmentally friendly of sports comes as no surprise. But perhaps the fact that one of its most prominent drivers has become an environmental activist is.
At the last race, the Austrian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel sported a helmet with a special yellow, orange and black design and the slogan: "Save the bees." The 35-year-old is involved in a project that works to protect the species. A few weeks earlier, he drew attention to the way oil is extracted from the Athabasca tar sands in western Canada.
"I think what happens in Alberta is a crime because you chop down a lot of trees and you basically destroy the place just to extract oil and the manner of doing it with the tar sands, mining oil sands, is horrible for nature," Vettel said ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.
However, he did not wear a specially designed helmet to protest this issue during the race. He is said to have been advised against doing so by F1's governing body FIA and his Aston Martin team.
In Miami, he wore a T-shirt warning of Florida's demise in the face of the melting north and south poles and impending flooding. In Baku, he used his clothing in the paddock to promote peace in Ukraine. And during the free practice, he wore a T-shirt that read "Every day is a Friday for the Future."
'Zero tolerance' for racism
Vettel has never been afraid to speak his mind, but now he almost seems more focused on the causes he supports than being a Formula 1 driver.
"I'm not exactly the most popular driver in the eyes of the Formula 1 organization," the four-time drivers' champion conceded. "However, no one can tell me what and what not to say. Even if what I say then is not looked upon favorably."
Vettel is aware of the platform that being an F1 driver gives him – and he knows how to use it. He also didn't mince his words when it came to the racist incidents reported to have occurred at the recent Austrian Grand Prix.
"Whoever these people are, they should be ashamed of themselves and banned from racing events for life," Vettel said. "I think there should be zero tolerance."
End of F1 career on the horizon?
In terms of his performances on the track, Vettel hasn't been making the headlines since leaving Red Bull, where he won his four drivers' titles, and at 35, it's far from certain that his contract will be renewed after it expires at the end of the season.
The fact that the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) has become Aston Martin's second-biggest investor could also be a factor. The British racing team is aiming to use the millions of pounds in fresh funds to pay off its debts.
At last year's race in Saudi Arabia, Vettel criticized the human rights situation in the Kingdom. He also organized the Race4Women in Jeddah, in which only women and girls were allowed to compete.
'Then I'm just a hypocrite'
However, despite his high-minded words of protest, Vettel remains part of a racing series that has stated its intention to become climate neutral by 2030, but still generates thousands of tons of carbon dioxide.
This point wasn't lost on Alberta's environment minister, Sonya Savage.
"I have seen a lot of hypocrisy over the years, but this one takes the cake," Savage tweeted in response to Vettel's criticism. "A race car driver sponsored by Aston Martin, with financing from Saudi Aramco, complaining about the oil sands."
Vettel is well aware of the contradiction between his environmental stance and his profession.
"Then I'm just a hypocrite if I'm doing a job I love but at the same time I'm highlighting environmental concerns," he said. "I'm not a saint. It's not my job to tell people what to do. But I do as much as I can as far what I can control."
From Deutsche Welle Newsfeed