Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel had no reservations about boycotting the Russian Grand Prix, adding that he hopes peace can be achieved between Russia and Ukraine soon.
Vladimir Putin ordered a horrifying invasion of Russia’s neighbours after months of escalating tensions, and over a million people have now fled the country.
Speaking during the first pre-season test in Barcelona last week, Vettel affirmed that he would not be going to Sochi even if F1 decided to hold a race there.
“I think it’s horrible to see what is happening, obviously if you look at the calendar we have a race scheduled in Russia,” he told reporters.
“For myself, my own opinion is I should not go, I will not go. I think it is wrong to race in that country.
“I’m sorry for the people, innocent people who are losing their lives, getting killed for stupid reasons,” he added, before describing Russia’s leaders as “strange and mad.”
The race that was set to be held in September has now been cancelled by the FIA, and branding of Russian and Belarusian companies has also been prohibited.
Vettel insists that there are times when one cannot sit still and say nothing, and said he could not stay silent on Russia’s war on Ukraine.
“I think everyone has an attitude. The question is whether everyone always dares to share the attitude,” he told Motorsport.com.
“I’m not shy about that, quite the opposite. I think there are certain topics where you can’t remain silent.”
The 34-year-old “can’t imagine” the pain and suffering many in Ukraine are going through right now, and insists that no one wins in these circumstances.
“It’s a strange feeling to even get out of bed when you start the day with the news, to motivate yourself when you know exactly that there are things that are much more important,” he added.
“Innocent people are already having to die. You can’t imagine the situation.
“I don’t think there’s a winning side to this kind of thing. [It is an] absolute shock, and I think the consequence is very clear.”
The four-time world champion is sure that the other drivers share the same opinion as him, and hopes for a de-escalation of the conflict.
“Right now everyone is busy with themselves, but of course this is an issue that is bigger than anything else. I’m sure all the other drivers share the opinion. Anything else would surprise me,” he explained.
“But it’s not important at first whether we speak out or not. The important thing is that maybe the situation will relax, that it will come to an end.
“I don’t think anyone wants it to escalate further and get further out of control, but that seems very difficult at the moment.”
The German indicated that humanity won over commercial interests in the cancellation of the race in Russia.
“Values and morals should come before everything else. Business is not important at all in that respect,” he stated.
He also stressed the importance of heeding lessons learned from wars gone by, and laments that the situation in Eastern Europe has now spiralled into a war.
“If people go to war and die, I can’t imagine that at all. I, like everyone else, sat there and learned a lot in history class and listened a lot. I found it all very interesting, what happened,” he said.
“I still think it’s extremely important to continue to have these things in your conscience and to continue to be made aware of them. You can’t forget things like that. And you become all the more aware of such things now.
“As I said, there was hope that things would settle down. It’s terrible that it’s now getting out of control.”
Vettel stresses that racing is not the priority at the moment, as peace in Europe is being violated by Vladimir Putin’s deadly regime.
“Whether someone drives fast or slow, whether the car is good or not, it’s all secondary,” he added.
“We all had a life growing up without confrontations, without wars. There was a phase at the end of the 1990s, but to be honest I was still a small child then and didn’t notice or understand much.
“Now to witness and hear that people are being sent to the front and are putting their lives in danger, and some have already died, that is terrible.”
While the former Red Bull and Ferrari driver reveals that he is always told not to weigh in on political issues as an athlete, he finds it impossible not to speak out about the terrifying war in Ukraine.
“As a human being, you can only see it that way. I wouldn’t understand if you couldn’t share that in that sense. Even if, as an athlete, you are always told not to get involved, but to stay out of it. In that respect, there are simply weightier issues. And I have no problem sharing my position on them,” he explained.
Like many Europeans and people around the world, Vettel is astonished by what has happened in the last week, and reinforces his belief that Russian leaders are “possessed by madness.”
“I can’t speak for Europe. But I think I’m as European as many others. In that respect [I am] very, very shocked,” he added.
“I wish it would settle down after all, but some people seem to be possessed by madness. They have, I think, their own truth and their own reality. That then others have to suffer for it and be punished with their lives, that doesn’t make sense.”
The FIA has ruled that Russian driver Nikita Mazepin will be allowed to race this year, but he must do so under a neutral flag.
Motorsport UK, meanwhile, has placed a ban on Russian drivers and competitors participating in events in the country.