Aston Martin driver Sebastian Vettel admits that he is probably not Formula 1’s favourite person as a result of him campaigning for change, but stresses that it is not so simple as to boycott races in countries like Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix went ahead this weekend in the midst of claims of multiple human rights violations by the state, who executed 81 people in one day.
A 14-year-old boy also wrote to Sir Lewis Hamilton having been placed on death row, and the Briton subsequently reiterated his position from last year that he is not “comfortable” racing in Jeddah.
The race this year appeared in jeopardy after missile attacks on an Aramco facility seven miles from the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, but after hours of deliberation with F1 management and Saudi authorities, the drivers opted to continue with the event as scheduled.
Vettel suggests that it is difficult to simply withdraw from commitments in a country, and sees the significance of making a tangible difference in the nations Formula 1 visits.
“How independent can you be when you’re on the payroll?” he told ARD in Germany.
“You can say ‘boycott, don’t even go there’. On the other hand, you can go there and represent our Western values, show our freedom and stand up for it.
“The question is how brave can you be when you are a paid guest?
“It’s not like Formula 1 chooses where to go on the map. It’s more that countries are coming towards Formula 1 and it’s part of the business model that venues are putting a lot of money into it.
“Do you dare to speak out against it when you are there? On the other hand, there are certain values that we have to stand for because they outweigh financial interests.”
The four-time world champion maintains that racing drivers and athletes in general have the power and platform to see things from a rational perspective and advocate positive changes.
“It’s not just about Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and the Olympics were in China. The question is how many countries are left out on the calendar?” he pondered.
“But actually it should be a simple question. It’s all about role models, especially for young people. On the one hand it is entertainment, on the other hand you also have responsibility and you should make sure that you go ahead with the right values and symbols.”
The Aston Martin driver, whose team is sponsored by Aramco, held an all-women karting event last year ahead of the inaugural Jeddah race, and he remains adamant that he will not be silenced in his quest to transcend his role as a racing driver and effectuate contemporary attitudes.
“Some people panic a little when these topics come up. There are people who really want to influence what I say about it,” he added.
“I am not exactly the most popular driver in the eyes of the Formula 1 organisation. But nobody can tell me what I have to say or not to say, even if people don’t like what I may say.”
Vettel has been unable to contest the race in Jeddah this year due to him contracting COVID-19, and he was replaced by Nico Hulkenberg as he was in Bahrain.