Vettel ran all-women karting event in Saudi Arabia ahead of country’s first F1 race

2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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Sebastian Vettel organised an all-female karting event in Saudi Arabia to encourage local women into motorsport, ahead of Formula 1’s first race in Jeddah.

The Aston Martin driver, who has previously raised concerns over the human rights standards in some countries F1 visits, acknowledged the criticism levelled at the sport for arranging its first race in Saudi Arabia.

“Obviously there’s been a lot of talk and thoughts heading into the race here, the first time we race in Saudi Arabia and a lot of questions that have been asked,” said Vettel.

“I’ve asked myself and I was thinking of what I can do,” he explained. “I think in general, we have so much attention, so much focus on negative examples when it comes to shortcomings of certain countries in regards to maybe human rights and other things. But I really tried to think of the positives and so I set up my own karting event today under the hashtag ‘Race for Women’.”

Vettel arranged a private race which “a group of seven or eight girls and women” attended. “I was trying to pass on some of my experiences in life and obviously on track to do something together to grow their confidence,” he said.

Vettel took a group of women karting in Jeddah
Saudi Arabia revised laws prohibiting women from obtaining drivers’ licenses four years ago, ahead of the first FIA event held in the country. “In Saudi Arabia, women have only been allowed since 2017 to drive a car,” Vettel explained. “So some of them had a licence, others they did not. Some of them were huge F1 enthusiasts, others had nothing to do with Formula 1 or racing before today. So it was a good mix of women from different backgrounds and I think a great event.

“Everybody was extremely happy and I was, I have to say, very inspired by their stories and their background, their positivity about the change in the country. It’s true that if we look from a western or European lens that there’s still lots of things that should be improved and have to be addressed. But it’s also true that some things are changing, and for those people, they make a huge difference.

“In the end it’s very difficult for us coming to a country where we spend maybe only a couple of days and trying to be a perfect judge by not knowing the background exactly and the people inside out. But this way, I think for me, it was important to get to know some of these women. It was a very, very memorable and inspiring day and a great way to kick off the weekend.”

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Further progress is needed in the country, Vettel acknowledged. “It’s clear that some things aren’t going the way they should, but that’s our point of view,” he said.

“It’s also probably true that things are always taking time and it’s progress. I would love to change the world in some things overnight now. But who am I to judge about right and wrong? I think that’s a slippery slope.

“But it’s true that some countries, some shortcomings are bigger than in others. I think there’s trouble in Germany, there’s trouble in the UK when it comes to individual freedom, probably to a different scale and level.”

Vettel believes the best way to make progress is through setting positive and inspiring examples. “I feel that we don’t really get anywhere by just highlighting the negatives and being so negative because in the end, it makes you sad.

“But much more inspiring, I find, is to highlight the positives and listen to those who have been touched and whose life has been improved. To see that today, these women, the confidence they have in an area that is male-dominated when it comes to driving or racing, to give them the chance and the focus, I think it’s been great. It’s given me a lot of pleasure as well, even if it wasn’t a race or something that maybe people imagined, but just the fact that spending time and giving something back some of my experience, they really enjoyed that.

“So I think that’s for me, that’s the happier way to look at things, to focus on the positives rather than just focus on the negatives. For sure there are shortcomings and they have to be addressed. But I still feel the more powerful tool is the positive weapon than a negative one.”

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2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a motorsport and automotive journalist with a particular interest in hybrid systems, electrification, batteries and new fuel technologies....

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30 comments on “Vettel ran all-women karting event in Saudi Arabia ahead of country’s first F1 race”

  1. Jeffrey Powell
    2nd December 2021, 17:51

    Well done Seb…

  2. Doing a really good job. Seems both he and Lewis are really trying their best to move something forward. Thanks guys.

    1. Yep, good on both of them, Lewis wears a T shirt and says stuff, Seb’ gets in there and does something.

    2. Not really.

      Seb is doing it all by himself.

      Sir Lew just wants big corp to do it for himself –and get the credit of course.

  3. What a guy. I like his mantra that positivity is a more potent weapon than negativity.

  4. Sen continues to impress me with his positive attitude towards changing things! Bravo!

  5. The beheadings can start once the race weekend is over, then they’ve got a whole year to clean up.

    1. @OOliver Next season’s event comes less than four months after this one, so not that much time for cleaning up.

  6. Well done, Seb! I am glad he was able to make this opportunity available to women who would otherwise not likely have it

  7. as telling as women allowed to drive only 4 years ago is as a symptom of an ill, and apparently recovering, jurisdiction, there’s sadly much worse things going on in the place. And for all the good spirits that Vettel can put into this, I can’t really empathize with this kind of twisting towards the “positive or good side”. But there’s no real mistake from him really. The guy is just trying his best. The real and only mistake was to put a race there in the first place.

    1. RandomMallard (@)
      2nd December 2021, 19:16

      @alfa145 Stefano? As in, Stefano Stefano? I thought you weren’t meant to mention the human rights abuses. Ross and Liberty won’t be very happy now ;-)

    2. Virtue signaling people like Sir Lew marry the negatives –and do close to nothing.

      Conscientious people HAVE to be positive otherwise their (and is their) project goes nowhere.

      Thanks Seb for leading by example.

  8. hats off..

    It is easy to be silent when raising your voice will open you up for criticism.. but he went beyond and actually did something. Sometimes it is difficult to truly know the intention of words, they might be (wrongly or rightly) dismissed as lip service. But actions of this size can only seem genuine. So I’m happy for him…

    On the bigger scheme of things, in this particular pond, it’s just a pebble… not yet a proper stoning *cough
    But I’ll applaud him anyway.

    …unless it turns out it was a sponsor event and he got even paid doing it :-)

  9. Cheers to Seb and to the ladies!

  10. Whilst Lewis is cheap talk and very few actions, the same can’t be said about Vettel. However, those actions are meaningless in the big picture, as generally those things related to “raise awereness” are just a fancy way of chasing the rainbow.
    But if he’s happily living in the contradiction, let him do it, as long as he doesn’t harm others, no problem.

  11. Amazing attitude and initiative. Since he doesn’t have a say in where he races, I applaud that he’s something instead of only washing his hands

  12. Publicity stunt. I like racefans as they usually look beyond the obvious.

    1. Depends on what you mean by publicity… If it’s about raising awareness about how women were not allowed to drive just a car a couple of years ago (and on many other issues much bigger that are happening in Saudi Arabia), than yeah, you could call it a publicity stunt. He’s obviously not gonna teach those girls much about carting in just a few minutes, but it might encourage some to try the sport.

      On the other hand, if you’re implying that Seb was trying to get attention for himself or his team, I don’t think he’s that kind of guy, never was. He doesn’t even have a social media presence, he’s more private usually.

  13. Nice, Seb does cool things nowadays. He is much more adorable now, than the person he was at his career heights at Red Bull, the lows at Ferrari made him better and humble in the end.

    Nice photos, looks like a joyful event.
    There is some mistery for me about the photos although: the overall of the ladies, are having some oil stains? But only on the back. Maybe the karts were not very clean, or they have done the mechanics job for themseves, or they sat down onto the track to have a nice chat :) Or they are like this by design? (There is a proverb in my native language -bad me- : The one who is curious, gets old early.)

    1. + I find this quote maybe the most spot on/likeable:
      “But it’s true that some countries, some shortcomings are bigger than in others. I think there’s trouble in Germany, there’s trouble in the UK when it comes to individual freedom, probably to a different scale and level.”

      Yes, there are problems to solve everywhere, and I think there will always be, the world and the attitude of many should change a lot.

  14. Seb seems to have found some really great ways to getting his messages out there without coming across as sanctimonious as some.

    Great to see him contributing.

  15. Good initiative from Sebastian.
    On my level, I’m considering not watching this race. I remember reading that at some point drivers and team principals spoke up about the situation in South Africa and the FIA eventually canceled the round until the political situation improved. And it did (not solely because of F1, but it contributed).

    I’m disappointed Liberty Media decided to make such a deal.

    1. …yep, and David Hasslehoff brought down the Berlin Wall as well.

      1. … with help from KITT.

        1. ….to save us all from KARR.

  16. Grassroots!

    As it should be!

  17. Constantijn Blondel
    3rd December 2021, 7:08

    “[…] so much focus on negative examples when it comes to shortcomings of certain countries in regards to maybe human rights and other things. But I really tried to think of the positives and so […]”

    Thank you Seb.

  18. Great job by Vettel to organize this event, but lets not get carried away with it’s ‘success’. Women are still treated like prize pets and Asian workers like expendable slaves.
    The Saudis are far from real change and until there are free and open elections and a real democratic system in place Saudi Arabia cannot pretend to be moving forward on human rights.

  19. Seb is really doing the business. Brilliant stuff. My respect for him is growing.
    The Saudis are so far behind on general human rights which makes it so important that any action or activity or publicity highlighting that fact and bringing pressure on the Saudi government and other leaders to make change can only be a good thing.

  20. Way to go Seb. Were all the children fan questions during the drivers’ press conference asked by boys?

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