‘It hurts me people like Charles and Max don’t have freedoms I had’: Vettel explains F1 exit

2022 Hungarian Grand Prix

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Last Wednesday, just over three weeks after his 35th birthday, Sebastian Vettel decided to call time on his Formula 1 career.

He is one of the most successful drivers in the sport’s history. Only two drivers – Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher – have scored more than his 53 grand prix victories. Juan Manuel Fangio joins that pair as one of only three drivers with more world championships than Vettel’s four.

He could have carried on several years more. But for years Vettel has been weighing his desire to keep racing in F1 against his wish to spend time with his family – and his fears for the future of the planet. Now the balance has tipped, and this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix will begin a 10-race countdown to the end of a storied career.

Vettel has made his growing concern for the state of the environment increasingly clear since he joined his current team Aston Martin from Ferrari at the beginning of last year. That has inevitably stood in stark contrast to his occupation, a fact he has freely acknowledged, frankly describing himself as a “hypocrite”.

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Yas Marina, 2010
Feature: The five teams of number five – Vettel’s F1 career history in pictures
Speaking to RaceFans and other media at the Hungaroring yesterday for the first time since announcing his decision, Vettel explained how it was influenced by his increasing awareness of the dire threat climate change presents to the planet.

Within the space of a few years, Vettel has gone from being an occasional agitator for F1 to ditch its efficient V6 hybrid turbo power units in favour of thirsty V12s to demonstrating the potential of sustainable fuel, organising post-race litter collection and teaching schoolchildren how to build bee habitats. He is certain that his departure from F1 will make no difference to how seriously it views the threat of climate change.

“When it comes to the climate crisis there is no way that F1 or any sport or business can avoid it because it impacts all of us,” he explained in response to a question from RaceFans. “So maybe it will be pushed back or maybe it will be more quiet. But it’s only a matter of time, that we don’t have.”

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He is by no means the only environmentally-conscious F1 driver – Lewis Hamilton has used his huge social media following to spread similar messages for years. Nor is environmentalism the only cause which Vettel has leant his support to: In Hungary last year he spoke up in support of the country’s LGBTQ+ community following the passage of homophobic legislation.

(L to R): Charles Leclerc, Ferrari; Max Verstappen, Red Bull; Silverstone, 2022
“People like George, Lando, Charles, Max – they don’t have the same freedoms as maybe Lewis and I had”
But for any competitor in a sport which is invariably characterised as “gas-guzzling”, promoting environmental causes is inevitably fraught with contradictions. Vettel has grappled with those as he has grown increasingly concerned about the planet’s future.

“I think the biggest part is probably if you look at Lewis or myself, we’re older now than we were 10 years ago – which is the same for you and everyone in this room – and I think there’s just a normal sort of progression

“We have the immense privilege of travelling the world, seeing so many things. And if you don’t ignore everything, then it does something to you. I’m not a standing-out example, I look at my friends around me and their thoughts are very different to what I remember the thoughts they had when they were in their early twenties. So I think part of it is just normal.”

He sees F1’s new generation of twentysomething drivers – Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris, George Russell – and notes how their generation will be forced to make more compromises to their lifestyles due to the growing concerns over the environment.

“What hurts me is that people like George, Lando, Charles, Max – they don’t have the same freedoms as maybe Lewis and I had. And whoever is coming after them will have even less freedoms because it will be more and more central and dictating more and more the way we are living and have to adapt our lives.

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“That I don’t think is fair and I’m prepared and ready to fight for this sort of justice and fairness to have the same, for the kids that are go-karting today, to be able to have the same racing career that I had.”

Vettel has demonstrated cars using sustainable fuels
Vettel admitted his concern over the environment and the impact he had upon it by being an F1 driver was “one of the factors that definitely played a role” in his decision to leave. “I can’t give you a number in terms of percentage, I think that would be silly.

“But for sure seeing the world changing and seeing the future in a very threatened position for all of us and especially for generations to come, I understand that part of my passion, my job is coming with things that I’m not a fan of.

“Obviously I’m travelling the world, racing cars, burning resources, literally. [They] are things that I cannot look away from one. I think [once] you see these things and you are aware then I don’t think you can really un-see it.

“It’s not the main factor, like I said, it is a combination of many things, but it is also part of the the driver behind it.”

He has said before and reiterated yesterday “I don’t mind the people calling me a hypocrite because I know that I am” because his views and his occupation are in such sharp conflict. “I don’t need to be told.”

But that feeling of hypocrisy has not driven him out of F1, he said. “It’s not about how much of a hypocrite you are or you’re not,” he explained. “It’s more, I feel, how much you can do. Some of us can do a lot, others can do very little, but it all makes a difference.

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“It wouldn’t be fair to sit here and just say that as an excuse and it would be also the wrong driver behind the decision like that, because I’ve done this my entire life, it’s been the centre of my life for so long.”

Canadian GP protest helmet sparked “hypocrisy” claims
If his concern over the environment is a ‘push factor’ driving him from F1, a ‘pull factor’ is his desire to be with his young family. “My children they are literally growing every day: My family and other interests, other things that I would like to spend more time on.”

However he admits he cannot say at this time whether spending more time on these things will prove “satisfying enough” in his life after F1.

“I don’t know. Time will tell. I think always when you decide to head into a different direction, you don’t really know what’s waiting for you behind the corner. But I’m very curious to find out and more curious to find out what’s next then hanging on to what’s now.”

Hamilton has used his popularity as a means to spread awareness of the issues closest to his heart, but he isn’t ready to call time on his F1 career yet. Vettel did not want to draw out his career simply because it gave him a platform to advocate the changes he wants to see, though he admitted it crossed his mind.

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“I think it would be the wrong motivation to keep doing what I’ve always done to be competitive and to win just to express your opinion on some topics,” he said. “I think that would be the wrong motivator, it feels like the wrong thing.

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin, Hungaroring, 2022
“We are facing the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced”
“Obviously I thought about that as well. Maybe yes, maybe I will lose voice and reach. But to me, voice and reach have never been up at the foreground. It has always been sort of the message because it’s what I really believe in.”

While he acknowledges there is much about the state of the environment to be concerned about, Vettel also sees room for optimism, and is now looking to channel the focus, energy and determination which made him one of the most successful F1 drivers ever into bringing about positive change.

“I do see that we are facing the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. And if we don’t win this race then the world will keep spinning, but without us.

“I’m into the subject and I think once you become aware, it’s maybe also a little bit the character you grow to when you are always trying to find the next thing and the next thing, trying to be curious about what could make you faster, what could give you the edge. It’s the same sort of characteristic that made me look for more answers, ask more questions, and it leads onto the next thing.

“By realising how big the challenge is, I think there’s a big temptation to get into a negative spiral and to sort of panic and become very anxious about the future. But at the same time I’m reading a lot about it and hearing a lot and meeting a lot of people that are shifting the world in the right direction and making the world a better place and really fighting, committing and sacrificing their lives even to make it a better place in the future.

“So there’s plenty for us to be done, but I think in the foreground that’s always been my beliefs, not an agenda or campaign.”

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2022 Hungarian Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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41 comments on “‘It hurts me people like Charles and Max don’t have freedoms I had’: Vettel explains F1 exit”

  1. I wonder whether he parks his wealth in offshore havens to avoid taxes like many of the ultra wealthy .

    1. You’d do exactly the same if you had a fortune.

      1. Sure, but would Flavio, then spend his time trying top
        Play conscience for the world?

        1. I can assure you that governments have enough money (to be honest they have much more than what’s needed). Politicians get richer using their power and influence and people think giving them more money will solve any problem.

          1. Governments have money because they heavily tax the income of the poor while the wealthy make sure there wealth is not taxed. Yet, the wealthy do make use of all infrastructure and public facilities the poor pay for. Poor get poorer, the rich get richer.

      2. I wouldn’t. I’m in support of my country.

  2. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
    29th July 2022, 9:10

    Bertrand Zobrist origin story.

  3. Nice to see that Seb followed his heart.
    He could have easily made several more millions racing another year, or several years.

    I know people will say: “what difference does it make, another driver will take his place and emit lots of CO2 being in F1 and Jenner will still take her private jet for his of 15 minutes, etc”. But we must start somewhere and the best place to start is with ourselves.
    If more people like Seb not only speak up, but also act by really changing their lifestyle, maybe just maybe, these polluting plane trips become socially unacceptable, also for rich people.

    1. But would he quit if his career wasn’t at a dead end? I find it hard to applaud people who have fulfilled their life’s dream and now spout truisms to supposedly save the world. Besides, he will probably continue to have a bigger carbon footprint than the average Joe.

    2. Kimi Raikkonen went for the cashgrab and if was a shame. He stayed at least 5 years too long. Glad Seb is doing this

      1. Not sure what you are talking. It’s either 3 years or 8 years. His reputation took a big hit in 2014. After that there was no point in retiring when Ferrari gives you more contracts. Then all those last 3 years at Alfa Romeo was not quite necessary.

        1. What you said it what I was talking about.

  4. Vettel could be the next Lauda. No-nonsense, straight approach, sharp mind and understanding of human nature. All mixed up with 15 years of F1 experience.

    But it seems he took a turn after 2018 and there’s no way back. Despite of his convictions and all, it took just one tweet from a (Canada?) politician to push him over the cliff. And I bet you she (the politician) wasn’t even targeting that, it was just an answer to his harsh comments.

    But he took it so personal that I think it will take some time until he lands a podium in his new environmental race.

    And you thought Hamilton was dirty in Baku 2018, right Seb? Wait until you meet the social media universe…

    1. That’s a weird write up. I can’t tell if you’re trying to joke or not.. seriously.

    2. Melwin dreger
      30th July 2022, 5:17

      Not sad to see him go. I think he needs to do more homework before commenting about environmental issues he doesn’t really grasp
      I respect him as a driver

  5. He has to make reparations with himself for earning all that Saudi Arabian money at Aston Martin.

  6. F1 was his passion. Now he grows older and sees the awful possibilities facing future generations, he has new passions and that’s good. Change is good. Seb is embracing this.

    A clean, low carbon emission future will be good for all of us. One that also includes a recognisable F1 would be a great future

    1. ryanoceros666
      29th July 2022, 14:44

      Well put!

  7. “In Hungary last year he spoke up in support of the country’s LGBTQ+ community following the passage of homophobic legislation.” He did the same in Saudi Arabia, right?

    1. Lol there were bombs being throw nearby. Maybe he thought the activism could wait for a bit

    2. Gotta love how ordinary people’s main activity on the internet seems to be to look for contradictions from famous people and call them hypocrites for it.
      As if everybody else just speaks their heart out on any situation no matter the outcome.

      It probably was wiser given the situation, to tone down his words for the sake of everybody involved, including his team.

      But Mr. Nobody here, thinks he should have thrown caution to the wind just so as some people with nothing better to do would not call him a hypocrite.

      1. I was mostly kidding. Of course it didn’t make sense to flare things up in what was already a scary situation. But at the same time, I think it’s perfectly fine for peopleto call out perceived hypocrisies. Why not? These are public figures conveying political messages, they are as fair a target as politicians if they are going to engage in political issues. Furthermore, I think Seb understands and accepts that. He’s acknowledged his own hypocrisy publicly before, which I think in part is why he’s quitting.

        So I think it’s all fair.

        1. lol, it wasn’t meant for you, man. I should have marked the guy’s name there.

  8. What does he think going to happen? Of course people gonna scrutinized F1 drivers more after they pushed their political agendas to their own fans mouth. Of course media would like to have a piece on grilling hypocrites on camera.

    1. If anything I feel the old generation was much more free. I don’t quite agree on that point. Ever since Lewis suddenly came to the conclusion that he’d be an activist (after 13 years in the sport) once doing so became trendy, it has become an expectation for F1 drivers to say and do certain things. You can’t joke about certain things, you can’t even refrain from sharing certain opinions in social media, like Max who gave his opinion, in person but then got attacked for not having a social media post.

      Drivers today have to be so much more careful with what they say and do, because it will be misconstrued as support for this or that political inclination. That’s why you have more drivers that are PR machines, and so few Villeneuves, Montoyas, or Irvine. The only driver willing to truly ruffle feathers is Alonso these days; and I think he only gets away with it because he’s such a big name already.

      So I’m not sure what freedoms Seb is talking about.

      1. Vettel had the freedom to crank the AC, while max will not have that freedom in Vettel’s brave new world. Max and others will have to wash once a week and use candles for lighting.

        1. lol right

  9. In hindsight Vettel probably should have retired after the 2019 season. He can do without the last 3 seasons especially 2020.

  10. I used to think that he and Hamilton should tone it down regarding their actions beyond the sport.

    But they aren’t doing nothing wrong, those are all very legit causes, people can agree with it or ignore it and just focus on the racing, that’s fine, no problem.

    But the ones who are against it for selfish reasons as “oh, no, they are bringing politics into my sport” then these people are the problem.

    F1 was disconnected from reality for far too long. It’s good to see these great figures and great champions bringing it back, even if only a little bit.

    1. You are just help building a totalitarian and fanatical society if there are no places outside politics.

    2. Sport is often a sublimation of conflict. If politics is brought to sport you will see wars/civil wars starting because sport incidences.

    3. I agree, I thought it was a bad move for Seb and Lewis to get into politics in F1 because unless you know how to play the game you always come out worse off in the end.
      One example Lewis to go full woke in mid 2020 which was not a good move because It probably alienated the high ups at the FIA who agreed with the message but not the way it was executed, imo for this they punished him with the ‘accidental’ screw up ending to the 2021 title decider.

      Michael Schumacher was the best politician in F1 because he kept all of it behind closed doors and ultimately created an alliance that helped cement Ferraris domination in the early 00’s

      F1 is a closed knit community and stepping out of line or getting on the wrong side of people in the industry with connections usually results in retaliation.

      Remember how Max Mosley’s(who was accused of being pro Ferrari) FIA position was made untenable after the infamous BDSM dungeon video was conveniently leaked to the press after he handed down the ridiculous ‘spygate’ fine to McLaren..?

    4. Good fore them, I guess. It’s easy enough to ignore them and enjoy the sport without politics.

  11. There are few characters that can make me proud of this sport. Seb is one of them. An absolutely talented driver. A very intelligent and sensible individual. A great human being.

    It’s not surprising that Hamilton was the one who better expressed how we will miss Sebastian.

    For me, it was such a journey to learn to like and admire him. But it was worth it because it allows me to see drivers as more nuanced people.

    As an aside, I think that his farewell statement is the greatest letter of intention and kind of a legacy that a driver offers to F1 and its future. F1 should embrace his words and use them as lessons that could guide the sport to the future.

    Great man.

    1. Gimme a break. Nobody liked Vettel while he was winning. When he lost to Hamilton, that’s when he became a good boy Vettel. Now he knows his place, and is a good sissy boy fighting for climate. And we will love him as long as he never challenges Lewis again. Lewis destroyed him so badly, on so many levels, total K.O., that he basically became useless, and even became an activist, like Lewis. So this love for Vettel is one of the strangest things ever. If only you liked him while he was winning, you’d have a point, but all this praise after he’s been destroyed and neutered by Lewis is kinda like when the Americans nuked Japanese: First they were really bad, but after nuking them they were the best, disciplined, hardworking, etc. And this is the story that the media also created and everyone swallows it: winner Vettel- bad (who would want another german champion?), loser Vettel-good (Lewis is champion). Every Vettel fan is Lewis fan first, and Vettel is their useful idiot, and if he ever gets on the wrong side of the issues, or challenges Lewis in any way, he will be dumped immediately.

    2. Well said, @becken-lima. CoTD.

  12. If Vettel would read some history… but no… instead he chooses to bring famine and death from cold.

  13. I seriously question the science on this. Yes, we see temperatures rise, but is there climate change or is it climate uncertainty. We just don’t have millions of years of data on weather temperatures from around the globe. We do know that climate has had different cycles of warmth and cold. Greenland wasn’t always white and from diggings we know there have been times that people even grew food up in the mountains. Perhaps this is a cycle for our climate that fits in its history of cycles. We don’t know. It’s uncertain.
    I believe in going into sustainable energy, sustainable consumption and sustainable travel. I’m all for it just for environmental reasons. But the “climate change” theory I have serious questions about. And if it is true and in fact caused by man, I do not believe we will ever stop it without first reducing the human population by maybe 75%.Too many resources are needed to go full clean energy. Too many mouths to feed to do so in a sustainable manner. And too many geopolitical competition to ever get everyone 100% sustainable, as no one trusts each other. Humans as a kind are way too divided.
    And what happens, again if it appeared to be true that climate change is caused by man, when we fail and in the worst case eventually die? Earth will reset itself and start all over. It’s the circle of life.

    1. Indeed one of the biggest issues with climate change is the uncertainty. But this isn’t a reason to do nothing. The more we learn, the greater our understanding and the uncertainty has been getting smaller with each passing year. The intensity and area burned in Australia’s 2019-20 summer was an enormous wake up call. Ecosystems which simply haven’t evolved alongside fire (such as rainforests) were burning! The important thing to remember though is that climate change isn’t the be all and end all of environmental damage. The ongoing loss of biodiversity due to land clearing and altered ecosystems is astonishing. The concerning thing is that people are noticing now because iconic and once-common species are in decline (such as koalas, gang gang cockatoos and even kookaburras). And that’s to make no mention of the long list of plant species at risk of extinction.

  14. I’m pretty sure Lawrence Stroll persuaded Vettel to think of an alternative means of employment, he wasn’t getting very much bang for his buck.

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