Motorsport must “be brave” to combat “real threat” from climate change – Vettel

2023 F1 season

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Retired four-time Formula 1 world champion Sebastian Vettel says that the climate change remains a “real threat” to motorsport.

The 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 world champion left F1 at the end of last season after competing in 299 grands prix, leaving the sport as one of its most successful ever drivers with 53 wins.

The 36-year-old was very outspoken in his environmental advocacy during his later seasons in Formula 1 and his concerns about climate change, famously arriving at the inaugural Miami Grand Prix wearing a t-shirt bearing the slogan ‘Miami 2060: 1st grand prix under water’, reflecting the threat posed to the Miami Gardens area where the race is set from rising sea levels as a result of a sustained increase in average global temperatures.

Speaking at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, where he was demonstrating Nigel Mansell’s championship-winning FW14B, Vettel pointed to high winds that led to all Saturday running of the festival being cancelled and the flooding in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy that led to F1’s race at Imola being called off as evidence that motorsport should take climate change seriously.

“I think there is a direct relation between extreme weather and the changing world – the warming world,” Vettel said in a response to a question from RaceFans. “Imola got cancelled. Obviously yesterday, the event got cancelled.

“So I think, provided you are not completely looking away, you see the climate crisis has an impact on a lot of people already today in a lot of places around the world. Imola got cancelled – obviously you had massive droughts in Italy and then, all of a sudden, seemingly never-ending rain. Obviously the rain couldn’t get into the ground, so it was just pushed to the next place and obviously collected in a place like Imola and caused massive floods.

“You had the race in Miami this year, there was a threat because two or three weeks prior – again, it was flooded and the actual track was underwater. So the race could have been cancelled if it happened three weeks earlier. You had the forest fires in Canada which, different winds, lasting a bit longer, probably Montreal would have been kicked off the calendar. So it is a real threat. It might be that next year none of the races are under threat, but that’s not how it works.”

Vettel suggested that if the motorsport industry does not take steps to try and adapt to become more sustainable, it runs the risk of being impacted when governments are forced to take action to address the problems caused by a changing climate.

“You need to recognise that the world is changing and it does have an impact on our lives,” he continued.

“It’s not so much, I think, that the threat or risk that people that might glue themselves onto the track on a race day or maybe at Goodwood, I think it’s more the threat that at some point governments will be looking at things that they can cut and ban and maybe motorsport is at threat and might be one of them. That’s how far I’m thinking.

“I don’t want that to happen, to be clear, because I think it’s a great sport. You see a lot of people turning up today, loving to be here, having a blast. So it will be a shame if we would lose that because we just simply can’t afford it anymore. When you look at something maybe as boring as a carbon budget and you just say, ‘okay, well these sort of events fall off first’.”

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With Formula 1 being a world championship with over 20 rounds taking place across North and South America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia, critics of F1 have pointed to the frequent travelling in F1 and carbon emission produced from flights as one of the sport’s major problems. Vettel says that if F1 can find more sustainable alternatives to allow it to continue to compete across the world, there is no reason why there cannot continue to be a world championship.

“It’s not just for racing or motorsport – it’s for any sport, really,” Vettel stressed. “I think the tennis players have been asked the question whether it’s responsible to fly around the world just to play tennis. It is our responsibility as athletes, but it’s not us alone that can make the difference.

“I think the point is that there are alternatives. I don’t think getting rid of world championships is the answer and stopping everything is the answer. Because, first, I’m convinced it won’t work and people won’t do it and, second, it would be a shame. So it’s about finding alternatives. Many times the alternatives are already in place. We just need to switch and be brave enough to look forward to a brighter future and don’t think the change will always be putting us in a worse place.”

Vettel argues that embracing sustainability and a more environmental approach in many areas of society can have many benefits beyond combating the effects of climate change.

“I think if you look at cities and cities of the future, I think they would be a better place,” he said. “If you imagine less pollution in the air, less noise, less cars driving around – I think that’s a good thing.

“Think of London – so busy. If it was less busy and there would be more places for people to walk, to cycle, more green, I think it would be a nicer London compared with today. It would be a lot less polluted, less dirty, a lot more comfortable. So I think we need to start looking into the future, imagining that it’s going to be a good place and not different to today and therefore a threat and holding on to what we have and, you know, not daring to do the steps. So if you talk about the world championships, I think we should have them in the future. We should have events around the globe. Show these beautiful sights that we have and bring sports to different places, but do it in a responsible way and not in a harmful one.”

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...
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...

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43 comments on “Motorsport must “be brave” to combat “real threat” from climate change – Vettel”

  1. Yellow Baron
    16th July 2023, 13:31

    When talking climate change is mentioned what’s the ultimate goal? To mend the ozone layer? Can someone explain please? Easy to say take climate change and not actually talk about what the focus is on

    1. I don’t have the answers, but does that mean we should do nothing? We don’t know how to fix the world so just to hell with it, let it burn?

      Part of this is driving awareness, so that research can be put in to find the answers. And whilst we look for the answers, to try and slow the damage as much as possible.

      1. Coventry Climax
        17th July 2023, 10:16

        Ah, but the answer is already there, it’s just stop the pollution. That’s a choice, nothing else.
        Reason we won’t make that choice is, that it would affect our economies.

        So we’re trying to find a way to change it without impact on the economy, and package that in all sorts of pretty talk and coloured wrappers. How many cars are there today, which have a label of some sorts that says green, or eco, or something like that? In reality, the only car that’s actually green, is a car that’s painted that way.
        These cars might be more efficient than there predecessors, but that’s about it. Also, you can buy one, but don’t think your old car won’t be around anymore; it just amounts to more cars on the planet.

        Frankly, as long as people think (not know, or have proof) a ‘healthy economy’ should grow 3% a year, and as long as the world population is growing ever faster, creating a sustainable economy just isn’t not possible. There’s no way to grow the food without fertilisers, and fertiliser production happens to be an industry with one of the highest impacts on the environment. And then there’s the use of insecticides. Insects are a pest to agriculture, but a blessing for life in general.

        We’ll need to get rid of at least a third to half of the world population.
        Volunteers, anyone?

    2. I would assume that the broad goal of preventing climate change would be measured in terms of stopping the claimed increase of 1.5 degrees celsius if nothing is done. Reducing or outright removing CO2 emissions would be a significant part in this.

      In terms of motorsport, we could reduce CO2 output via direct methods – powering the travelling F1 circus via renewable sources – and indirect ones like encouraging more energy efficient engines and hopefully the technology trickles down into road cars. Neglecting this would almost certainly lead to less interest in F1 from engine manufacturers, and if we were still on purely internal combustion engine cars we’d probably only have 1 engine supplier left.

      Unfortunately good news sells much worse than bad news, and the fact that humanity successfully prevented further damage to the ozone layer via removing CFCs is a totally separate issue that has gone mostly ignored by the mainstream media. Not to target that sentence of yours unfairly, but I feel it’s a sign that people could be better informed by the media.

      1. Thanks your reply.

        You made me look up CFCs and I now have a greater appreciation of the problem. Your reply contributes more to the solution than a lot of the staunch political debates nowadays.

    3. Coventry Climax
      16th July 2023, 16:35

      Climate change vs ozone layer.
      They don’t really have that much in common, except being caused by mankind stupidly releasing quantities of stuff into the environment that the environment -and ultimately mankind- isn’t happy with.
      If you want to know what the ultimate goal of beating climate change is, then that’s what it is: To stop mankind’s actions from having an impact on the climate. Is climate change bad then? Well, if you don’t mind species, including mankind, going extinct; then just carry on as is.
      I suggest you start actually reading serious, real media about the matter, and those do not include youtube and twitter. Preferably you read the views from ‘both sides’.

      Coming to a motorsports fan site might not be the best place to gather information and gain real insight in this matter.
      I can already feel the comments coming, so I’ll say it myself: That literally includes what I’m saying here.

    4. Ozon layer is taken care of by us but fxing the climate change (CO2) is much harder and impossible if big countries doesn’t do anything (China, Rusland & US for example)
      If a really big vulcano will explode that could help to lower temps for several years.

      1. Coventry Climax
        17th July 2023, 10:00

        Debateable, to say the least.
        But even if that should happen -and ‘work’-, most likely it will just give us an excuse to carry on as usual.

    5. Climate change has nothing to do with Ozone Layer Hole.

      Ozone L:ayer Hole was created by CFC, all the countries in the world banned them and it is recovering

      Climate change is consequence of global warming caused by greenhouse emissions by burning fossil fuels

      1. Climate change is consequence of global warming caused by greenhouse emissions by burning fossil fuels

        This needs correcting.
        Climate change is a consequence of global warming – just (a relatively small) one of the many contributors is emissions released by burning fossil fuels.

        1. If emissions from fuels is a small contributor, which one is the main contributor?

          1. We are. Humans.
            All that we do and consume – because it isn’t limited to burning fossil fuels. We are also reducing the planet’s ability to recapture and store those emissions, and the sheer (growing) number of us is simply overwhelming the Earth as we know it.
            Our insatiable desire for ‘more’ (of everything, including ourselves) is the problem.

          2. Well, farting is not a negligible one. So don’t do it

    6. I’m not certain of this, it’s been a long time since I looked into it, but from what I remember the ozone layer will repair itself over time as long as we are not releasing things which damage it, and it’s already doing so.

      To be fair, the same is true of anthropogenic climate change: if we stop pumping CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, levels will come back down on their own eventually. Unfortunately, this will happen much more slowly, and it’s also much more difficult to reduce our emissions by a significant amount. The best we can really manage right now without a massive and immediate impact to standards of living and global economies is slow down the damage we are doing.

  2. Conceited fool. What’s your carbon footprint, Seb?

    1. Seb talking about climate is about as enlightening as Vaclav Smil talking about how to drive a F1 car

    2. Well, for one he doesn’t use a plane. He went to every European race by train. I’d say that’s a big commitment for an f1 driver.

  3. So far off base “ When you look at something maybe as boring as a carbon budget and you just say, ‘okay, well these sort of events fall off first’.”

    Amazing how successful the big pollluters are at deflecting Vettels attention

  4. CO2 has increased dramatically by about a third since 1950 when large scale industrialisation started, meanwhile sea level has only been remarkable for not responding any differently from the previous 100 years, see the data in
    eg The Battery, NYC

    375 gauges that demonstrate this is all hype designed to bring on world government by stealth. The warming is natural, if this is a ‘crisis’, about which I don’t agree, then there’s nothing to be done about it.

    Seb and all the other celeb advocates of ‘keeping the proletariat in their place’ are either liars or too lazy to look for proper evidence, take your pick.

    1. And here comes the first negationist

      1. Oletros, the owner of that website is also part of an organisation which has been receiving funding from the American Petroleum Institute and ExxonMobil to promote an “alternative interpretation” of climate related data.

        That organisation was also directly accused by a former chairman of having major financial conflicts of interest – namely, that many of the employees of that organisation failed to disclose that they were being employed and paid by members of the American Petroleum Institute and had significant vested financial interests in promoting the production of US petroleum reserves.

      2. This should be a rational, fact-based argument, not a name-calling contest.
        Sancta simplicitas!!

    2. Warming is indeed natural. But the speed and the amount of increase in such little time isn’t.

    3. What a dumb take. That website is bogus btw.

  5. He talks very validly about the matter generally, but specifically regarding the Miami situation, I think he meant three weeks ‘later’ because ‘earlier’ would’ve meant even more lead time to get the track & area cleared of water in time for the event.

  6. All motorsports should cease to exist in order to save the planet. Even electic vehicles and bicycle racing has an unnecessary carbon footprint. Look at the footprint of the support vehicles and the spectators. The climate has been changing forever, refer to the ice ages, etc This man made concept is pure folly.

    1. But what I’m always wondering, in all honesty: what is your plan? Sit back and watch? If you don’t have faith in humans having any influence on climate, do you have faith in humans being able to adapt or are we all screwed?

      What’s the worst thing that can happen, if we invest in a less polluting society and a planet that isn’t going through its resources as fast as we do now, and you turn out to be right about there’s no human influence on climate?

      I don’t know much about the temperature/climate measurements throughout history. However, many climate discussions seem to boil down to people not willing to give up personal luxury or habits, which to me seems rather selfish and/or lazy.

      1. I agree with your first two paragraphs.

        As to your third: there is no limit to human ingenuity so the more concerted effort we take to solve this issue, the less personal luxuries we will have to give up, if any at all. I don’t think calling well-to-do people ‘selfish’ or ‘lazy’ is the best way to reach hearts and minds. Please rise above the toxic rhetoric.

        1. You’re absolutely right and I’m sorry if I added toxicity to the conversation. I thought the ‘rather’ beforehand would make it less harsh, but maybe I should’ve gone for ‘self-centered’ and ‘not proactive’ instead? I don’t know, maybe not being a native English speaker makes it harder for me to weight the words in a sensitive discussion.

          As for the ingenuity: I’m not sure if you’re saying that future inventions will solve our current problems. That might well be the case, but, given the time it takes to get there and implement innovations at large scale, seems to be a tricky path to rely on.

    2. We can keep racing. We can even change back to V12s. We just need to all do our part to reduce our carbon footprint. We don’t need to stop emitting greenhouse gasses altogether. We can still fly to another continent a couple times a year, we just can’t be flying daily. We can still drive cars, we just can’t buy 100 of them. If we do nothing now maybe in the future we might have to take such drastic measures you suggest.

      Your take on the historic climate is flawed so it is understandable you might be upset about being asked to consider future generations and your carbon footprint.

  7. With China burning 4 billion (yep BILLION) tons of coal annually to keep the lights on, running around in V8 powered cars is not going to change any climate measures. Vettel needs to go to China and harangue Xi to reduce coal usage.

    Lets be real.

    1. Throwing more data onto servers with another comment doesn’t help either – the interwebs is pretty energy consuming too.

      However it’s fairly easy to just point at China and say: “well as long as they’re not doing anything, I definitely don’t have to anything”. What is wrong with putting your best foot forward and say instead “if it all goes haywire at least I did my best”.

      1. Yes one can be like Don Quixoti and tilt at windmills. There are two problems.

        One is the elephant in the room and that there are between 4 to 6 billion too many humans in the zoo that makes climate change impossible to control (if it is even possible to control).
        Two is the virtue signalling “climate change” perpetrators who make no concessions in their own living arrangements but want to restrict everyone else’s. Ask Al Gore how he is mitigating climate change. Maybe ask Vettel what he is doing. Oh look driving a ice powered Williams at Goodwood.

        If he truly believed that one must walk the talk, he should have stayed home. Otherwise the word starting with H can be attached to his rhetoric. Bit like all those attendees at the Cairo COP27 climate meeting that flew there in their private jets, talked hot air, demonised Joe Average for not doing his bit and flew home to spout more pompous bulldust without changing anything in their lifestyles.

      2. Exactly.

        If the West curbs carbon, then pressure on China will mount. That also eliminates the Chinese charges of hypocrisy against the West.

    2. Coventry Climax
      17th July 2023, 12:18

      So you’re OK with littering the parks and streets or the environment in general, because someone else does it too.
      Wow, that’s a grown up vision!

    3. Well, rework the number by subtracting their emissions needed to produce our crap.

  8. The use of tyres at this event looked like it could have been a little more sustainable!

    1. @bullfrog

      The use of tyres at this event looked like it could have been a little more sustainable!

      I had a similar thought listening to the commentators on the drift session talking about how many sets of tyres they got through.

  9. Seb makes an incredibly good point here: it doesn’t matter if you believe in climate change or think that motorsport shouldn’t talk about it. That’s not going to be what affects the viability of events going forwards.

    If severe weather effects continue to pummel regions – from wildfires to extreme heat events like in Rome this past weekend to the Imola flooding, storm warnings and logistics disruptions – governments paying for grand prix will find themselves under scrutiny. This year has been particularly affected and, as Seb says, maybe next year won’t be at all but this is always going to be a risk factor, always going to be a problem going forwards. While the calendar is as huge as it is, with almost no wriggle room to shift a date, events will be affected and the risk of ponying up the money and paying for the facilities and infrastructure for a grand prix that has to be cancelled and potentially refunded the week beforehand is going to get prohibitive even by promoters’ standards.

  10. All bits help. In an absolute way, but also in ‘setting an example’ way. This notwithstanding it feels futile and narrow minded to discuss all these little things in detail. Focus should be on the real solutions. We are with too many people on this ball in space. Wars, pandemics and birth control are the means to really make a change. As I -and luckily many with me – hate wars and pandemics we know what to do. In the meantime there should be a contribution margin overview, meaning we should express anything we discuss into a percentage it is going to contribute to the solution. Then, and only then we can create focus and eliminate useless debates and green washing.

  11. Under the “Climate Change ” narrative generations of lives and their achievements have been stolen and swept away.
    In the right moment measuring metan levels around Vettel could lead instant termination of Herr Vettel in the name of “Saving Planet”.
    Best way to march forward is to restart the brain of the brainwashed, easily programmable, validation seeking biological matter.

    1. generations of lives and their achievements have been stolen and swept away.

      Whose lives and achievements are being stolen by the realization that we are killing ourselves and the planet? A bit hyperbolic maybe?

      1. Ironic that the current driver demolishing the grid right now comes from Netherlands because the example i give to you is related to the same country.
        Dutch government is using land expropriation to cut off large number of farmers from their livelihood which dates back for generations – of course with the help of EU ” targets. ” Technically this is just stealing in the name of ” global warming” which does not exist. So i know you are doing your job or misinformed mission but big diesel generations behind Formula – E garages does not lie.

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