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