Four-time world Champion Sebastian Vettel has always been among the most outspoken drivers on the grid. He has shown multiple times his active involvement and interest in matters such as diversity, racism, climate change and human rights.
Some of these topics were the centre focus during his appearance on BBC political show Question Time on Thursday night. The program is one of the most-watched television programs in Britain and Aston Martin's driver was at his charming and intelligent best, demonstrating his grasp of a range of subjects far beyond his regular business.
Formula One and drivers showed support for Ukraine after Russia’s invasion. During the show, Vettel brought his insight talking about his homeland, which is especially dependent on Russian gas, and made the case that his country should have detached itself from Russian power much earlier.
“There’s exactly the same debate and the same questions, they are very fair, being asked in Germany,” he said.
“Certainly the latest developments with the situation in Ukraine, with the war in Ukraine, have sparked a lot of talk because the energy prices have gone up and therefore people have less money in their pockets, which I think is very easy and clear to understand.
“Now, the question is, what do you do with it and how do you fix it? And I think it’s a bit of a bigger picture thing.
“In truth, it’s probably fair to say that actions should have been taken long time ago already, and we shouldn’t depend on prices that basically the UK – or Germany or any country – doesn’t dictate. It’s the prices that we and people and households all over the UK, Germany, other countries depend on.
Environmental awareness is a priority of Vettel’s agenda, which he deeply associates to his desire to keep on racing.
“Obviously Germany is very dependent on Russia and now potentially in trouble. […] The truth is that we should have tackled these dangers and threats already a long time ago.
“We shouldn’t be as dependent and we have to shift into the next gear and get ready for the future, not just for the reason of becoming independent and protecting these households that we’re speaking about but also to look after the bigger picture and making sure that we live on a planet that is as enjoyable to it tomorrow as it is today.”
Vettel said cleaner energy sources are part of the solution, but acknowledged that if Germany or other European countries responded more seriously than they did, ’s reaction to the situation could lead to a reaction from Russia.
“It’s a very tricky one because obviously, you don’t want to provoke Russia to act in a way that has consequences on all of us,” he said.
“We should think of energy like ‘peace energy’ or ‘freedom energy’, which is renewable energies. So that’s, I think, the future, not just for an independent way of protecting households and protecting people that can’t afford to pay the bills, but also to shift into the future.”
“You've talked a lot about energy...does that make you a hypocrite?”— BBC Question Time (@bbcquestiontime) May 12, 2022
“When I get out of the car, of course I’m thinking, is this something that we should do?”
On #bbcqt tonight, F1 driver Sebastian Vettel and the panel discuss the energy crisis.
Join us at 10.40pm on @BBCOne. pic.twitter.com/LVMMs4CuvY
The 34-year-old German driver made his F1 debut 15 years ago. The Question Time host Fiona Bruce put it to Vettel that it was hypocritical for him to express concern about the environment while participating in a “gas guzzling” sport such as F1. “It’s true,” he admitted, as some members of the audience chuckled. “And you’re right when you laugh.
“There’s questions I ask myself every day. I’m not a saint, I’m very concerned of when it comes to the future, these topics, when it comes to energy, energy dependence and where we’re going in the future – to finish my point earlier – on energy we need to stop being dependent and we can because there is solutions in place.
“In Britain you have this sort of gold mine you’re sitting on, which is wind, and you have the ability to increase your energy supply with wind power [and] solar. Now, not every country has its strengths and weaknesses. If you go to Austria, they have the Alps and they have water. They can pump it up, store it pumping and get it back down.
“But getting back to [the] point, yeah, it is true, so it’s something that I’m asking myself.”
He admitted part of his concern about continuing to racing in F1 is the pollution caused by “travelling the world” in a calendar which visits over 20 countries per year.
“There’s certain things are in my control and certain things are not. It’s my passion to drive a car, I love it, and every time I step in the car, I love it. When I get out of the car of course I’m thinking is this something that we should do, travelling the world, wasting resources?
“On the other hand we are entertaining people. During Covid we were one of the first sports to start again, when everybody’s heads were about to explode, there were Formula 1 races back on. I’m not saying Formula 1 has this huge position in the world to deliver entertainment, there’s plenty of people if you talk about entertainment, sports, culture, comedy, a lot of people couldn’t perform and then a lot of people miss that and I think if we don’t have that in general, we would probably go mad.
“But there’s a lot of these questions that I ask myself. There’s things that I do because I feel I can do them better. Do I need to take a plane every time? No, not when I can take the car. But like I said there’s certain things in my and certain things outside my control.”
The topic of the conflict came up several times throughout Vettel’s TV appearance, even in relation to Formula One.
“F1 raced in Russia from 2014 to 2021 but one thing we mustn’t forget is that Ukrainian people are suffering today and tomorrow and for probably a long time, and hearing from first-hand from some of the families that were fleeing from Ukraine and trying to look for shelter, I cannot imagine the suffering. I have to be honest because it’s something that I cannot relate to.
“I’ve grown up in a time where there was never a war, let’s say so close – obviously you travel the world, you see so many places and you know that it’s a privilege to be living the way we are in Europe.
He described how his own country had wrestled with the decision of whether to send arms to Ukraine.
“That is exactly the debate in Germany: What are we doing? We need the energy, otherwise what about the economy and what about us and so on. But on the other hand, is that money financing the war and hurting people? So that’s the very difficult point.
“When you think about it, the more it gets sort of complicated and not so easy to answer. But in the meantime, like I said, you mustn’t forget the people. The people are dying, people are suffering. So we must come up with a solution.”
Another hot topic related to the LGBTQ+ community. F1 has raced in countries where same-sex relationships are seen as unnatural and ruled out by law. Sebastian Vettel, however, wasn’t afraid of showing his support to the community – for example, as he did in Hungary last year wearing a t-shirt claiming “same love”