Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel has become known for highlighting important social and environmental concerns as one of the F1’s elder statesmen.
Vettel, who turns 35 years old in July, is now one of Formula 1’s eldest drivers, with the four-time World Champion not afraid to use his stature within the sport to highlight issues he feels command more public knowledge and pressure.
The German driver is a staunch supporter of the LGBTQIA+ community, and frequently shows his support through his clothing and racing paraphernalia. Vettel also has become an economic activist, highlighting issues of concern through the means open to him.
At last weekend’s Canadian Grand Prixfor instance, Vettel chose to highlight Canada’s mining of tar sands and wore a helmet early in the weekend to display imagery of the ecological damage being caused by such mining. It led to a backlash from several prominent Canadian politicians, who labelled Vettel a ‘hypocrite’ for his stance, given his profession and team sponsorship from Saudi oil company Aramco.
Alberta politician Sonya Savage, Canada’s Minister for Energy, was particularly annoyed by Vettel’s stance and, following a very public Twitter thread denouncing Vettel’s actions, the German driver changed his helmet back to normal for the remainder of the weekend.
I have seen a lot of hypocrisy over the years, but this one takes the cake. A race car driver sponsored by Aston Martin, with financing from Saudi Aramco, complaining about the oilsands. 1/3 #ableg https://t.co/8gaMl7JeFj
– Sonya Savage (@sonyasavage) June 17, 2022
Vettel addressed the situation in an exclusive interview with the Telegraphsaying that he has felt the responsibility of standing up for some issues weighing on his shoulders as he has matured.
While Vettel was previously best known for cheeky jokes and poking good-natured fun at other drivers when not on the circuit, he said he has felt the change coming over a number of years.
“It’s not an overnight thing,” he explained. “It’s very different to what I sounded like 10 years ago. But look at the age on my passport. There is a time and an age for everything. I’m very happy that I discovered these other subjects, because they made my world grow.
“It now feels very natural to talk about them. Human history is a story of great inventions but also one of exploitation and injustice.
“These things have to be said, because they are a part of where we are today. It feels like a responsibility. I’m not telling people to buy a certain drink or a certain shirt because it will make me richer. I’m not interested in that. Human rights and the climate crisis are bigger than anything else.”
Vettel, an intensely private individual in his personal life, lives in rural Switzerland with his wife, childhood sweetheart Hanna, and his three young children. The eldest, Emilie, was born in 2014, Vettel’s final year with Red Bull before switching to Ferrari. It’s in fatherhood that Vettel feels he discovered the importance of wanting to help make the world a better place.
“It does change you, but I believe for the better,” he said.
“My kids have helped me to understand that there is so much more, how to experience love in another dimension. It is the most important thing, to look after them and to make them a better version of yourself. I’m in a very privileged position. My job never felt like work – that’s not normal. So, I want to use what life experience I have to help make my kids happy in their lives.
“I’m not an anxious person, but I reach points where I’m very anxious. There’s a term for it: eco-anxiety. For two years, the pandemic put a lot of people into misery, but it also distracted a little from the climate crisis that is going on. It will not halt. It will call for more action on our side. We don’t have time to waste.
“A lot of people don’t have the luxury to read up about this. The younger generation is better. Young people are much more aware than you’d think. You speak to eight-year-olds, they know that littering is bad, that single-use plastics are bad. We need to tell the truth that a large part of our lives is not sustainable.”