Vettel and Hamilton Are Setting the Example
If you stopped people on the street and ask them to name Formula 1 drivers, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton would be amongst those most frequently named. Rightly so, as they have a combined total of 11 F1 Drivers’ Championships. However, the legacy they’re leaving behind for future generations also lies off the race track.
Lewis Hamilton has been using his platform more than ever, with calls for more racial diversity in F1. In light of the brutal murder of George Floyd, Hamilton attended a peaceful protest in Hyde Park. At the Austrian Grand Prix, the first race of the 2020 F1 season, each driver sported an ‘END RACISM’ shirt and thirteen joined Hamilton in taking the knee. From then onward, at each 2020 and 2021 race, Hamilton took the knee, wearing different shirts with important messages on the topic of racial injustice. In 2021, the lines from each shirt he wore added up to be a poem by George the Poet (described by Hamilton on Instagram as a “rising artist of colour”). An article from Give Me Sport compiled nine of the shirts into one image.
Hamilton recently spoke of Vettel in an interview, reflecting on the news of the Aston Martin driver’s retirement.
“He has been one of the very, very few drivers in racing history that has stood for much more than himself. He’s used his voice in things that I’ve fought for and stood by me, he’s taken the knee, he’s gone on his own journey and stood on the grid and fought for things that he believed in, and for the greater good.”
Vettel’s presence in the sport will be sorely missed – as an incredible driver and also as a passionate activist for causes such as LGBTQ+ rights, Black Lives Matter, and protecting the environment.
Much of his support for LGBTQ+ rights was publicised at the Hungarian Grand Prix last year.
The driver voiced his disagreement with the anti-LGBTQ+ policies by wearing a rainbow ‘Same Love’ shirt during the pre-race procedures, along with a rainbow face mask. In an interview with the BBC, Vettel was quoted as saying, “I wasn’t nervous or embarrassed by the rainbow colours, or of what people think. I wanted to send a message, and I was very proud to do it.”
He elaborated on why he chose a shirt with the words ‘Same Love’ to the BBC in this article;
‘ “It’s the name of a beautiful song by Macklemore, and I think it explains in a nice way some of the wrong perceptions people have,” Vettel says. “It doesn’t matter your skin colour, it doesn’t matter your background, it doesn’t matter where you come from, it doesn’t matter who you fall in love with. In the end, you just want equal treatment for everybody.” ‘
Hamilton made the below statement on his Instagram before the race shown, voicing his opinions on the legislation.
Just a few months later, Hamilton commented upon the human rights laws against those who are LGBTQ+ at the races in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Abu Dhabi, with a rainbow helmet worn at both races in protest. Quoted in The Guardian, Hamilton said at the time, “The sport and we are duty bound to make sure we try to raise awareness for certain issues we have seen, particularly human rights in these countries that we are going to.”
With races in locations such as Saudi Arabia, I believe F1 drivers and significant figures in the business have a responsibility to address human rights crises taking place.
As the decisions to have Grands Prix is down to Formula 1 and not the individual drivers, there’s not a lot they can do. The two main options include boycotting and protesting. Boycotting the races can only do so much, as the event will still take place without the driver. Opting for a form of protest, like Hamilton did in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Abu Dhabi, is probably most effective.
Another issue that Formula 1 must deal with is the environmental consequences of the sport. This stems both directly from the cars’ CO2 emissions and also the requirement for both its cars and staff to be transported all over the world.
With plans to go carbon neutral by the year 2030, Formula 1 is already taking steps. The organisation has also announced that they plan on using 100% sustainable fuels by 2026.
A topic of potential discussion, however, is whether hybrid engines should be used in 2026, as the fuel will be entirely sustainable at that point. Using biofuels and sticking with a traditional ICE has its own advantages, making the cars cheaper, lighter and less complicated and arguably less environmentally damaging than complicated hybrid engines that use various exotic materials for the batteries and other components.
Vettel has supported the use of biofuels in the future for Formula 1, going on to state, “We have the resources, we burn money, so let’s burn it for something useful that also will find its way onto the road.”
In the past year, he’s taken action to raise awareness for various environmental causes, including saving the bees. Done at the 2021 Austrian Grand Prix, Vettel worked with some local children to promote preserving the environment with a bee and insect ‘hotel’.
At the very next race, Vettel made headlines for staying after the race to collect litter with fans in the grandstands, reportedly staying for hours.
My view is that Formula 1 drivers should utilise their ability to reach millions – for a greater cause.
Though Vettel and Hamilton are competitors, they’ve supported one another’s efforts when it comes to spreading knowledge about racial injustice, the lack of LGBTQ+ rights in places like Hungary, and the effect F1 has on the environment. It is my opinion that the way these two use their platform is something that all F1 drivers should adopt.
In an interview, when asked about Vettel, Hamilton said, “When I talk about the journey that I’ve felt I’ve experienced in this sport and often feeling that it’s been relatively lonely, he’s one of the few people that’s made it not feel lonely. . .”
I realise some may think that sportspeople should stick to ‘what they get paid for’. But when a person is able to spread knowledge and better the environment they are in, should they not act upon that? It’s not as if their racing skills have been neglected in the meantime, with Hamilton winning the championship in 2020, the year he championed taking the knee and began his campaign for a more aware Formula 1.
As for those who believe it’s hypocritical for F1 drivers to speak out about the sport’s impact on the environment, well, what is the alternative? If they protest by choosing to stop racing, F1 will still go on without them. This way they can push F1 from the inside to do the right thing.
To put things into context, I do recognise that the causes I’ve written about in this article are all ones I personally agree with. In that case, I would be a hypocrite to say I only support drivers talking about matters I believe to be important. My dad has just told me of a relevant quote about freedom of speech by the philosopher Voltaire; “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.” But maybe he had a bit more moral courage than I do! 🙂
COVER IMAGE CREDIT: REUTERS/Clive Mason