Sebastian Vettel admits to reconsidering his career because of climate change

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Michael Lamonato from Fox Sports

Sebastian Vettel says he’s a hypocrite for being a Formula 1 driver in the era of climate change and that he regularly questions whether he should continue racing.

The four-time champion was appearing on the BBC’s Question Time panel program, similar to Australia’s Q+A, when he admitted his mind is often exercised by Formula 1’s contribution to climate change, a matter on which he’s become increasingly outspoken in recent years.

Vettel is one of the sport’s foremast voices on environmental and social issues. Just last week he eschewed his team gear at the official Miami Grand Prix launch party in favour of a T-shirt urging action on climate change.

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“Miami 2060. 1st grand prix under water. Act now or swim later,” it read alongside an image of a submerged helmet equipped with a scuba snorkel.

During the first COVID-19 lockdown he undertook an internship in organic farming, and at last year’s British Grand Prix he helped clean up rubbish from the Silverstone grandstands.

It’s often asked of him whether being a Formula 1 driver is compatible with his activism on environmental matters, to which Vettel admitted there was an obvious conflict.

“It does [make me a hypocrite],” he said, to laughs from the audience. “You’re right when you laugh, because these are questions I ask myself every day.

“I’m not a saint. I’m very concerned when it comes to the future, when it comes to energy, energy dependence and where we go in the future.

“Certain things are in my control and certain things are not.

“It’s something that I’m asking myself, [whether I should be racing in Formula 1] and travelling the world.”

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Formula 1 has a target for net zero emissions by 2030, including all events and team operations. In 2019, when it launched its sustainability plan, it estimated its CO2 emissions at 256,551 tonnes. Almost three-quarters of that came from transport and logistics.

The cars themselves contribute just 0.7 per cent of the sport’s total emissions thanks to the hybrid power unit, billed as the most efficient combustion engine in the world, achieving more than 50 per cent thermal efficiency, up from around 30 per cent efficiency for the standard consumer motor.

This year the sport introduced E10 fuel to further lower car emissions, and in 2026 it plans to mandate fully synthetic, carbon-neutral fuel. It will also double the amount of power generated by its electrical motors.

Vettel justified his career in Formula 1 for its role as entertainment, particularly during the pandemic era.

“It’s my passion to drive a car,” he said. “Every time I step in the car I love it.

“When I get out of the car of course I’m thinking as well, ‘Is this something that you should do — travel the world, wasting resources?’.”

“On the other hand, we were entertaining people during COVID.

“We were one of the first sports to start again, and 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 are plenty of people if you talk about entertainment — sports, culture, comedy — who couldn’t perform, and a lot of people missed that. And I think if we didn’t have that in general, we’d probably go mad.”

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Vettel, who last year helped schoolchildren in Austria near the Red Bull Ring build bee habitats, said he tried to reduce his personal carbon footprint when he could.

“There are a lot of these questions I ask myself,” he said. “There are things that I do because I feel I can do them better. Do I take a plane every time? No, not when I can take the car.”

But he said ultimately the biggest decisions needed to be made by governments, who have more power than disparate individuals to make a difference.

“There are certain things in my control and certain things outside my control,” he said.

“On energy, we need to stop being dependent [on fossil fuels], and we can, because there are solutions in place.

“You know, in Britain you have this sort of goldmine you’re sitting on, which is wind, and you have the ability to increase your energy supply with wind power, solar.

“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 and take it back down.”