Sebastian Vettel has said that he will not race at the Russian Grand Prix if it goes ahead this year, telling a Formula 1 press conference: “My decision is already made.”
The race remains on the calendar despite the invasion of Ukraine, with Formula 1 saying that it is currently monitoring the situation.
Asked whether it would be right to host the scheduled race in Sochi this September, Vettel said: “It’s horrible to see what is happening. My own opinion is I should not go. I will not go. I think it’s wrong to race in the country.”
Vettel, who has been joined on the Russian Grand Prix podium by Vladimir Putin on several occasions, branded the president “mad”.
“I’m sorry for the people you know, innocent people that are losing their lives that are getting killed for stupid reasons and a very, very strange and mad leadership,” he said. “Personally, I’m just so shocked and sad to see what’s what’s going on. So, we will see going forward, but I think my decision is already made.”
Vettel said that the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association had not yet discussed the matter and agreed a unified stance, but was backed by other drivers in the press conference. Max Verstappen said: “We shouldn’t race in a country that’s at war.”
Charles Leclerc expressed his sympathy with Ukraine and said that he would wait and take a decision at a later date.
Earlier in the day, F1 released a statement indicating that the Russian Grand Prix would go ahead as it stands. “F1 is closely watching the very fluid developments like many others and at this time has no further comment on the race scheduled for September,” it said. “We will continue to monitor the situation very closely.”
Russian race organisers often speak of the promotional benefits that the grand prix brings to Sochi and Russia. Putin has made several appearances since the first race in 2014, presenting the winner’s trophy each year until 2018; talking to drivers after the race; and watching the action alongside former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone in the stands.