Sebastian Vettel on BBC Question Time: F1 campaigner expects 'interesting' debate

F1

Sebastian Vettel will voice his opinions on BBC Question Time this evening. It's a chance to show that F1 drivers can be intelligent and thoughtful — if he avoids being tripped up, writes Adam Cooper

Sebastian-Vettel-in-climate-change-t-shirt-warning-the-Miami-GP-will-be-under-water-by-2060

"Act now or swim later": Vettel's t-shirt warned that Miami GP will be under water by 2060 unless action is taken on emissions

Alamy

Formula 1 fans watching last Thursday’ evening’s edition of Question Time on BBC1 probably had a double-take when at the end of the programme Fiona Bruce announced the line-up for tonight’s show.

Among the panellists for the recording in Hackney will be none other than four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, filling the seat occupied by VIPs and celebrities from various walks of life alongside the familiar line-up of politicians.

Watch Sebastian Vettel on BBC Question Time

The show will be broadcast on Thursday May 12, 10.40pm on BBC 1

The appearance has been organised by the Aston Martin communications department as part of a day of promotional activities that Vettel will undertake in London.

Vettel isn’t going to Question Time to talk about porpoising or the next update package for the AMR22.

Like his close contemporary and fellow multiple world champion Lewis Hamilton, who guest-edited the BBC Today Programme in 2020, Vettel has grown into and fully embraced his role of one of the sport’s elder statesmen.

Sebastian Vettel in rainbow t shirt supporting LGBT rights at the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix

Vettel stood in solidarity with the LGBT community at last year’s Hungarian GP

Grand Prix Photo

In terms of his day job that has manifested itself in his role as a director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, a role that he shares with George Russell. Vettel takes his responsibilities very seriously, using his experience to further the interests of the drivers in terms of safety issues and other big-picture matters.

Meanwhile, as with Hamilton, to his great credit he is increasingly trying to use his fame to to promote causes that are close to his heart.

It’s a long list. When Hamilton asked fellow drivers to take a knee in pre-race preliminaries in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign Vettel was fully behind his former rival.

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He’s also backed campaigns for LBGT rights, and expressed his concerns about human rights in some of the Middle Eastern countries that the sport visits, while acknowledging that his own Aston Martin team is backed by Saudi Arabia’s Aramco.

Vettel has been particularly vocal about climate change and pollution. In Silverstone last year he made a point by joining in litter clearing activities after the race, while at a high profile Miami GP launch event on Wednesday he appeared in a t-shirt reminding locals that their city is predicted to be underwater by 2060. The message is repeated on his helmet this weekend, complete with snorkel logo.

He’s also spoken out on the subject of Ukraine, carrying the country’s blue and yellow colours on his helmet for the early races of the season.

Even as a wide-eyed rookie back in 2007 Vettel had something different about him – his interests spanned The Beatles and Monty Python rather than hip-hop or gaming you might have associated with a 20-year-old – and at 34 and in his 16th consecutive season in the sport he’s developed into a well-rounded family man who has managed to keep his life in balance.

Fist bump between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel at the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix

Vettel and Hamilton have led on campaigning issues in F1

Florion Goga/Getty Images

How he will fare in the lion’s den that is Question Time, where the audience is usually populated with people of extreme views – and in East London’s Hackney there could be a few folk with a point to make – remains to be seen.

It’s easy to imagine that someone might try to trip him up with lines like, “What can a mega rich sportsman know about real life?”, or “Isn’t your sport about driving around in circles and wasting petrol?”

He might not be fully up speed with the details of UK domestic politics, but don’t underestimate Vettel. He is super-smart and can think on his feet, and he’s spent the last 16 years at FIA press conferences sitting in a panel of four or five drivers fielding questions of all kinds from the F1 media.

He’s also had interactions with politicians and activists, including Germany’s equivalent of Greta Thunberg, so he’s used to debate on big picture subjects.

He can at least tell any cynics that he gave up on private jets several years ago, and uses public transport when he can. In his last year at Ferrari he even sent his own team into a panic by opting to use a train on the Monza weekend.

Vettel picking litter at Silverstone

Vettel picking litter after the 2021 British Grand Prix

Aston Martin

He admits he doesn’t know much about Question Time or what he’s likely to face, but he’s up for the challenge.

“I have opinions, but I’m not saying they’re always right or wrong,” he told Motor Sport in Miami on Friday. “So yeah, if you ask me, I’ll tell you my opinion. But I think it will be interesting.

“I’m looking forward because it’s completely different: different people, different topics. So let’s see how much I have to say or not, how much I know about the topic or not. But happy to learn.”

So why does he feel so passionate about so many subjects, such as the climate change one he’s backing in Miami?

“The planet is changing. Are we stuck and do we get rid of ourselves?”

“I think it’s simple,” he said. “There’s a couple of topics that we can’t hide from. The fact that this place is going to be under water in 50 years. What else do you need to say?

“I think it’s shocking, alarming, everything. So the planet is changing. And the question is, do we manage to adapt? Do we manage to switch to the next season? Or are we stuck and get rid of ourselves? That’s the big challenge.”

Earlier this year he spoke with great thought and clarity about Ukraine when asked what the sport could do to help.

“Well, there’s always things we can do,” he noted. “I mean, it is absolutely horrible to see what’s going on. Every time we think it can’t be more of a shock, it’s more of a shock, and innocent people getting killed, women and children getting killed. It’s horrible.

“So what we can do? I think there’s a lot of people, that’s the positive, that are very willing to help, a lot of volunteers in the neighbouring countries, but also in other countries across Europe, willing to help, willing to give shelter.

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“And I think a lot of the things that are required to help people are basic. Basic things other than shelter – making sure they have got food, they have got blankets, nappies, whatever you can think of. And to supply all these things in the end, you need money.

“So I think we should set up something and collect money. I mean, F1 turns around a lot of money. We can’t help people by going faster or slower around the track, but we can help by maybe setting up a way to raise money. And I think that’s what we probably should do.

“I think support or solidarity is not just mentioning that you feel for people, but also acting and helping. It’s great to see that, as I said, so many people are willing to take a step and now they’re at the border and helping, organising, others offering shelter, and a home, a place to stay.”

Drive to Survive has done a great job of taking the sport to a new audience, showing people that behind the helmets racing drivers can be colourful personalties.

Vettel now has the chance to show a very different audience that a driver can also be intelligent, articulate, compassionate and thoughtful. It will be fascinating to see how his appearance works out – I suggest you put a note in your diary for this evening…


Sebastian Vettel is appearing on Question Time alongside Suella Braverman, the MP and attorney general; Labour MP Shabana Mahmood; Miatta Fahnbulleh, chief executive at the New Economics Foundation; and the comedian Geoff Norcott.