Sebastian Vettel, statesman. New career beckons for F1 champion — MPH


Sebastian Vettel cut through the squabbles of BBC Question Time last night, looking every inch a natural on the political stage. He looks to have outgrown F1, writes Mark Hughes

Sebastian Vettel waves from a car during the 2022 Australian GP drivers parade

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For the benefit of those readers not resident in the UK, Question Time is a current affairs TV programme in which members of the British public put questions of concern to a panel usually comprising two politicians from opposing parties, an economics expert and two figures from the entertainment world. Last night Sebastian Vettel appeared on it – and was quite brilliant.

Here is a guy brought up in Germany, living in Switzerland, racing cars as a profession who has knowledge of British current affairs and can talk on equal terms with professional politicians from this country. Actually, it wasn’t so much equal terms, it was as a voice pleading for bigger, better thinking, working together as opposed to squabbling. What’s more he did it with charm and humour.

His centre point is the global climate emergency, as that is the cause he has embraced. But he was using that to frame his answers in a way that transcended petty politics and what is a naturally combative programme format.

There’s a creeping insidious trait in TV and media debate to limit the frame in which a discussion can be had. So it appears superficially like a debate of ideas but is actually artificially constrained in where the boundaries are. Seb crashed through that in a brilliantly refreshing way.

“I am thinking, ‘Should we be travelling the world wasting resources?'”

When the subject of the question was energy prices, the politicians argued about whose fault it was, about how little the government was doing about easing the burden of those living near the breadline, the Attorney General responding with figures claiming otherwise – to general derision. Vettel framed it as yes, we’re in a big mess now with energy since the invasion of Ukraine, but the reason is that we never look at the big picture. We’ve gone along with a dependency we should have shook off a long, long time ago – and now something’s happened to make us notice. We shouldn’t be dependent upon fossil fuels, the transition away from them could and should have started eons ago.

He made the point about the concern for national economies versus the reality that in keeping those economies propped up we are financing a war. That’s where dependency has brought us. “In Germany it’s now clear that the decisions we made regarding dependency on Russian energy were wrong. It’s obvious. But it was obvious to the energy experts years ago but the politicians ignored the experts. You have experts, you can choose the good people to consult.”

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The customs union and the Northern Ireland protocol question came up. “Looking at the size of the problems facing us at so many levels whether that is the environment, social justice, looking after people. We need to do this together,” Vettel emphasised. “That’s why I don’t understand this mentality of we want to go it alone, as with Brexit. Now you’re in this mess…”

He’s not your typical F1 driver and never has been. But as he’s matured he’s gained an ever-bigger worldview to the point that he has probably outgrown the sport. The show’s host Fiona Bruce then posed the question to him, asking if he wasn’t a hypocrite? Driving in F1 with all that gas-guzzling?

“Yes,” he answered. “You are right. I love what I do. My passion is driving. But when I get out of the car I am thinking ‘Is this something we should do, travelling the world wasting resources?’ On the other hand we are entertaining people and without entertainment in difficult times we would probably go mad. But I question myself. There are certain things in my control and certain things outside it.”

It’s difficult not to imagine he is going to play a bigger role in the world once he has stopped racing. And it’s becoming increasingly difficult to imagine him racing for very much longer.