On November 20th of 2022, four-time consecutive World Drivers’ Champion Sebastian Vettel officially retired from Formula 1 (F1). Vettel was one of the most successful drivers in Formula 1 history holding the record for being the youngest World Champion in F1. His impact transcended beyond racing with Vettel never hesitating to speak out about environmental issues or human rights.
Mercedes driver and seven-time World Driver’s Champion Lewis Hamilton, in an interview with Sky Sports, was asked in relation to Vettel, “Do you think it takes a bit of bravery sometimes to step off the hamster wheel of F1?” He responded by saying, “There is no lack of bravery in Sebastian. He has been one of the very, very few drivers in racing history that stood for much more than just himself. He has used his voice to fight for things he believes in, all for the greater good…He has always been very, very vocal, very proud for how he's stood up for what he believes in, even at the cost of himself.”
However, the Federation Internationale De L'Automobile (FIA) revealed updates to its International Sporting Code (ISC) regulations, giving teams and drivers an idea of what to expect for the 2023 season. One update immediately stood out: Drivers now need written permission to make "political, religious, and personal statements or comments."
Here's the full code, found in article 12.2.1.n of the "Breach of Rules" section of the ISC: “The general making and display of political, religious, and personal statements or comments notably in violation of the general principle of neutrality promoted by the FIA under its Statutes, unless previously approved in writing by the FIA for International Competitions, or by the relevant ASN for National Competitions within their jurisdiction”.
Before FIA’s new updates to the ISC, Vettel made it a priority to make the world aware of current and serious issues. Of the numerous matters Vettel decided to speak out for, here are a few:
Hungary has passed a law banning schools and media to talk about LGBTQ. Vettel was reprimanded by the sport’s governing body, FIA, after wearing a pro-LGBTQ t-shirt before the Hungarian Grand Prix. The FIA’s International Sporting Code requires the drivers to wear their race suits during national anthems, he was found violating the code and was issued with non-driving reprimands. However, he responded by saying, “I’m happy if they disqualify me. They can do whatever they want to me, I don’t care. I would do it again.”
Save the Bees
Some species of bees have become endangered in recent years. Vettel has made it one of his many missions to raise awareness around this topic. At the Austrian GP last season, he wore a “Save the Bees” shirt with the slogan: “There’s still a race to win”.
His crash helmet for the race featured several bees.
Ahead of the grand prix, he hosted a competition between local Styrian schools for a chance to build a Formula One-inspired bee hotel. A bee hotel offers protection and a habitat for bees, which are a vital part of the global ecosystem and require protection. The Aston Martin news article states, “Sebastian continues to push for more sustainability, equality, and diversity, and the bee hotel competition is his latest initiative as he looks to help create a better world.”
Picking up the Pieces
Sunday evening after the 2021 British Grand Prix Seb stayed behind to clean up the litter in the grandstands, filling up several bags with trash.
Aston Martin tweeted pictures of Vettel carrying the bags of trash, with the text: “Sunday evening at Silverstone. The #BritishGP is over. But for Seb, the race for the planet never ends.”
He wore a t-shirt before the race that read, ‘Please don’t litter - keep it clean’.
“I think it is important that we all respect the environment and don’t rely on others to clear up after us. We have to start somewhere and each one of us can make a difference now,” said Sebastian.
After picking up the waste after the Silverstone GP Vettel visited one of the UK's largest disposal sites. He helped with the recycling of the waste collected at Silverstone and spent several hours with the facility's staff learning about waste management and recycling techniques.
The FIA has clarified its ban on non-regulatory underwear and body piercings ahead of the 2022 Miami Grand Prix. The note added the new rule had been introduced "to ensure that the FIA-approved flame-resistant clothing, including both the outer layer overalls and inner layer in contact with the skin, can operate effectively and provide the designed level of protection if exposed to flames.
Ahead of the race in Miami, FIA race director Niels Wittich issued a note to the teams as it is now required to do checks relating to 'compliant underwear.'
Sebastian Vettel shows up wearing underpants in the Miami paddock. Vettel protests the FIA by wearing underpants on the outside of his uniform.
“Obviously, if the car does catch fire, it will be unpleasant, but on the other hand, to some degree, it’s personal freedom. We’re old enough to make our choices outside the car as well as inside the car.”
It is not just about the choice of underwear but the message the FIA is sending by restricting personal beliefs and personal freedom. This is better understood now with the FIA’s new codes and regulations.
T-shirt with a Message
Vettel realized that wearing a simple T-shirt with a message can promote discussion about issues that matter. On his website (https://shop.sebastianvettel.de/en) several of the t-shirt designs that he wore race weekend are available for purchase with a note stating, “With each t-shirt, we want to draw attention to a specific issue and with each purchase, we can support organizations and projects that work for these issues. Therefore, all the proceeds from the t-shirts are donated to various organizations”.
Vettel believes that the sport of Formula 1 could apply a great amount of pressure and could be of immense help to spread fairness and awareness around the globe.
This upcoming season will look a lot different with Vettel being gone and FIA’s demand on the drivers to have written permission before any statement or comments have been made. Many are interested in what the future of F1 with the new codes will look like.
Thank you and goodbye Sebastian Vettel.