(GMM) As the nearby missile strikes thrust Formula 1 into yet another crisis, there was one driver in the paddock who did not need his television interviews cancelled.
Sebastian Vettel, who drives for Aramco-sponsored Aston Martin, is still missing in action, having reportedly failed to return a negative covid test.
Notably, just a few days ago, he gave an interview to the German broadcaster ARD and news agency DPA about the difficulties he poses for F1 authorities over his newly outspoken views on political issues.
“How independent can you be when you’re on the payroll?” he said when asked about how sportsmen can get involved in the controversial political issues of the countries they visit.
“You can say ‘boycott, don’t even go there’. On the other hand, you can go there and represent our Western values, show our freedom and stand up for it.
“The question is how brave can you be when you are a paid guest?” said the quadruple world champion.
Even before the missile-shaped crisis, F1’s presence in Saudi Arabia was already highly controversial, with Lewis Hamilton also outspoken about issues like death sentences for teenagers and mass public executions.
Vettel said: “It’s not like Formula 1 chooses where to go on the map. It’s more that countries are coming towards Formula 1, and it’s part of the business model that venues are putting a lot of money into it.
“Do you dare to speak out against it when you are there? On the other hand, there are certain values that we have to stand for because they outweigh financial interests,” said the 34-year-old.
“It’s not just about Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and the Olympics were in China. The question is how many countries are left out on the calendar.
“But actually, it should be a simple question. It’s all about role models, especially for young people. On the one hand it is entertainment, on the other hand you also have responsibility and you should make sure that you go ahead with the right values and symbols,” Vettel said.
The German admits that his new outspokenness is making him one of the least popular drivers in the minds of Formula 1 authorities.
“Some people panic a little when these topics come up,” he said. “There are people who really want to influence what I say about it.
“I am not exactly the most popular driver in the eyes of the Formula 1 organization. But nobody can tell me what I have to say or not to say, even if people don’t like what I may say.”