F1’s Sebastian Vettel Explains ‘Act Now or Swim Later’ Climate Views

“We’re all hypocrites," the four-time F1 champ told The Drive about his Miami climate protest. "The technology we have in the car is fascinating, but it’s useless."
MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - MAY 04: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Aston Martin F1 Team waves to the crowd during the F1 Grand Prix of Miami Opening Party at Hard Rock Stadium on May 04, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Aston Martin Formula 1 driver Sebastian Vettel made motorsport headlines, and garnered both support and criticism from fans, this week after he showed up at the opening party for the Miami Grand Prix in a shirt that read “Miami 2060. 1st Grand Prix Underwater. Act Now or Swim Later.”

The Drive sat down with the four-time champion at the Miami International Autodrome, minutes after Saturday’s qualifying session, to discuss his views on climate change and the use of his F1 platform to spotlight environmental issues.

Sebastian Vettel Driving Aston Martin F1 Car
MIAMI, FLORIDA – MAY 06: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Aston Martin AMR22 Mercedes on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Miami at the Miami International Autodrome on May 06, 2022 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

“When you think that in 50 years’ time we won’t be able to sit here because it’s flooded,” Vettel said. “And it’s not just going to impact some distant generation in the future, which will still be very unfair, but our children and the next generation.”

He added: “People ask why is this so important to you, and I don’t understand the question. It should be important to everybody.”

Asked about the disconnect between burning fossil fuels in racing and team transportation, Vettel was forthcoming.

Sebastian Vettel Walks in F1 Paddock
MIAMI, FLORIDA – MAY 05: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Aston Martin F1 Team walks in the Paddock during previews ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Miami at the Miami International Autodrome on May 05, 2022 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Clive Mason – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

“We’re all hypocrites, but I would be very happy if we would [find] a way to not burn fuel in Formula One,” he said. “I think what motorsport, in general, should have in common is to use the engineering power and the determination and motivation to push performance for the greater good, and we’re not. The technology we have in the car is fascinating, but it’s useless.

“I think we have a greater responsibility,” he added. “I’m not the perfect example to some degree. We all are not, and that’s why we have to push.”

Vettel, currently 14th in the overall standings for the 2022 season, starts in 13th position at today’s race. In taking this very public stance on climate change—branded a “protest” by some critics—he has drawn comparisons to Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, who in recent years has used his celebrity status and platform to advocate for racial and social justice and to denounce police brutality.

Predictably, Vettel’s display and statements about climate change have drawn criticism from some fans, both of the “stick to sports” variety and those who question the carbon footprint of an F1’s driver’s jet-setting, car-racing lifestyle. Other fans, however, came out in support of Vettel’s message.

In speaking with The Drive, Vettel also broached the topic of moving off fossil fuels more broadly and was blunt about his views on the role of cars in society in general.

“Obviously the big manufacturers are transferring the hybrid from F1 to the road car, but that’s about it,” he said. “I think we got used to certain things and it would be very difficult to explain to everyone that they will not be able to do those in the future. And that would be the wrong approach as well.”

Mike Spinelli

“But imagine how it would be if there weren’t that many cars,” Vettel said. “That would be a better version of Miami Beach. Therefore, I feel that sometimes, you know, why hold on to something that we know is bad and is not the future. I mean, we love cars. That is something that all the drivers have in common. All the people working here in the paddock have in common. Probably most if not all the fans out there have in common, but, you know, we need to take it to the next step.”

“I don’t mind whether it’s electric cars in the future, or hydrogen, or another form of mobility, but it will [change],” he added. “It has to be something else. We cannot stand still now.”

Vettel picked a fitting venue for his statements on climate change. According to Scientific American, Miami has been described as “the most vulnerable major coastal city in the world” to rising sea levels, with Miami-Dade County and the Tampa Bay region projected to lose as much as 12 inches of elevation by 2040. Already routinely threatened by hurricanes and increasingly extreme weather, the area is a kind of ground zero for the effects of global warming, with a sea-level rise that threatens life and billions of dollars in property and assets in the years to come.

“I’m here for my kids and I think that’s a responsibility every father and mother feels and enjoys,” he said.

Contact the author: mike@thedrive.com

Additional material from Patrick George