Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton use Formula 1 again and again for social messages. Not everyone likes that. Now statements by the president of the world association are causing a stir. The racing series has simply become "too political". The two ex-world champions follow suit.
Almost demonstratively, Sebastian Vettel straightened his sweatbands in the Ukrainian colors. Then the Formula 1 star made it clear that neither he nor Lewis Hamilton would let the irritating statements by the head of the world association slow them down in their political commitment. "These issues are more important than us, more important than sport. We should continue to draw attention to them and show people that there are many things we can do better," said Vettel at the start of the guest appearance in Baku - and a few chairs further Hamilton nodded to this.
Shortly before the first training laps in Azerbaijan, the Dubai-born President of the International Automobile Federation FIA had tried to capture the sentences he had spoken in an interview that had appeared a few days earlier. In an interview with the specialist portal "grandprix247.com", Mohammed bin Sulayem questioned, among other things, "whether we should constantly impose our beliefs on sport".
Legends like Niki Lauda and Alain Prost once only cared about driving. "Now Vettel is riding a rainbow bike, Lewis is passionate about human rights and Lando Norris is concerned with mental health," said the FIA boss.
When these phrases reached the paddock, they were quickly interpreted as criticism of some pilots' social and community activities. "Maybe it was taken out of context. But it doesn't stop us from what we do," assured record champion Hamilton. Formula 1 is also an important platform for social discussions. "I encourage all pilots to speak their mind," added the 37-year-old.
Much to the delight of the Briton, who has just been made an honorary citizen of Brazil, a rainbow-colored Mercedes star is emblazoned on his Silver Arrow in Baku. The team wants to support the LGBTQI community, i.e. people with different identities and sexual orientations. "Very slowly" progress is still being made on the topic of diversity, Hamilton criticized.
Before the Grand Prix in Baku, Vettel also made a statement for the LGBTQI movement and told the gay magazine "Attitude" that a gay racing driver would now be welcome in Formula 1. The 34-year-old rolled into the paddock again with the rainbow wheel mentioned by the FIA boss. "I don't have to endure things that aren't right, and I won't," said Vettel.
He feels united with Hamilton in his commitment to a better world. Again and again, the two former world champions turn against racism, homophobia and prejudice, and campaign for climate protection. "We agree on many things," said Vettel. He doesn't care if someone in Formula 1, which he believes is still quite conservative, thinks this commitment is bad for business behind his back.
FIA boss bin Sulayem tried to get rid of this impression. After all, "sustainability, diversity and inclusion are one of the top priorities of my office," tweeted the 60-year-old from the United Arab Emirates. He appreciates "the commitment of all drivers and champions for a better future".
In the interview, he had previously warned, in the style of many association leaders such as IOC President Thomas Bach, against mixing sport and politics. In the meantime, motorsport had become "too political" for him, bin Sulayem said.
Political messages tend to be inconvenient for marketers, especially before appearances in the racing series, such as in Azerbaijan. In the authoritarian state of President Ilham Aliyev, human rights activists have repeatedly complained about the arrests and torture of opposition figures and the increasing restrictions on freedom of expression.
Vettel also believes that refraining from such guest performances as in Baku, Saudi Arabia or Singapore is the wrong way, as he said: "If we don't organize races, we can't do anything at all. But if we race in these countries and be polite , but determined to stand up for what matters, we can make a positive impact. Values and principles know no boundaries."