The four-time Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel has announced that he will retire at the end of this season. The 35-year-old admitted that his concerns over the climate emergency and F1’s role as a contributor to the problem played a part in his decision-making process and that he was “scared” at what the future might hold for him.
Vettel is currently driving for Aston Martin and made his F1 debut in 2007. He became the sport’s youngest world champion when he took his first title at 23 years and 134 days old, and has amassed 53 wins. He took four consecutive titles for Red Bull between 2010 and 2013.
In recent years, Vettel has been increasingly outspoken on environmental and social issues. He has of late expressed his ambivalence at competing in F1, a sport that has an enormous carbon footprint because of the air travel involved.
He noted a combination of factors that had inspired his decision, including wanting to spend more time with his family and to be with his three children as they grow up, but also an interest in other issues outside F1 that had become of increasing importance to him. “I know how intense this job is and how much dedication goes into this and if you do this I am convinced you have to do it the right way,” he said in Budapest before this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix. “But also physically time away from home, from kids and family. I have [also] grown other interests and views and I can’t ignore these voices.” He has been vocal on environmental issues in the past and specifically cited the climate emergency as a factor in making his mind up.
“Obviously, traveling the world, racing cars and burning resources, literally, are things that I cannot look away from,” he said. “Once I think you see these things and you are aware, I don’t think you can really unsee it. When it comes to the climate crisis, there is no way that F1 or any sport or business can avoid it, because it affects all of us. Maybe it’ll be pushed back or be more quiet, but it’s only a matter of time – that we don’t have.”
Vettel has enjoyed an impressive career, having made an instant impact with a remarkable win for Toro Rosso at Monza in only his second season, but success has largely eluded him in recent years. After winning his four titles he joined Ferrari in 2015 and challenged for the championship twice with the Scuderia in 2017 and 2018 but was beaten both times by Lewis Hamilton.
He stayed with Ferrari until the end of 2020 before joining Aston Martin in 2021 but has not won a race since the Singapore Grand Prix in 2019. However during his time with Red Bull and Ferrari he scored a huge number of victories, with his total of 53 behind only Hamilton’s 103 and Michael Schumacher’s 91.
Across the paddock in Budapest there was a strong sense that Vettel will be greatly missed. He is admired as a driver and as a person, and is universally liked by his rivals.
Hamilton, who made his debut the same year as Vettel, paid tribute to his rival and friend.
“When I talk about the journey that I’ve experienced in this sport and often feel that it’s been relatively lonely, he’s one of the few people that’s made it not feel lonely. He stood by me through a lot of things,” he said. “He’s been so brave in speaking out and standing for what he believes in.” I think he’s one of the greatest people we’ve seen in this sport and we need more like him.”
Vettel has not revealed what he plans to do after F1 and admitted it was a major step into the unknown. “The best race is still to come, as in life,” he said. “The biggest challenge is probably waiting for us while we decide to do other things. That’s what I’m facing and in all honesty, I’m also scared of what’s coming. It might be a hole and I don’t know how deep it is and whether I’ll get out of it.”