You are currently viewing Sebastian Vettel or when activism with double standards turns against you

It was no surprise that Sebastian Vettel showed up in Canada wearing symbols of some sort of protest, such as the rights of homosexuals or climate change, his favorite topics of denunciation. In Montreal, the German wore a helmet and a T-shirt to condemn oil sands mining in Canada. It is true that we are talking about a practice that is very harmful to the environment, but one wonders if the best person to report it is one of the highest paid Formula 1 drivers thanks to the sponsorship of Aramco, the world’s leading oil company.

Vettel has already accustomed us to his multiple contradictions and selective protests, but in Canada perhaps he crossed a red line that invalidates his speech not so much because of the substance of his protest, but because of its forms. It is incongruous to be very indignant with Hungary regarding the rights of the LGBTI community and not say anything about Saudi Arabia, the country that organizes a Formula 1 Grand Prix (and which crucially sponsors its Aston Martin team). Or make the conduct of countries ugly with the war in Ukraine, while yours (Germany) has not stopped buying gas from Russia. What has been said: their hypocrisy or double standards can be disfigured, but the issue does not go any further. The problem comes when you generate a conflict that damages the company that pays your salary. And to the reputation of different countries.

Sebastian Vettel’s ‘protest helmet’, which he never used. (Jens Münzer)

Accusations of ‘crime’

Vettel appeared last Friday with a helmet that read the phrase: “Canada’s climate crime.” At Aston Martin they understood that the time had come to say enough to their pilot. Criticism is something different from calling a country criminal. But the forms failed. The German driver advertised a protest helmet to race in Canada, but he did not use it in the grand prix because something serious prevented him. Asked about it, the issue was settled with a laconic “no comment”.

Because the issue went beyond sports and rose to politics with a strong protest by Sonya Savage, the energy minister of the State of Alberta, who exposed all the inconsistencies of the German pilot. The minister made that attitude ugly in the face of what she understood as a gratuitous attack on her country. Faced with Savage’s criticism, Vettel acknowledged that his behavior was indeed hypocritical, but added that such personal attacks risked missing the “big picture” of the climate crisis. “I’m a bit disappointed that politicians jump on a personal level because it’s not about me. It’s not about me at all; it’s about the big picture,” the German replied. PBut the German was also questioning the country of origin of his team’s owner, Lawrence Stroll.whom he must have placed in an embarrassing situation with Canadian politicians.

Vettel made a mistake because if his interest is in alerting about a “general panorama”, he pointed out to a specific country like Canada to refer to the oil sands or climate crimes in general. And if you were pointing to specific countries, yours has recently resumed coal consumption. Vettel faces the problem of going it alone without measuring the consequences that his protest can have on his company and his sport.

Obligations of being part of a team

A Formula 1 driver is the image of a team and, therefore, must take care everything he says and does, because he is the main ambassador of his brand and of all the sponsors that support it. And if he wants to exercise his freedom of opinion, he has two ways of doing it: on a personal level outside the circuit, dressed in civilian clothes, or doing it within the team and agreeing on the communication of the message with it.

A very clear example of role confusion was experienced by Alpine in 2014. Then the team ran under the name of Lotus, and fired its communication director, Stephane Samson, for a tweet that featured two male athletes kissing on the occasion of the Sochi Olympics. The problem was not the photo of the athletes itself, but the attack on Russia as a country for what Samson understood as discrimination against the LGTBI community. The dismissal letter was very clear: the problem is not that the team’s support for the LGTBI community was inappropriate, but rather that they use a corporate communication channel to express a purely personal opinion.

Samson defended himself by saying that other companies like Coca-Cola or Google also did it. But then compared his exclusively personal political positioning with advertising campaigns approved by the company’s management committees. These days, the same Samson team, now with the colors of Alpine, has shown its support for the LGTBI community with the rainbow flag on the bodies of the cars and the clothing of the drivers, demonstrating that the problem is not the message but the shapes.

A professional colleague called out Stephane Samson for not expressing his personal opinions outside of the team channel. ‘The communication department’ that Samson alludes to was one-man, it was his decision without any consensus. (Twitter capture)

Do you want to arm wrestle?

At the press conference for the Canadian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel did not qualify his words, despite being aware of the political and popular unrest that his complaints were generating. He persisted in accusing him, harming Aston Martin and your sponsor Aramco, involved in a tremendous controversy and with their names present in the media for extra-sports reasons. When Vettel took to the track without his helmet, it must have been because the team forbade it. Not lowering the tone or agreeing on his message with the team, it was evident that the German was arm wrestling. Possibly, to begin with, his own boss Lawrence Stroll, in his home country. Hadn’t Vettel thought about it before?

Several hypotheses arise in this regard: the most obvious is that, by going it alone, perhaps he intends to put on the bandage before the wound through victimization: “sIf they don’t renew me next year for the money I’m asking for, it’s that my protests were uncomfortable for Aston Martin”, thus becoming a kind of martyr of the cause in the face of a possible non-renewal for strictly sporting reasons. Although Vettel has shown his talent on occasion, his overall performance has fallen short of what is expected of a driver with his track record. And in Formula 1 no message, no action is casual.

It was no surprise that Sebastian Vettel showed up in Canada wearing symbols of some sort of protest, such as the rights of homosexuals or climate change, his favorite topics of denunciation. In Montreal, the German wore a helmet and a T-shirt to condemn oil sands mining in Canada. It is true that we are talking about a practice that is very harmful to the environment, but one wonders if the best person to report it is one of the highest paid Formula 1 drivers thanks to the sponsorship of Aramco, the world’s leading oil company.

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Peggy McColl

Mentor l NY Times Bestselling Author. Hi, I'm Peggy McColl, and I'm here to deliver a positive message to you!