Vettel: How independent can you be when you’re on the payroll?

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While the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix hung in the balance for some hours, it appears agreement was quickly reached by the sport’s governing body, the FIA, Formula 1 officials, team bosses and government representatives to continue the race weekend despite the missile attack within sight of the track.

However, it appears initially F1 drivers were not consulted, instead, they convened under the auspices of the GPDA to discuss the matter for several hours before also agreeing for the weekend to continue as planned.

In the wake of the rebel attack on the nearby Aramco fuel storage facility, during Friday’s practice, F1 drivers are reportedly not allowed to speak to media, hence no word from individuals but rather the collective statement from the GPDA:

“Yesterday was a difficult day for Formula 1 and a stressful day for us Formula 1 drivers. Perhaps it is hard to comprehend if you have never driven an F1 car on this fast and challenging Jeddah track but, on seeing the smoke from the incident, it was difficult to remain a fully focused race driver and erase natural human concerns.

“A large variety of opinions were shared and debated and, having listened not only to the Formula 1 powers but also to the Saudi government ministers who explained how security measures were being elevated to the maximum, the outcome was a resolution that we would practice and qualify today, and race tomorrow.

“We therefore hope that the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will be remembered as a good race rather than for the incident that took place yesterday,” concluded the GPDA statement.

Notably, GPDA director and seven-time F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel has sat out this weekend, as he did in Bahrain, due to coronavirus but will no doubt be following the developments from wherever he is perhaps even advising his colleagues.

Vettel: Nobody can tell me what I have to say or not to say

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Never shy to speak his mind – much like fellow F1 veteran and multiple world champion Lewis Hamilton – a campaigner for causes he believes in, Vettel told DPA in the wake of the missile attacks: “How independent can you be when you’re on the payroll?

“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?” added the 34-year-old German.

“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. 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 a responsibility. You should make sure that you go ahead with the right values and symbols.”

Vettel also explained how his outspoken views were not always well received in the F1 paddock: “Some people panic a little when these topics come up. 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 F1 organisation.

“But nobody can tell me what I have to say or not to say, even if people don’t like what I may say,” added Vettel, one of the elder statesmen in the sport; he made his debut at the 2008 Italian Grand Prix.

Ironically, the title sponsor of Vettel’s Aston Martin team is Saudi Aramco whose fuel silos, seen from the Jeddah Corniche, were the targets of Friday’s attack.