Some were shocked at Sebastian Vettel’s announcement of his retirement at the end of the current Formula 1 season on Thursday; others may have seen it coming. Regardless, the mood surrounding the four-time champion’s departure from the sport is hardly celebratory. The news was marked with outpourings of well wishes and pleasant memories from spectators and fellow competitors alike on social media, amid curiosity about what’s next for him. Vettel is curious, too.
The Aston Martin driver spoke to members of the media about that exact question on Thursday, hours after his decision went public on Instagram. Vettel’s motivations for moving on from F1 are clear: he wants to spend more time with his wife and three children, and he can no longer justify the role that he feels he plays in the climate crisis, as a competitor. Whether that leads to a career in activism day-to-day, an advisory position central to motorsport or occasional stints in other racing categories remains to be seen. From Motorsport.com:
“I’ve said earlier today that the best race is still to come, which obviously you could say is bullshit. If I’m stopping, which race is going to come if you’re not racing anymore?
“But I think I’m referring to it in a bigger picture, as in life. And I think for every sportsman and woman probably the biggest challenge is waiting for us once we decide to do other things. So that’s what I’m facing.
“In all honesty, I’m also scared of what’s coming, because it might be a hole. I don’t know how deep it is, and whether I will get out of it.
“But I think I have lots of support, lots of people that have helped me along the way so far, and will continue to help me, and give me direction, guidance.
“And hopefully I will make the right decisions also in the future to progress and become a better version of myself in 10 years’ time.”
Vettel has historically kept quite a low profile for an athlete at his level, steering clear of social media accounts. That changed this week, when he created one on Instagram, where his first post was his retirement announcement. He’s expressed a desire to continue doing what he can to amplify the issues and voices he believes in; in that sense, he’s not willing to totally disappear from the public eye. But he also doesn’t want to continue in F1 merely for the platform it affords him:
“I think it would be the wrong motivation to keep doing what I’ve always done, to be competitive and to win, just to express your opinion, or your opinion on some topics. I think that would be the wrong motivator.
“Obviously, I thought about that as well. So maybe I will lose voice and reach. But to me voice and reach have never been at the foreground, it has always been sort of the message, because it’s what I really believe in.”
He expanded on that “message” in a quote retrieved by RaceFans, where he compared his worldview and experience starting in F1 in 2007 to those of his younger peers now:
“We have the immense privilege of travelling the world, seeing so many things. And if you don’t ignore everything, then it does something to you. I’m not a standing-out example, I look at my friends around me and their thoughts are very different to what I remember the thoughts they had when they were in their early twenties. So I think part of it is just normal.
“What hurts me is that people like George [Russell], Lando [Norris], Charles [Leclerc], Max [Verstappen] – they don’t have the same freedoms as maybe Lewis [Hamilton] and I had. And whoever is coming after them will have even less freedoms because it will be more and more central and dictating more and more the way we are living and have to adapt our lives.
“That I don’t think is fair and I’m prepared and ready to fight for this sort of justice and fairness to have the same, for the kids that are go-karting today, to be able to have the same racing career that I had.”
Vettel may not have a plan, but he does have interests and guiding principles. Still, it’s no wonder he finds the uncertainty a little nerve-wracking, as someone who’s always known what he wanted to be from childhood well into adult life. Should the day come that he’s wanting for a hit of adrenaline, a number of racing teams would certainly be happy to oblige him, even on just a sporadic occurrence.