The four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel has issued a strident call for Formula One to abandon this season’s scheduled race in Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.
Vettel insisted he would boycott the meeting set for September if it was held, while F1’s leaders prepared to hold a swiftly-convened summit on Thursday evening to discuss whether the race should go ahead. The German, a president of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, has long been outspoken on issues of social and human rights and was unequivocal in his condemnation of Russia’s invasion and in his conviction that he would not race there.
“My own opinion is I should not go, I will not go,” he said. “I think it’s wrong to race in that country. I’m sorry for the people, innocent people who are losing their lives, getting killed for stupid reasons under a very strange and mad leadership.
“I woke up again after this morning’s news, shocked,” he added. “I think it’s awful to see what is happening.”
The Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was also emphatic that he believed F1 could not hold a race in Russia. “I can’t see how we can go possibly to Russia in the current climate,” he said. “It’s an issue for the governing body and the commercial rights holder that are responsible but how much can things change between now and September?”
His position was echoed by his driver and current world champion Max Verstappen. “When a country is at war, it is not right to race there,” he said. McLaren’s Lando Norris confirmed that the GPDA would discuss the issue at their next meeting
The Russian GP at the Sochi Autodrom remains on the calendar however, with neither F1 nor the sport’s governing body the FIA acting to cancel the meeting which is backed by the Russian government.
A statement from F1 on Thursday morning only noted that the sport was monitoring the situation. “Formula 1 is closely watching the very fluid developments like many others and at this time has no further comment on the race scheduled for September. We will continue to monitor the situation very closely,” it read.
The FIA have still yet to issue any comment on the race in Russia but with testing in Barcelona taking place this week the team principals, F1 and the FIA have convened a meeting to discuss how the sport should react. Uefa is set to drop St Petersburg as the venue for this season’s Champions League final.
Seven of the 10 teams are based in the UK and the British government’s position on holding sporting events in Russia is already clear.
There are issues also for the Haas team, whose title sponsor is the Russian chemical company Uralkali. It is owned by Dmitry Mazepin the father of their driver Nikita Mazepin and their car’s livery is marked by the white, blue and red design of the Russian flag.
Michael Schumacher’s son Mick is entering his second season in F1 with Haas but how further sanctions imposed on Russia impact on the team are being considered and Haas are expected to make a statement addressing the issue. They withdrew their team principal Guenther Steiner from a scheduled press conference on Thursday in Barcelona.
In 2014, the year the first Russian GP was set to be held, there were calls for it to be canceled after the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. The former world rally champion and a candidate for the FIA presidency Ari Vatanen, was outspoken in his condemnation of the event.
“Do we support the regime who is masterminding this bloodshed? Or do we say this is not correct?” he said. “It would send a message of acceptance if we went to Russia. It would say we condone, effectively, maybe not explicitly, but by our actions we condone what is going on because it is used in propaganda.”
Vatanen said he was supported in his opinion by then FIA president Jean Todt but F1’s chief executive at the time, Bernie Ecclestone, was adamant that sport and politics should not mix and that the race, which was backed financially by the Russian government and supported by Vladimir Putin, should go ahead. The race was not called off and it was duly run with Putin in attendance and presenting the winner’s trophy to Lewis Hamilton.
Red Bull’s Verstappen also condemned the FIA for its treatment of former race director Michael Masi. Verstappen described Masi being sacked after events at the decisive and controversial season finale in Abu Dhabi as unacceptable.
“It’s very unfair what happened to Michael, he was really being thrown under the bus,” he said. “That they did sack him like that in the first place for me is unacceptable. That they sacked him is really incredible. I feel really sorry for Michael. Because I think he was a very capable and good race director.
“I have nothing against the new race directors – because I think they are also very capable and very good race directors but, personally, and for Michael, I felt really sad and I sent him a text as well.”