Sebastian Vettel organised an all-female karting event in Saudi Arabia to encourage local women into motorsport, ahead of Formula 1’s first race in Jeddah.
The Aston Martin driver, who has previously raised concerns over the human rights standards in some countries F1 visits, acknowledged the criticism levelled at the sport for arranging its first race in Saudi Arabia.
“Obviously there’s been a lot of talk and thoughts heading into the race here, the first time we race in Saudi Arabia and a lot of questions that have been asked,” said Vettel.
“I’ve asked myself and I was thinking of what I can do,” he explained. “I think in general, we have so much attention, so much focus on negative examples when it comes to shortcomings of certain countries in regards to maybe human rights and other things. But I really tried to think of the positives and so I set up my own karting event today under the hashtag ‘Race for Women’.”
Vettel arranged a private race which “a group of seven or eight girls and women” attended. “I was trying to pass on some of my experiences in life and obviously on track to do something together to grow their confidence,” he said.Vettel took a group of women karting in Jeddah
Saudi Arabia revised laws prohibiting women from obtaining drivers’ licenses four years ago, ahead of the first FIA event held in the country. “In Saudi Arabia, women have only been allowed since 2017 to drive a car,” Vettel explained. “So some of them had a licence, others they did not. Some of them were huge F1 enthusiasts, others had nothing to do with Formula 1 or racing before today. So it was a good mix of women from different backgrounds and I think a great event.
“Everybody was extremely happy and I was, I have to say, very inspired by their stories and their background, their positivity about the change in the country. It’s true that if we look from a western or European lens that there’s still lots of things that should be improved and have to be addressed. But it’s also true that some things are changing, and for those people, they make a huge difference.
“In the end it’s very difficult for us coming to a country where we spend maybe only a couple of days and trying to be a perfect judge by not knowing the background exactly and the people inside out. But this way, I think for me, it was important to get to know some of these women. It was a very, very memorable and inspiring day and a great way to kick off the weekend.”
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Further progress is needed in the country, Vettel acknowledged. “It’s clear that some things aren’t going the way they should, but that’s our point of view,” he said.
“It’s also probably true that things are always taking time and it’s progress. I would love to change the world in some things overnight now. But who am I to judge about right and wrong? I think that’s a slippery slope.
“But it’s true that some countries, some shortcomings are bigger than in others. I think there’s trouble in Germany, there’s trouble in the UK when it comes to individual freedom, probably to a different scale and level.”
Vettel believes the best way to make progress is through setting positive and inspiring examples. “I feel that we don’t really get anywhere by just highlighting the negatives and being so negative because in the end, it makes you sad.
“But much more inspiring, I find, is to highlight the positives and listen to those who have been touched and whose life has been improved. To see that today, these women, the confidence they have in an area that is male-dominated when it comes to driving or racing, to give them the chance and the focus, I think it’s been great. It’s given me a lot of pleasure as well, even if it wasn’t a race or something that maybe people imagined, but just the fact that spending time and giving something back some of my experience, they really enjoyed that.
“So I think that’s for me, that’s the happier way to look at things, to focus on the positives rather than just focus on the negatives. For sure there are shortcomings and they have to be addressed. But I still feel the more powerful tool is the positive weapon than a negative one.”
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