Sebastian Vettel organised a karting event for women in Saudi Arabia this week ahead of the country’s first Formula One race.
The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will take place in Jeddah on Sunday against a backdrop of accusations of “sportswashing” by human rights groups.
One of the controversies is over rights for women, although the country has been quick to point to legislation such as ending the ban on women driving in 2018.
Vettel has been outspoken on political issues at times this year, wearing LGBTQ+ pride colours ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix to protest controversial anti-LGBTQ+ legislation recently passed in that country.
The four-time world champion wanted to do something ahead of Saudi’s new race so put together the event for this week, inviting women with a mix of driving experience to take part.
“I was trying to pass on some of my experiences in life and on track to do something together to grow their confidence,” Vettel said on Thursday.
“Obviously in Saudi Arabia women have only been allowed since 2017 to drive a car so some of them had a license others they did not, some of them were huge F1 enthusiasts, others had nothing to do with F1 or racing before today. So it was a good mix of women from different backgrounds and a great event, everyone was extremely happy.
“I have to say I was inspired by their stories and their background and the positivity about the change in the country.
“It is true that if we look through a Western or European lens that there are still lots of things that should be improved and have to be addressed. But it is also true that some things are changing and for those people it makes a huge difference.
“At the end, it is very difficult for us coming to a country where we only spend a couple of days and we try to be a perfect judge, but not knowing the background exactly and the people inside out.
“But this way I think it was important for me to get to know these women. I think it was a very memorable and inspiring day and great way to kick off the weekend. As I said, focusing on the positive.”
Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton said he does not feel comfortable racing in Saudi Arabia given the country’s human rights record.
Hamilton will continue to wear pride colours on his race helmet as he did at the Qatar Grand Prix.