A Matter of Fact: F1 driver Sebastian Vettel’s oil sands criticism rife with hypocrisy

Car racing, and the world, relies on oil and gas. Canada should be the supplier of choice

By Deborah Jaremko
Sebastian Vettel of Germany speaks to media prior to practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Canada on June 17, 2022 in Montreal, Quebec. Getty Images photo

German Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel sat on a podium in Montreal this week in gear emblazoned with his sponsor logos – including OPEC oil giant Saudi Aramco, owned by the tyranny state of Saudi Arabia – and told reporters that Alberta’s oil sands is “criminal.” 

He had arrived earlier to take part in the Montreal Grand Prix in a T-shirt calling the oil sands a “climate crime.”  

The hypocrisy in these actions is staggering. Here’s why.  

Fact: Formula One racing relies on fossil fuels 

From the racing helmets and protective gear to the enormous logistical undertaking of moving teams and equipment around the world, the massive event location operations and, of course, the high-performance race cars and gasoline they run on, F1 would not be possible without fossil fuels.  

Approximately 256,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions are generated for a single F1 season, the organization says.  

The F1 organization has set a goal to reach net zero emissions. So have the largest companies in Canada’s oil sands, and they’re on a solid foundation of successful improvements in environmental performance.  

Fact: Canadian oil leads the world in environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics 

Among the world’s top 10 oil reserve holders, Canada ranks number one across the board in ESG metrics like environmental protection, social progress, and the absence of violence and terrorism.  

That’s according to rankings derived from Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index, the Social Progress Imperative Index, and the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators.  

While Canada holds a leading number one in all categories, Vettel racing sponsor Aramco’s Saudi Arabia ranks number eight in environmental performance, seven in social progress, five in political stability and the absence of violence/terrorism, and nine for freedom of expression.  

Human Rights Watch says that in Saudi Arabia there is “near-total repression of independent civil society and critical voices” and “ongoing repression and contempt for basic rights.”  

Meanwhile, Canada is a stable democracy with a focus on labour rights, civil rights, environmental protection, and Indigenous opportunity. 

Vettel’s choice to fly the flag for Saudi Arabia while decrying Canada’s oil sands industry as “criminal” is disgraceful.  

Fact: Canada’s oil sands is on the path to net zero emissions 

Canada’s oil sands industry is doing more to reduce emissions than other major producing jurisdictions, according to BMO Capital Markets.  

Oil sands companies have already achieved success reducing emissions per barrel, or emissions intensity, by 20 per cent since 2009, according to IHS Markit. The consultancy expects total oil sands emissions – not just emissions per barrel – to start going down within the next five years. 

And the six largest oil sands companies, representing more than 95 per cent of production, have jointly committed to reach net zero emissions by 2050.  

Fact: The world will require oil and gas for decades to come 

Oil and gas are expected to be required to supply the largest share of world energy through 2050 even as more renewable energy comes online, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).  

The IEA projects that renewable energy will rise to supply 26 per cent of world needs in 2050, up from 12 per cent in 2020. At the same time, the share of oil and gas is expected to stay about the same – at 50 per cent in 2050 compared to 53 per cent in 2020.  

IEA executive director Fatih Birol would prefer oil and gas supply comes from “good partners” like Canada.  

“Canada has been a cornerstone of global energy markets, a reliable partner, for years,” Birol said in January. “We will still need oil and gas for years to come… I prefer that oil is produced by countries… like Canada who want to reduce the emissions of oil and gas.” 

Vettel should recognize that his sport, and the world, are dependent on oil and gas. And that Canada should be the preferred supplier as a proven leader in social and environmental progress – not inaccurately thrown under the bus as a safe target for dissent.  

The unaltered reproduction of this content is free of charge with attribution to Canadian Energy Centre Ltd.