Formula 1 would now welcome its first openly gay driver, so says Aston Martin’s four times World Champion Sebastian Vettel.
The FIA sanctioned Formula 1 World Championship, which started in 1950, has had only male drivers on the starting grid since 1976 but has made a push for diversity and inclusion with teams showing support for the LGBTQ community.
Last year Vettel wore a rainbow-coloured T-shirt during the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend with the message ‘same love’ to protest anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
The 34-year-old father of three has also competed with Racing Pride logos on his car.
“Perhaps it wouldn’t have been the case in the past, but now I think a gay Formula 1 driver would be welcomed, and rightly so,” Vettel said in an interview with LGBTQ magazine Attitude that featured him on its cover.
This weekend F1 is in Azerbaijan, where in February Avaz ‘Hafizli’ Shikhmammadov, a 24-year-old reporter was stabbed to death, near Baku, according to the country’s Attorney General’s Office and Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Hafizli was also a prominent, well-known and popular gay rights activist which a media analyst called “a tragedy for the country’s media and civil society.”
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says authorities harass and jail independent or critical journalists and censorship is increasing.
Azerbaijan ranks 167 out of 180 countries, where one is the freest on RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.
Vettel: It takes enormous courage to show your real self rather than hiding behind a façade
The German added: “I feel that a gay driver would help to speed up the elimination of prejudice and help push our sport in a better direction. So I think and hope our sport would be ready for one.”
The former Red Bull and Ferrari driver said he had noticed attitudes changing, with some engineers and mechanics able to be more open.
Formula One champions Mercedes announced on Wednesday they will be racing with a rainbow star on their cars for the three grands prix in June, Pride Month, as a gesture of public support.
Seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton and team mate George Russell will also have the ‘Pride Star’ on their helmets in Azerbaijan, Canada and Britain.
Vettel compared the situation to professional soccer and “the old image of a player or driver as a ‘hero’ who should match a certain set of criteria: “But the judging criteria are just wrong. How are those stereotypes in any way related to performance? Who got to decide?”
“It takes enormous courage to show your real self rather than hiding behind a façade based on what people expect,” ventured Vettel.
Blackpool forward Jake Daniels last month became the first active male professional player in English soccer in 32 years to announce he is gay. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin;additional reporting GP247)