Sebastian Vettel says Formula 1 is ready for an openly gay driver, something he believes would help to speed up the elimination of prejudice and push the sport "in a better direction".
The four-time World Champion, who stands third on the list of all-time Grand Prix wins, will be the cover star of the July/August edition of Attitude, the world's best-selling gay magazine.
He will join David Beckham and Adam Peaty among the list of Attitude's straight cover stars, described as an "LGBTQ ally" by the magazine in which he has used his platform to demand action from Formula 1 to combat prejudice.
Vettel has witnessed negativity towards LGBTQ in Formula 1
Vettel says he has indirectly witnessed individuals in the world of Formula 1 speaking "negatively" about the LGBTQ community, prior to gaining the confidence to speak up against such comments.
"I've not seen it directly, but indirectly I've heard people talking negatively about LGBTQ people and the LGBTQ community," he said, speaking in the upcoming edition of the magazine.
"Whenever I heard those things it always felt wrong, but today I'm more confident to speak up and shut them down. Homophobia is prejudice, and prejudice is wrong. It really is that simple."
Formula 1 has no current openly gay drivers
Currently, there are no openly gay drivers on the F1 grid, with Mike Beuttler, who raced between 1974 and 1976, the sport's last known gay male driver. There have been gay female stars of motorsport, however, including W Series racer and Vettel's Aston Martin colleague, Jessica Hawkins.
"I guess it might be similar to the situation in a sport like football: 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," Vettel said when asked why gay F1 drivers may choose to stay closeted.
"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."
Vettel tells F1: More can be done
But more can be done by Formula 1, says Vettel, who used his platform on the cover of Attitude to urge the sport he once conquered to do more than just talking about the issues close to his heart.
The 34-year-old has not been shy in standing up for his beliefs in recent years, describing the recent ban by Hungary on promoting homosexuality to anyone under the age of 18 as "embarrassing" for the country.
"It's getting better, you do now see a few engineers and mechanics who feel able to be more open. But there's still more we can do to improve diversity and inclusivity in motorsport, not only in terms of sexuality but also by supporting and encouraging women, people of colour, those with disabilities and so on," he continued.
"Formula 1 has started a movement called 'We Race As One', which is good, but we all have to make a concerted effort to ensure that it actually achieves positive change; so we act on it rather than just talk about it."
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Is F1 ready for an openly gay driver?
Despite his protests that more can be done, Vettel is confident that Formula 1 is now ready for an openly gay driver, adding assurances that an openly gay driver would be given the support of sporting rivals and colleagues.
"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," he said.
"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."
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