LONDON, June 8 (Reuters) - Formula One would now welcome its first openly gay driver, according to Germany's four times world champion Sebastian Vettel.
The 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.
Aston Martin driver Vettel last year wore a rainbow-coloured T shirt in Hungary 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 One driver would be welcomed, and rightly so," Vettel said in an interview with LGBTQ magazine Attitude that featured him on its cover.
"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?," he asked.
"It takes enormous courage to show your real self rather than hiding behind a façade based on what people expect."
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, editing by Toby Davis)