Even by dramatic Formula 1 standards, the last Hungarian Grand Prix was exciting – and yet a photo taken before it started may prove its biggest legacy.
There was another moment that made headlines around the world.
During the pre-race national anthem ceremony, Sebastian Vettel wore the Pride shirt in protest Anti-LGBTQ+ legislation brought by the government of Hungary.
in a special episode From the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast, the four-time world champion explains why he decided to take a stand, and the difference he hopes to make.
“I wasn’t nervous or embarrassed about the colors of the rainbow, or what people think,” Vettel says. “I wanted to send a message, and I was so proud of it.”
It doesn’t matter who you fall in love with
Vettel’s decision was not hasty.
The Aston Martin driver has learned that Formula 1 will be heading to Hungary this summer, and that the country’s government has been widely seen as hostile to the LGBTQ+ community, as it passed a law earlier this year banning the promotion of homosexual and transgender issues in schools.
In the weeks leading up to the Grand Prix, the European Parliament voted to take legal action against the new law; Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban responded by saying that the school’s policy was a matter for his country, not the “Brussels bureaucrats”.
“I remembered seeing in the news that the current government doesn’t have the most progressive views on certain things,” Vettel says when speaking to the BBC over a Zoom call.
“There has been a lot of controversy about laws banning a proper education of all ages and leaving out some parts, which I think is completely wrong.
“So the idea was born that we have this moment before the race where we can send certain messages, and I thought it was a good opportunity to send a little signal.”
This is exactly what the German did.
A rainbow was sweeping the side of his coaches and across his racing helmet; Pride-colored face mask walking around the track; And that T-shirt bearing the message: “Same love.”
“It’s the name of a beautiful McMallmore song, and I think it nicely explains some of the misconceptions people have,” Vettel says.
“It doesn’t matter what your skin color is, it doesn’t matter your background, it doesn’t matter where you come from, and it doesn’t matter who you love. In the end, you just want equal treatment for everyone.”
‘It means a lot to me’
Vettel’s actions have resonated with Matt Bishop, Aston Martin’s chief communications officer, Formula One veteran and founding ambassador for Aston Martin. Racing Pride Group.
“I joked that when I arrived nearly 30 years ago, I was the only gay in F1 Village,” Bishop says.
“Now I’m not, but LGBTQ+ people in Formula 1 are still rare. So to have someone like Seb, a straight guy who totally understands that one has to be able to live and let live, love and make love to the one you love, it’s heartwarming. It’s what we call an alliance, and as I said to Sebastian, it meant a lot to me.”
After Vettel’s actions in Hungary, messages of support were received from the LGBTQ+ community as well as from Lewis Hamilton, who posted a message on Instagram promising to “join you next time with the same shirt”.
“I was surprised it was so big,” Vettel admits.
“Ideally, there will be no reaction because it is normal.
“There are still countries arguing about whether or not gay marriage should be legal. I think there’s enough marriage for all of us, you know. It makes no difference to straight people whether gays are allowed to marry or not, but it makes a difference. Big for gays to be able to marry like everyone else.
“Yes, I was surprised – but it shows that there is still much to be done.”
And what about the reaction of those who felt that the Aston Martin driver should stick to racing, and that “politics and sports should not mix”?
“I get the idea,” Vettel says.
“I grew up in sports, had a lot of discussions with experts, the media and communications, and you hear this statement many times. But are we talking about ‘politics’ when we talk about human rights? I don’t think so.
“I think there are some topics you can’t avoid or say, ‘It doesn’t belong here, let’s not talk about this.’ Some topics are so big that they really belong everywhere, and everyone should be aware.”
“Just push the door and open it… you’ll be a star.”
Vettel is the newest – and most famous – athlete speaking out in support of the LGBTQ+ community, joining Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson And former English rugby star James Haskell as an outspoken ally.
“I wasn’t surprised that LGBT+ people would take Sebastian to heart,” says Bishop.
“But I think it is especially important when someone known as an upright family man takes up the case.
“And I will tell you this. If a gay man becomes a Formula 1 driver, drives a good team and wins, he will become the biggest and most famous sports star in the entire world.
“So if someone is in Formula 3 or Formula 2 and they’re nervous, just push the door to open it. It will open for you, and you’ll be a star.”
Vettel believes showing a comprehensive attitude is vital.
“If I can be inspired, that’s great,” says the German, “but in the end, the whole environment has to be attractive.”
“So if little things like what you did help raise awareness and express support, that’s great. But we have to stop judging people for what they like to do and who they like. We have to see people first, everyone is different and everyone has beauty about them.”
“Let’s just treat people the way we want to treat them, as equals, not on the basis of who they love.”
Sebastian Vettel and Matt Bishop talk to Jack Morley on the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast. New episodes are available weekly on BBC Sounds.