Formula One’s Perennial Diversity Problem


At the beginning of the 2018 season, World Champion Lewis Hamilton slammed the bosses of Formula One.  After storming out of his pre-race press conference, ahead of the season’s curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix, the 33-year-old posted a video to his more than 6 million Instagram followers, attacking the lack of diversity in the sport with the hashtags, ‘diversity’ and ‘you can do it’.

This is not the only time that the sport’s first and only black driver has had a problem with a  lack of diversity within Formula One. In the aftermath of the 2009 Monaco Grand Prix, Hamilton angrily reacted to a perceived harsh penalty, quoting Ali G at a press conference, ‘Maybe it’s because I’m black’. Issues of race in Formula One go far deeper than Hamilton’s own perceptions. Who could, for example, forget the incident where  Spanish fans blacked up and made monkey noises throughout the Grand Prix weekend at the Circuit de Catalunya earlier in the 2009 season?

It is important to point out that this is far from a Hamilton fanboy complaining about his hero. Personally, I’m not a fan of Hamilton and wish his prime antagonist this season, Sebastian Vettel, all the best for the remainder of 2018. And yet, when it comes to blatant racism in the sport, it is hard to ignore the views put forward by Britain’s most successful Formula One driver of all time – Hamilton has won 4 World Championship titles in total and more Formula One racing victories than any other Briton. Formula One is the pinnacle of motor racing and has been seen as such since its inception in 1950. During the following 68 seasons, races have been held across six different continents and have been contested by 742 different drivers. However, of all 742 of these drivers, only four have been of an ethnicity other than white. Indians Narain Karthikeyan and Carun Chandow were both given the opportunity to drive for lesser teams such as Jordan and Hispania Racing during the 2005 and 2010 seasons respectively.

Credit: Rachel Winter.
Credit: Rachel Winter.

Apart from Hamilton and the two Indian compatriots the only other minority driver of any note was Willy T. Ribbs who despite successful test drives in 1986 and 1987 was never given the opportunity to showcase his talent during a Grand Prix weekend. Clearly Formula One has fallen behind many other sports in terms of diversity on the grid. One key reason for this may, in fact, be the economic constraints facing anyone willing to take part in the sport. A clear example of this was shown earlier this year when Williams, faced with economic hardship, were forced to accept the lesser-known Sergey Sirotkin as a driver over the much-loved returning Robert Kubica. This was due entirely to the sponsorship money he brings.

The lack of a diverse grid in Formula One may, therefore, be down to a harsh reality. Formula One teams are running a business, meaning that any opportunity to save money, or increase revenues, is taken. Perhaps it is time for the sport’s new boss Chase Carey to re-evaluate how prize money is calculated in order for drivers to compete on an equal playing field based on talent, not on ethnicity or corporate sponsorships.


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