Being the first black Formula 1 driver is undeniably a feat, but to be the only black driver on the grid after so many years truly is disappointing, a bit like the 2022 season. Diversity has always been an issue in Formula 1, with terms like ‘British Bias’ gaining prominence over time to illustrate the lack of range in the sport. With such a rich motorsport history in Britain, many teams have made their home here: Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren, Aston Martin, Alpine, and Williams are all based in the UK, thus mostly employing British staff.
Formula 1 is a lucrative sport. Drivers need a lot of money even to begin racing, then more money to fund their early careers until a sponsorship comes. For engineers, journalists, and more wanting to find a way into the sport, it’s an unfortunate mix of banking on luck and dedication. Issues have been raised within the FIA to increase diversity in teams’ factories, but it appears that they never really knew where and how to start.
After looking at teams’ end-of-season photos, Lewis Hamilton noticed a clear lack of diversity. Years have passed since diversity schemes were discussed in Formula 1, let alone effectively implemented. So he bore the brunt and founded The Hamilton Commission alongside the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2019. The primary goal of the commission is to improve “the representation of black people in UK motorsport” by presenting 10 ways to accelerate change in the industry.
The Hamilton Commission first took to a 10-month research period, led by Dr Hayaatun Sillem CBE with an independent Board of Commissioners with a range of expertise. The research period utilised data analysis, literature reviews, stakeholder mapping, and more to better understand why there is a lack of representation in Formula 1. The report was released in 2021, calling for Formula 1 teams and motorsport bodies to expand academic programmes, implement diversity charters, and support new approaches to motorsport progression. These suggestions are just the baseline among many other recommendations that the report gives.
In addition to providing 10 recommendations to increase diversity, The Hamilton Commission has provided clear and updated diversity statistics in Formula 1. The report finds that “less than 1% of the workforce comes from Black or other minority ethnic backgrounds”. In addition to this, the report highlights the lack of female leadership positions, stating that there have only ever been 2 female team principals in the history of the sport. The report also found through a series of interviews that the lack of career progression is a major issue with black and minority ethnic engineers.
To further the research and recommendations given by The Hamilton Commission, Mission 44 was launched. Mission 44 is a charitable foundation that seeks to narrow the opportunity gaps in education and employment as well as increase diversity in a range of sectors. As a joint initiative between Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team, signs of diversity will begin showing in his own team. Hamilton also pledged a personal £20 million to the initiative to increase representation in the motorsport industry.Embed from Getty Images
Mission 44 announced its partnership with Teach First which will train and recruit 150 Black Stem teachers over two years by funding taster and mentorship programmes, marketing and networking campaigns, and more. In line with the recommendations from The Hamilton Commission, foundations like this push diversity from the very beginning. The Mercedes F1 team has also launched programmes to accelerate diversity: Accelerate 25 is a five-year programme by aiming for 25% of their new annual starters to come from under-represented groups.
In addition to Mercedes, other Formula 1 teams are beginning to broaden their programmes to increase diversity. BWT Alpine Formula 1 team announced their Rac(H)er programme for equal opportunities in motorsport. This programme focuses on empowering women and increasing the number of positions for females in motorsport, recently announcing a line-up of six new karters. McLaren Racing has also pledged to diversify talent through the McLaren Racing Engage, creating alliances with four partners to amplify diversity programmes. Through alliances with partners such as Creative Access, McLaren is bound to increase its diversity.
With signs of accelerating diversity now set in stone through different foundations and programmes, Formula 1 will boast a more diverse grid in the next decade. There are now far bigger chances for young people to make their way into motorsport, whether it’s through engineering or in other aspects. The Hamilton Commission has successfully planted the seeds for a truly diverse and impactful sport, steering away from Formula 1’s current image. Formula 1 has been deemed inaccessible since its conception, being lucrative and a symbol of wealth. In an age where Formula 1 is fighting to change the narrative, these foundations and programmes will eventually aid in steering the image.