Motorsport’s origins can be traced back to the late 19th Century, with Formula One founded in 1950. However, what has evolved into one of the most lucrative and fast-growing sectors, remains difficult for black people to access.

White Man’s Land

There is no clearer depiction of the lack of representation than the dire statistic of there being only one black driver in the history of Formula One, that being Sir Lewis Hamilton. Despite the 7-time F1 World Champion’s success, there hasn’t been a prominent black driver in F1 or the junior formulas since. 

This lack of representation has left a lasting impression on young black people. According to the Hamilton Commission, many feel that: ‘a career in motorsport [is] not for them and they wouldn’t fit in,’ which is revealing

Despite this, black participation in motorsport has increased in recent years, with mechanics such as Calum Nicholas becoming key members of the paddock and presenters such as Ariana Bravo working with Channel 4. Naomi Schiff is another Formula One presenter who is a trailblazer for black people, especially black women, in motorsport media. 

Schiff began her career as a racing driver competing in the likes of the all-female racing series, W Series, in 2019. She then became an F1 pundit for Sky Sports F1 in 2022, where she also co-hosted the show ‘Any Driven Monday’. This offered an opportunity for major changes in the way black women were perceived in motorsport: from no representation to breaking the race and gender stereotype of Formula 1 being an exclusive white men’s club. Instead, Schiff faced relentless abuse as a result of her new position. This abuse played out in a classical formula of racism, misogyny, and people questioning her credentials. 

A study carried out by Areto Labs in collaboration with the Female Drive looked into online abuse against women in motorsport. It cited 13 per cent of the comments directed at Naomi Schiff as abusive with 8 per cent of them classed as being high-risk.

The Hamilton Report

In 2021, the Hamilton Commission was launched by Lewis Hamilton in collaboration with the Royal Academy of Engineering and Dr Hayaatun Sillem CBE, the first woman and person of colour to be CEO of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The research-based project aimed to explore: ‘the barriers and challenges facing Black people on their journey through education — focussing specifically on STEM subjects and engineering — and ultimately into UK motorsport.’

Their findings yielded 10 recommendations to increase diversity in motorsport. Amongst these, it was found that just 9 per cent of young black people follow motorsport compared to 46 per cent who follow football — perhaps due to the reputation of motorsport being elitist and lacking diversity.

A quick background check of key F1 drivers such as Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz, reveals racing connections or, as in the case of Lando Norris, social privilege. Of the current F1 grid, over 75 per cent are white men. Compared to a sport such as football, where many players are from socially and racially diverse backgroundsmotorsport is lagging behind. This reputation for privilege is further supported by the fact that entry-level motorsport, karting, costs around £30,000 per year, whereas playing football is easily accessible to most young black people. 

According to Diversity UK, 46 per cent of people living in families where the household head is Black are in poverty, compared to just under 1 in 5 families (19 per cent) where the household head is White. For many young black people, pursuing motorsport simply isn’t affordable or accessible.

Though these findings confirm that it is more difficult for black people to enter the sector of motorsport, they do not suggest that it is impossible. Indeed, the report identifies steady progress.

Creating Opportunities For Black Youth

Having highlighted the problems, it is now hoped that solutions can continue to be found to enable motorsports to be more inclusive with respect to gender and race. 

Some initiatives have already been put in place such as BCOMS (Black Collective of Media in Sport), founded by Leon Mann, providing opportunities for black people in sports media. The organisation holds masterclasses in the UK, offering opportunities for people in the BAME community to gain work experience and further their understanding of the sports media sector. 

As well as this, various schemes focusing on motorsport have been introduced including, Driven by Diversity and Driven by Us which was launched this June. Both initiatives aim to support underrepresented groups to help them break into motorsport.

Recent additions of young black drivers in the racing ranks such as Ugo Ugochukwu (part of the McLaren Driver Development programme), and Kenzo Craigie (part of the Mercedes Driver Academy), point to the start of real change in the participation of black people in motorsport. 

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