Lewis Hamilton Spells Out F1’s Institutional Racism And How To Change It

Lewis Hamilton Spells Out F1’s Institutional Racism And How To Change It

The Hamilton Commission, started by seven-time Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton and co-chaired by Royal Academy of Engineering CEO Dr. Hayaatun Sillem, published a comprehensive report Tuesday detailing the systemic barriers to the involvement of Black people in motorsport, and in engineering fields at large.

The 93-page report, titled Accelerating Change: Improving Representation of Black People in UK Motorsport was the culmination of 10 months of research, amassing large swaths of data across primary and higher education, as well as within Formula 1 itself. It’s interspersed with accounts from Black students and working engineers, detailing firsthand the institutional forces and attitudes that pushed them away from pursuing their careers. And it makes actionable recommendations on how decision makers in motorsport can generate the diversity they so often claim to encourage. You can read it in full here.

The Commission takes aim at three particular areas that impede inclusivity and representation for Black people in STEM fields: inspiration and engagement; support and empowerment; and accountability and measurement. It’s unfortunately rife with stories of young Black people becoming disillusioned with motorsport upon noticing a distinct lack of employed individuals who look like them. There are also numerous accounts of Black students facing discrimination within the engineering community and overt racism from instructors steering Black students away from STEM-related interests.

One refrain in the report is something heard from hiring personnel across multiple F1 teams over and over again: that ethnicity isn’t relevant to them. They’re simply trying to find the best person for the job. This mindset only dismisses the problem and furthers the institutional racism that impedes minorities from entering these fields. If every team is sourcing talent from the “best” universities, and those universities aren’t interested in supporting a diverse body of students to begin with, the status quo will never change.

And of course, even when Black people make it to the highest level of motorsport — the Commission estimates “the proportion of Black people in Formula 1 to be less than 1 per cent” — they inevitably continue to face discrimination. Quaashie, one F1 engineer interviewed in the report, told the following story about his experience developing a GT car, before his time in F1:

“Things got off to a bad start. We were trackside and jokes would be made about Black people; jokes about afro combs and fried chicken, to jokes about crime rates or poverty in Africa, which were inappropriate. I felt powerless. I was the only Black person trackside in my team.”

Quaashie left that program and later joined an F1 team. The culture was better, but still disappointing; the report paraphrases that “there was no emphasis on the team to be inclusive. He approached the marketing manager about doing something to showcase diversity, but it was deemed unnecessary.” Today, he’s thankfully working at a team that he says is much more supportive.

The Commission ultimately makes 10 recommendations, listed on pages 22-24 of the report and quoted below:

We recommend that Formula 1 teams and other motorsport businesses broaden access to motorsport by expanding the apprenticeships provision to include higher apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships as an alternate pathway into the sector, as well as availability to paid work placement and work experience schemes.

We recommend that a new exclusions innovation fund be established, developing programmes that address the factors that contribute to the high proportion of students from Black backgrounds being excluded from schools.

We support the piloting of new approaches to increase the number of Black teachers in STEM subjects that lead to careers in engineering, namely mathematics, physics, design and technology, and computing.

We recommend the creation of targeted support programmes for Black students in post-16 education to enable greater progression into Higher Education courses and work-based training opportunities linked to the motorsport sector.

We support the creation of scholarship programmes to enable Black graduates from degrees in engineering and allied subjects to progress into specialist motorsport roles.

We ask that Formula 1 teams (and other Motorsport organisations) take the lead in implementing a Diversity and Inclusion Charter for motorsport to commit the sector to improve diversity and inclusion across all organisations.

We support the promotion of the National Education Union Anti-Racism Charter for schools, and we call on teachers’ unions and other leadership bodies in education to work with us to ensure widespread adoption of the Charter.

We call on the Department for Education and other bodies holding education data to enable easier public access to disaggregated data on student and staff characteristics at subject level.

We recommend the development of best practice guidance for STEM inspiration and outreach activities to enable inclusive engagement with Black students in schools, and with those who influence them.

We recommend that additional STEM activity support be provided to supplementary schools that are led by Black community groups across the UK.

Stefano Domenicali, F1’s CEO and president, said he and his colleagues will “reflect on all of the findings.” Domenicali also said that F1 “completely agrees” with the call to increase diversity across the sport, and that F1 will be “announcing more actions in the coming days.”

Let’s hope those actions go a little further than hashtags and “End Racism” t-shirts. But as long as they’re still doing the t-shirt thing, maybe they could apologise to Lewis Hamilton for this whole sad episode?