Seven-time Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton wants to change the sport for good by finding ways to improve racial diversity and give Black people more opportunities in a STEM field overwhelmingly dominated by white men. On Tuesday, The Hamilton Commission – an organization founded and co-chaired by Hamilton – published a 94-page report in association with the Royal Academy of Engineering, which highlights the lack of racial and ethnic representation in UK motorsport.
From the thousands of jobs in Formula 1, only 1% of employees are from Black backgrounds. The Hamilton Commission aims to change that. pic.twitter.com/m0sWvvQwRq
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) July 13, 2021
The report, titled “Accelerating Change: Improving Representation of Black People in UK Motorsport,” analyzes the UK education system from the ground up and provides 10 recommendations to addressing the barriers to the recruitment and progression of Black people within the sport. The report notes that the UK — home to seven of 10 Formula 1 teams and over 4,000 companies involved in competitive racing and car design, development and manufacturing — is a global powerhouse in motorsport. Despite this, less than one percent of the workforce in F1 is from Black or other ethnic minority backgrounds. In Formula 1’s 71-year history, there have been zero Black team principals, while only two women have held the role.
In the report’s foreword, Hamilton – the first and only Black driver to race in Formula 1 – discussed his motivations for starting these conversations and opened up about growing up with dreams of becoming a driver despite being consistently chastised and told he would never amount to anything.
“I, like so many other Black students, lost my confidence in school and struggled to see a future where I could be successful. But like any other child, I was born with potential,” Hamilton wrote. “It was the system that failed me and almost destroyed my sense of confidence and any dream of living to my full potential. Looking back, it’s all so clear to me. Why would I believe in myself, if my school never believed in me?”
While drivers are some of the most popular and well-known figures around the world, engineering roles make up the largest single occupation group in motorsport. However, the representation of Black people in engineering and technician roles is sorely lacking. When asked about pursuing a career in engineering, a majority of young Black interviewees said they believed engineering was “not for them” and that they “won’t fit in” given their lack of understanding about the pathways to technical careers and the sector’s existing underrepresentation of people of color.
The report states that the reasons for the lack of Black employees in UK motorsport are largely systemic: Black people are less likely to achieve 1st class honours degrees (which is often how recruits are selected by F1 teams), less likely to study engineering at universities because of a historic lack of access and exposure to the field, and are heavily underrepresented in apprenticeships. Additionally, the majority of the sport’s engineering sector is concentrated in “Motorsport Valley,” a rural area in southern England that is inaccessible for many young Black communities that live in major cities.
Once in the field, it can be difficult for many Black engineers to feel comfortable and stay in the sector due to its exclusionary culture and emphasis on tradition. Many people interviewed by the research team described a perceived lack of progression for Black professionals, a lack of Black engineers in leadership roles, and instances of microaggressions that seemed entrenched in the competitive and “elite” image of the sport. The Commission argues that these issues often originate in the UK school system, where many young Black students are placed into lower ability groups based on low teacher expectations, stereotypes, and a lack of equal resources.
In the report, the Commission lays out ten recommendations to improve diversity in motorsport, which include expanding apprenticeship programs, the establishment of a fund that would provide more resources for Black students, a new approach to teaching STEM to encourage more Black students to participate, and the creation of scholarship programs to enable Black STEM graduates to progress into specialist roles in the sport.
Following the publication of The Hamilton Commission’s report, F1 announced details of scholarships and internships for students from underrepresented ethnic, gender and socio-economic groups as part of its commitment to improving diversity and inclusion in the sport.
“Our #WeRaceAsOne platform is our commitment to make real change and shows our recognition that we know we must make a positive contribution to the world we live in,” said Stefano Domenicali, President and CEO of F1. “All of the teams are committed to this and the work of the Hamilton Commission shows the dedication to addressing these issues across Formula 1.”