Written by Alana Bermudez, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
Formula 1, the pinnacle of motor racing, has been associated with glamour, speed, and technology. However, it has also faced criticism for its lack of diversity, both on and off the track. In a sport mostly dominated by males of European background, there is an urgent need for greater inclusion and representation from various ethnicities, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Lewis Hamilton, the sport's only Black driver, has openly expressed concerns, stating, "The time for platitudes and token gestures is over. We need tangible actions that bring about real change." (The Guardian, 2020). In fact, according to an analysis by SportsPro Media in 2019, only 27% of F1 personnel are from non-white backgrounds, and just 20% are females. This article explores how Formula 1 can overcome this lack of diversity, and become more inclusive and globally appealing.
How Can Formula 1 Overcome its Lack of Diversity?
Step 1: Have Strong Talent Scouting and Development Programs
Formula 1 teams should actively scout for potential talent in regions unrepresented or underrepresented in the sport.
As Hamilton once said, "There is barely any diversity in F1... I want to be part of shifting that needle" (CNBC, 2020). To achieve this, teams must work with local motorsport clubs, educational institutions, and grassroots organisations. By doing so, they can discover untapped talent and invest in their development through driver academies or scholarship programs.
A promising initiative is the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 team’s partnership with Sir Stirling Moss' Foundation. Through this partnership, scholarships are offered to support talented young drivers having a dearth of financial resources to pursue a career in racing.
Additionally, F1's collaboration with the ‘FIA Girls on Track’ program seeks to represent and develop more women in racing careers. By investing time and resources to scout and develop talents from diverse backgrounds and locations globally, Formula 1 can ensure inclusivity and accessibility for future generations.
Step 2: Building Partnerships with Diversity Partners
Formula 1 should establish partnerships with organisations promoting diversity in motorsports, such as FIA Women in Motorsport Commission. Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali states, "We must stress the importance of diversity in our sport to create a forward-looking future that enables talents from different backgrounds to grow" (2022). These partnerships help create a supportive ecosystem for underrepresented talents to develop their skills and careers.
The FIA Women in Motorsport Commission has been instrumental in promoting diversity within the sport. Its previous president, Michèle Mouton, stated, "Our main objective is to promote the presence of women in all aspects of motorsport, from the grassroots to the top tier" (2020). Joining forces with such organisations can help Formula 1 leverage its expertise and resources to identify potential talents early, and provide them support and present opportunities.
In 2020, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1 team partnered with the Mulberry Schools Trust to launch the Mulberry STEM Academy, aimed at engaging students in areas of high deprivation or under-representation in the sport. By aligning with these organisations and enterprises, Formula 1 looks to demonstrate its commitment towards promoting diversity within motorsport, while fostering an inclusive environment to empower all talents, regardless of background.
Step 3: Provide Financial Support
Breaking into Formula 1 is undoubtedly an expensive venture, with estimates suggesting that families of drivers spend a staggering $8 million on Junior Formulae alone. Providing financial support to talented, underprivileged youths can significantly improve their chances of a career in the sport. Formula One teams have begun to acknowledge this issue, and are taking steps to support these individuals, either by offering scholarships or developing sponsorship schemes explicitly targeting them. For example, the Ferrari Driver Academy (FDA) sponsors talented young drivers through their karting and Junior Formulae series, along the ladder to Formula One.
A 2017 report titled "Driving Change" published by Motorsport UK revealed that just 1% of all motorsport license holders in the UK came from areas considered socio-economically disadvantaged. This highlights the need for targeted intervention and support for underprivileged youths seeking careers in F1. Fostering accessibility and providing financial backing to underprivileged youths passionate to race, will allow these individuals to pursue their dreams. This will also contribute to diversifying the Formula 1 competitor base, leading to exciting new talent emerging on the world stage.
Step 4: Develop Robust Mentorship Programs
This allows current drivers and industry professionals to guide, mentor, and cultivate aspiring talents, provide hands-on training, and motivate young drivers from diverse backgrounds who might face unique challenges. Mentorship programs can also help bridge the gender gap, as female racers such as Danica Patrick have emphasised the importance of role models in paving the way for future generations. By connecting young drivers and established professionals, mentorship programs can foster a supportive community between current and up-and-coming talent, while actively addressing issues faced by under-represented groups.
Step 5: Spearhead Education and Awareness Campaigns
Formula 1 has taken significant steps to promote diversity and inclusion within the sport. In June 2020, the organisation launched the "We Race As One" initiative, which focuses on combating racism and inequality in the sport, and creating a more inclusive environment for fans and participants.
In an interview, Lewis Hamilton, a seven-time Formula 1 World Champion, said, "I have personally experienced racism in my life and seen my family and friends experience racism, and I am speaking from the heart when I appeal for change" (2020). He actively campaigns for equal opportunities within the sport, and has used his platform to promote awareness.
In addition to its commitment towards diversity, Formula 1 has been hosting events to educate fans on the importance of inclusivity. In collaboration with FIA's Girls on Track program, they organised the first-ever all-female go-karting event in Saudi Arabia in 2021. The event aimed to empower young girls by allowing them to be part of motorsport.
While Formula 1 has taken steps in recent years to address the lack of diversity within the sport, through the "We Race As One" campaign and the F1 Driver Academy Diversity and Inclusion scholarship programs, this has amounted to only 6.5% of drivers, 16% of employees, and 19% of volunteers being women. The road ahead to create a truly diverse and inclusive environment is still long. Research by McKinsey & Company demonstrates that companies with diverse staff perform better financially (2020).
Susie Wolff, former Formula 1 test driver and founder of the Dare To Be Different organisation, stated, "It became about really because I'm someone who believes much more in action. Everyone can talk about how important diversity is, everyone can support diversity, but who actually implements and makes it happen. And for us, at Venturi, obviously, with me being a female team principal and being passionate about the fact that I believe motorsport is an environment where women can be successful, I put my money where my mouth was" (2021).
Following these recommendations and commitment to change, Formula 1 can not only realise more significant profits by increasing its appeal outside its vast European male base, but also become synonymous with global inclusion and representation, and not just be all about speed and glamour.