By Alan Baldwin
LONDON, England, Tues. July 20, 2021 (Reuters) – A commission set up by Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton to help boost the number of Black people in British motorsport published its report with 10 recommendations for change and some damning insights into the industry on July 13th.
The report, led by the Royal Academy of Engineering, came on the heels of Sunday’s racist abuse of Formula’s One’s lone black driver, Lewis Hamilton. The social media attack on the Caribbean roots Hamilton, born to a Grenadian father and British mother, came after the seven-time world champion won Sunday’s British Grand Prix despite his in-race collision with Max Verstappen.
Hamilton won a record eighth British Grand Prix at Silverstone on Sunday, July 18th. He did so after rebounding from a 10-second penalty that was issued to him by race stewards for causing a collision with Verstappen, who was taken to hospital for precautionary checks after a heavy impact with the barriers at Copse Corner. Verstappen was subsequently released from hospital at 10pm local time on Sunday evening without any major injuries.
Sky Sports reported Hamilton, 36, was targeted online hours after the victory, with racist messages including monkey emojis sent as replies to a post by his Mercedes team on Instagram.
On Monday morning, Mercedes, F1 and the sport’s governing body, the FIA, released a joint statement: “During, and after, yesterday’s British Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton was subjected to multiple instances of racist abuse on social media following an in-race collision.
“Formula 1, The FIA and Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team condemn this behaviour in the strongest possible terms. These people have no place in our sport and we urge that those responsible should be held accountable for their actions.
“Formula 1, the FIA, the drivers and the teams are working to build a more diverse and inclusive sport, and such unacceptable instances of online abuse must be highlighted and eliminated.”
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment.
Hamilton has been a vocal advocate for social justice and among the supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement.
He said before the race that he was inspired by the reaction of England football players to racist abuse after their penalty shootout defeat to Italy in the European Championship final.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met social media firms last week to ask them to step up the fight against online abuse.
The Formula One report found that none of the seven British-based Formula One teams or 4,000 UK motorsport companies had ethnicity data for employees. An estimate, however, suggested that only 1% of the 40,000 strong workforce was Black.
Rhys Morgan, director at the Royal Academy, told reporters the research also found examples of “quite horrible racist comments”, which he said were waved away as ‘banter’.
One Formula One engineer said he had experienced jokes about Black people, afro combs, fried chicken, crime rates and poverty in Africa while a Black female race marshal spoke of people addressing her in a Jamaican accent.
The commission found a number of barriers to diversity, including hiring from a select group of top universities, the rural locations of teams and systemic under-achievement in schools.
There was also a feeling among Black students that motorsport was not for them, while a cost cap introduced this season created a potential barrier for taking on more apprentices.
Recommendations include asking Formula One teams to implement a diversity and inclusion charter for motorsport and possible cost cap exemptions for taking on staff from Black backgrounds.
“A lot of the teams are responsive on this,” said Morgan. “We are keen to explore that further with the FIA and Formula One.”
The report, released in the week of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, proposed the establishment of a fund to develop programmes to address the factors contributing to high school exclusion rates among students from Black backgrounds.
It also suggested the piloting of new approaches to increase the number of Black teachers in subjects leading to careers in engineering and the creation of scholarship programmes.
Hamilton, the sport’s sole Black driver who was expelled from school as a youngster, hoped the report would start “a ripple effect” for change and saw it as a big part of his motorsport legacy.
“I would be like to be remembered for much more than just winning championships, which of course is an amazing thing on its own, but actually helping people and changing the industry and the viewpoints,” he said.
“We all bleed the same. There’s just no reason why it shouldn’t be as diverse as the world around us. If I am able to somehow shift the needle … that’s what I’m working towards.”
Formula One chief executive Stefano Domenicali hailed a “comprehensive and impressive” report.
“We will take the time to read and reflect on all of the findings, but we completely agree that we need to increase diversity across the sport,” he said.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Richard Pullin)