The missing tactic in Formula 1’s race for diversity
I’ve never been a massive fan of (currently) six-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton. “Arguably the greatest driver of his generation” is not something I’d argue against. But off-track, the swagger and superstar lifestyle choices didn’t endear him to me. However in the last weeks and months my opinion has changed. I’m unlikely to buy the inevitable post-retirement music offering, but the way Lewis has raised his voice, consistency and clearly, to ask for a more diverse sport has gained my respect.
I don’t work exclusively in motorsport any more (and I will caveat this whole piece by saying I have never worked specifically for a Formula 1 team). I got to see awesome parts of the world. I made friends for life. I had unforgettable highs. I wouldn’t change those for the world. I miss it every time there is an artful montage.
But during all those races, flights, late night engine changes and even later night debriefs in the bar, I was never completely, unapologetically myself. I always felt a little bit on the outside. Like I didn’t fit in. I put on an act to see if that helped. Perhaps if I just behaved like “one of the lads” then everything would click into place.
I did some pretty good method acting. I laughed along at the running joke about who wanted to “smash my back doors in”. I joined in the bullying of the new recruits. I’m not proud of how often I sent an enthusiastic work experience kid off to find the spirit level bubbles. I spent more money than I earnt on designer sunglasses and watches to keep up with the rich kids that now keep the sport financially afloat.
What I was subconsciously searching for during that time was inclusion and belonging.
Diversity is the headline. And I’m so glad that Formula 1, thanks to mostly the recent efforts of Hamilton, has finally woken up to the reality of it’s largely pale and male make up. However the words I can't find in the hastily written commitments and awkwardly read statements are the most important ones to me - inclusion and belonging.
In No Hard Feelings Liz Fosslien and Molly West said “Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having that voice be heard.”
The sudden push for diversity is of little long term consequence if those diverse hires don’t arrive into an inclusive workplace; motorsport is a professional workplace for thousands of people, a fact that sometimes seems to be forgotten in an industry that plenty of people arrive at via a childhood obsession. We live in a world with too few engineers and technologists; there are plenty of other tables that you can join if you find your voice isn’t heard at the glass-topped, carbon-fibre-legged motorsport version.
Racing is full of practical and pragmatic people. And actually a lot of inclusion can be improved by practical actions. I’m talking about having personal protective equipment in all sizes and toilets in technical areas that aren’t just urinals. I hope for every press release about diversity that is coming off the printers in F1 offices right now, there is also a purchase order for something tangible.
Once those quick wins are in the moral and metaphorical trophy cabinet, we’re going to have to start the long stint. Re-programming the thinking. To stop shouting “Way to go boys” on the radio at the end of a purple lap. To not just hire people from your old school. And creating an environment where people automatically call out the bad behaviour badged up as “banter”.
Motorsport is an itch that I’m not naive enough to say I won’t want to scratch again full-time one day. But I hope if I do, then it is a more open and accepting, inclusive and diverse place. The people in it deserve it.