F1 takes tentative steps against ‘white billionaire boys club’


Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton. Photo: Renato Gizzi (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Formula One is one of the most popular sports today, but it is also known as an industry dominated by rich white men.

Being one of the most expensive sports to get into, it is difficult to become established, even after a strong junior career.

As Lawrence Stroll, executive chairman of Aston Martin said, “You have to be a very wealthy individual or a big corporation to be able to afford to get into Formula One.”

But a recent event where a retired formula one champion racially mistreated a current driver shows to the community that the sport could be starting to change.

Three-time Formula One champion Nelson Piquet was fined £750,000 for racial remarks against Lewis Hamilton, after the 2021 British Grand Prix.

Hamilton commenced his Formula One career with McLaren in 2007 and is the first and only person of colour to become a Formula One driver.

After six years with McLaren, Hamilton joined Mercedes with whom he is in his tenth season.

In November 2021, Hamilton raced at in the British Grand Prix in Silverstone where he made contact with Max Verstappen – who is dating Piquet’s daughter – in the first lap of the race.

Verstappen was sent to hospital after the crash in the Silverstone race.

Hamilton went on to win, but Piquet was quick to slam Hamilton’s driving and also directed racial remarks to the three-time world champion.

Piquet said Hamilton “did Verstappen dirty” and used racial slurs to describe the Mercedes driver on a Brazilian podcast.

You have to be a very wealthy individual or a big corporation to be able to afford to get into Formula One.

— Lawrence Stroll, executive chairman of Aston Martin

The racial slur saw Piquet slapped with a $750 thousand pound ($1.43 million AUD) fine.

Piquet, who raced for many teams including McLaren and Brabham, has a history of making controversial comments during his Formula One career, so these comments don’t come as a surprise.

Since the racial comments, four human rights groups have also taken Piquet to court, suing him for moral damages of $10 million Brazilian reals ($2.96 million AUD).

The court ruled against Piquet but he only had to pay half the amount he was sued for or $5 million Brazilian reals ($950,000 AUD).

As reported by Motorsport, many people within the Formula One community have stood by Hamilton and Mercedes since these comments were made.

Ferrari, McLaren, Alpine and Aston Martin were some of the teams to voice their support along with drivers Daniel Riccardo, George Russell, and Charles Leclerc.

Since the incident Piquet has been suspended from his honorary roles and barred from the Formula One paddock.

Piquet issued an apology some would say was ‘wholehearted’.

“I want to clarify this word has often been used to describe a ‘guy’ or ‘person’ and that it was never intended to offend,” he said.

Hamilton, the only Formula One driver who is a person of colour, has referred to his sport as a white billionaire boys club.

Posting on Twitter, he said more needs to be done, to overcome the lack of diversity in Formula One.

“These archaic mindsets need to change and have no place in our sport,” he said.

“I’ve been surrounded by these attitudes and targeted my whole life.”

The Mercedes driver said he’d been subject to similar bullying as a young boy in school.

“There has been plenty of time to learn,” he said.

This is not the first-time racism and racial slurs towards athletes has been an issue in sports.

The Formula One community has taken steps to address racism in the sport, creating the campaign #WeRaceAsOne in June 2020, with a video to raise awareness and saying “[the] time has come for action.”

Despite these recent efforts, questions remain for Formula One and its community.

What does Formula One stand for?

And will it remain a billionaire boys club or become a sport for all?