The Black Lives Matter movement is of paramount importance in modern society, no more than ever in the recent months where there has been a span of black people being killed by police officers in America. The world has rightly started to stand up with protests around the world demanding change. When the football and cricket started, sportsmen and women naturally took a knee before the games started as a sign of solidarity to all those effected. Before the season started in Formula 1, the F1 management unveiled the #WeRaceAsOne initiative. This was a pledge to promote internships encouraging more people of colour and women to be involved within F1. Motor Racing, especially F1, is a highly dominated white male sport, it always has been. Therefore, pre-season it looked like F1 management were taking real steps to make a change. This was backed by a number of teams who changed their car liveries to include the rainbow symbol of the initiative. Notably, McLaren who adapted the design into their engine cover, and Mercedes who completely changed their livery to black for the season.
Before the race started in the season opener in Austria, drivers were to follow other sports and take a knee to show solidarity and wear a shirt with an ‘end racism’ slogan. Before this had even started, several drivers had said that they were not going to take a knee. Multiple drivers took to social media to explain they were very much supporting the initiative, choosing to show their support in different ways. Drivers also cited that they did not want a distraction before the race had started. Albeit valid points, I would argue that taking 5 seconds out of your routine is not going to change your preparation for a race, especially as it precedes standing for 2 minutes for a national anthem. F1 drivers are huge influencers, whether they like it or not. By taking a knee as one, they showed that they stand behind the initiative, especially behind Lewis Hamilton, who is spearheading this campaign being the only current black driver, and only the second in the sports history after Willy Ribbs who was given a test in the 1986 Brabham team.
In the second race, nothing changed. Several drivers decided not to take a knee, some drivers did not even turn up on time for the ceremony. The worst thing was that F1 directors decided to cut away from the drivers kneeling, instead showing a pre-recorded Red Bull sponsorship of people parachuting to the circuit. This shows F1’s view of the initiative, that they would try to show less of kneeling because it caused bad publicity due to some drivers not kneeling. In Hungary, at the third round of the championship, it was a shambles. 4 drivers did not show up, some drivers came late, one driver did not even wear the shirt instead just pinning it under his chin.
Post-race win, Lewis Hamilton gave an interview in which he said that Romain Grosjean, director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, stated that because it happened once, that’s all that was needed. Formula 1 is a sport which holds huge events worldwide, it is a multi-million pound industry where tenths of a second are vital. The fine details in the sport are what separates the great and the average, and yet, they can not all come together on what to do on this global issue.
It should not be difficult for drivers to be at the centre of the grid at a certain time. In the FIA Sporting Regulations, rule 19.4, section 2 states “16 minutes before the scheduled start of the formation lap all drivers must be present at the front of the grid for the playing of the national anthem. Competitors will be given details by the FIA Media delegate.” It should not be difficult for drivers, therefore, to be told to arrive 30 seconds before this deadline to show the drivers unity.
Hamilton has expressed his disappointment in interviews and social media stating that there is no leader on this initiative. It should not have to be him who contacts teams and drivers to push for more effort. He states that it needs to come from the top management, Jean Todt and Chase Carey, who directs teams and drivers explicitly on what is going to happen. He also feels that nothing has changed, except some people are more aware of the issue.
It is clear some are not taking it seriously, which is not a shock when so many of the old generation have come out and said that there is not a racial problem within the sport. Former Chief Executive of F1 Bernie Ecclestone declared “black people are more racist than white people.” After Hamilton replied saying that Ecclestone’s comments were “ignorant and uneducated,” Ecclestone retorted comparing being black to being short. F1 quickly denied and distanced themselves from stating that he left the organisation years ago. Sir Jackie Stewart in an interview on Good Morning Britain said, “I don’t think there’s as big a problem as there might seem.” Mario Andretti denounced politics within the sport, claiming that “the goal of this is pretentious” and “he is creating a problem that doesn’t exist.” Hamilton has since taken to Instagram to reply stating perfectly “This is disappointing but unfortunately a reality that some of the older generation who still have a voice today cannot get out of their own way to acknowledge there is a problem.”
More recently, FIA boss Jean Todt gave an interview stating “Lives matters. Not just black lives. Or yellow lives. Or white lives. All lives.” Whilst Jean Todt has donated a million euros to anti-racist charities, his stance of all lives matter shows the systemic change that is needed. The all lives matter stance downplays the injustice and prejudice that people of colour experience. Exactly what the Black Lives Matter stance is trying to change and raise awareness for.
Formula 1 has a long way to go to eradicate racism within the sport, Lewis has started a movement that should only grow in strength, but it needs more than one driver to continue this push forward. It needs team, management and drivers, young and old, to come out and make a change.
“We’ll be together against this. We’ll be forever against this.” Enter Shikari – Fanfare for the Conscious Man