Formula 1’s (F1) 2020 season is like one we’ve never seen before.
Drivers and team members wearing masks, interviews conducted at six-foot distances and zero fans in the grandstands at a majority of races is a new normal F1 fans adjust to.
The most progressive part of the season so far? F1’s efforts to actually bring the Black Lives Matter movement and social justice to the forefront.
For decades, F1 has been infamous for being apolitical, turning an eye away from social justice issues and being overwhelmingly (still to this day) dominated by white men. Most drivers were simply robots with nearly non-existent personalities and only existed in the context of motorsport. Head executives could even get away with insensitive comments regarding gender and race.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton is the sport’s only Black driver. Ever. With six world championships (soon to be a record-tying seven) under his belt, his consistency and dedication to his craft is unparalleled. His status as an overwhelmingly successful Black athlete in a white-dominated sport makes him F1’s equity and diversity spokesperson by default, in a sense. And rightfully so.
His team made a last-minute bold move a week before the season kicked off in July. Their cars were painted all black instead of their normal silver. The drivers’ race suits also changed to black instead of white. “END RACISM” decals were put on their cars’ halo devices, right where cameras could see them.
F1 management followed suit by installing large “END RACISM” banners on top of pit garages and promoting their “#WeRaceAsOne” diversity initiative with decals on all race cars.
Yet, as with any instance of a sport that acknowledges racial injustices, the fans rebelled.
The overwhelming amount of comments on F1’s social media posts with a message of, “Get politics out of sport” is truly disappointing, yet I can’t even say I’m surprised. It’s mirrored with millions of pro sports fans.
F1’s social justice initiative is flawed: Pre-race displays of solitude were cut short and borderline ignored, TV cameras cut away to Red Bull skydivers instead of the displays of solitude during anthem proceedings and the FIA (F1’s governing body) banned t-shirts on the podium after Hamilton wore a shirt with Breonna Taylor’s face on it during his Tuscan Grand Prix podium appearance.
I know this sounds like an unstructured ramble, and it is. Yet my idea is consistent throughout: promote more non-white rising stars. Allow F1 drivers to advocate for what they believe in without backlash. Remove your apolitical and non-racial stigma, Formula 1. You’re arguably the biggest sport in the world and it’s about time you catered to all backgrounds.
As just about every F1 engineer says to their driver during a race, “Keep pushing.”