F1 and Ethnic Diversity


Not my cup of cake
Valued Member
Given F1’s roots it’s not surprising that most drivers have been white ethnic Europeans, even those from Africa and South America. Lewis Hamilton’s arrival in F1 as the first driver of Afro Caribbean heritage caused quite a stir in the paddock but he, of course, wasn’t the first non-white or ethnic European driver. Here’s some history:

Birabongse Bhnanubandh of Thailand took part in 18 Grands Prix between 1950 and 1954. Hirosho Toshida of Japan (the first of 20 Japanese drivers) attempted to qualify for 2 Grands Prix in 1975. India has given us 2 Grand Prix Drivers, Narin Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok, and Alex Yoong of Malaysia took part in 14 Grands Prix between 2001 and 2002.

Also of interest is that Willy T Ribbs, who drove in the US CART series between 1990 and 1994, tested for Brabham in 1986 and not only has F1 had Jewish drivers there has been a Jewish World Champion. Francois Cevert, Peter Revson and Ian and Jody Scheckter are/were all Jewish.

As F1 develops a more global reach in the 21st century, along with the changing face of geo-Politics and the World’s financial structures, I wonder how long it will be before we have more drivers from the Middle East, Indian sub continent, China and more Far Eastern competitors? Anyone know the odds on a Chinese, Middle Eastern or Indian F1 World Champion before 2030?
I don't have a whole lot to add to this thread, but I've always loved the name Willy T Ribbs. Like if you were going to make a movie about a trailblazing African-American race driver, what would his name be? Willy T Ribbs of course.

And how did his first foray into the closed-off (racist) world of NASCAR go? Well he missed a couple practice sessions and was subsequently arrested for evading the police, only to be replaced by Dale Earnhardt. Why has there not been a feature film made about this guy?

Personally, I couldn't care if a driver was rainbow coloured as long as they were one of the best drivers in the world and not simply a shoe-in due to their ethnicity.
As always I'd hope it wasn't an issue, but F1 went to South Africa in the 1980s so I don't think its record is the most fantastic it could be.

In sport, sheer natural talent has generally been enough to break down the walls. If it is in the interests of your sport, your team etc. that you play because you're just damn good, then someone will find a way of making it happen. Unless they're South African.

South American football offers some good examples. I think it was Vasco da Gama that won the Rio de Janeiro league in the 1920s with black players, and it was Uruguay who won tournaments with an integrated side. If the man/team is the best, then someone will pick them.
Excellent post FB.
You touched on the most important aspect of why more drivers of different nationalities will eventually come to F1.
Lewis Hamilton is not really representative as he is English and born and raised in England.
The reasons are due to the economies of many Eastern countries increasing which allows the grass roots country specific series to improve in performance.Young kart racers and junior series drivers in these countries can now afford to buy better machinery which then in turn improves their skills to more European levels.
Now these same young men can afford to move to Europe and compete in the F1 feeder series F3 being one of them.
Being in Europe the are more likely to spotted by the F1 teams and given a test run and a few (very few) moving into reserve driver roles or taken into one of the F1 teams young driver schemes.
At present most of the F1 teams are based all within a few miles of each other in the UK.So naturally enough a whole raft engineering companies have grown up around them.
But this could change in the future. Also more team owners from the Far East (Fernandes for example) become involved with F1, sponsors as well the they will further promote their own countrymen as far as possile.
It's an interesting subject. F1 chases money and talent, and as teams develop a more diverse portfolio of sponsors and owners, so support in more countries should increase.

Satoru Nakajima is a great example - Honda placed him in F1 seats in the 1980s when arguably, on pure talent, he didn't deserve a place. On retirement he returned to Japan and, with Honda support, established a team of his own, competing in domestic series including Formula Nippon. Nakajima-san has recruited a mixture of European and local drivers and supported them in their careers, many of whom will surely go on to be more successful than he ever was.

The cultural impact on F1 may be significant too. Drivers from particular backgrounds may face more challenging routes to the top of motorsport's ladder. My football team, a few years ago, signed a couple of Egyptian players onto their books. I was fascinated to read an article with them in which they discussed the impact that their religion (Islam) had on their career - for example, specially devised training programmes that would keep their bodies in peak condition through the month-long fasting of Ramadan.
Being of a similar ethnic background and origin as Lewis I welcome any momentum towards the inclusion of all races. Watch out for the Chinese though, they are frighteningly intelligent and tenacious. If they get it in their heads to dominate F1 they will dominate F1!

(I hope my brother doesn't see this!)

sportsman said:
Lewis Hamilton is not really representative as he is English and born and raised in England

Whilst we can all applaud all efforts towards inclusion and non-differentiation on the grounds of race, creed, colour, colour of hair. It is not correct to discount a persons ethnicity because they happen to have grown up and were educated in a European country. The effort needed to overcome barriers and social impediments is of no little consequence to a person of colour. Indeed the problems for people of mixed race are very complex as racists come in an assortment of colours.
You are right snowy, TBY mentioned South Africa in the 80's, if you go to South Africa today, you will still see a lot of racism, but mostly it has swapped ethnical divides. When any government brings in laws on ethnic diversity in the work place, there is a problem that from then on generally gets worse, not better.
There have been indeed relatively few drivers from the so-called "new markets". We had Alex Yoong of course, and Karthikeyan, and then Chandhok, although anyone who thinks either of their places isn't helped by the coming Indian GP is raving mad. I'm not counting Ho-Pin Tung.

Looking past F1, how many GP2 drivers are in that bracket? Those kinds of series are where F1 looks for it's drivers these days, in most cases at least.

Fairuz Fauzy is the only one. He's not exactly young either, for a GP2 driver. Or good.

Then in F2 we have Armaan Ebrahim, an Indian driver aged 21, so you'd figure he'd have a good shot at making it into GP2 at least. In addition, within the F2 series there's Parthiva Sureshwaren, another Indian driver who is 31. So it's very unlikely he'll become more than a footnote.

Looking at the British International F3 series there are a couple, firstly Adderly Fong from HK/China and Jazeman Jaafar from Malaysia. However there is also a British driver who grew up in Bahrain, Menasheh Idafar, who will also be competing in that series.
I think it was last year when there was an article in the Observer. There are many more "mixed race" children now than there were even in the nineties. At the present rate of increase the population of this country will be overwhelmingly of mixed race origin in a hundred years time. Whether or not F1 is still going then is more problematical.

No-one should be shoe-horned in because of their ethnicity, it will happen of it's own natural accord.
I wonder if there's any pattern in what ethnic races watch races? Has F1 had a particularly mixed following in the past, with very little diversity on track, some people might not associate with a sport that seemingly has very little of their own race involved. Similar to losing interest in a sport that has none of your own nationality competing. A good example from another sport I know abit about being Joe Louis' effect on boxing. Before him it had been decades before a black fighter had become heavyweight champ, one generation after Louis' reign and there wasn't a white heavyweight in sight.

Maybe there needs to be more diversity on screen before we get more diversity on track.

Although I do agree with talent comes first.
Also what I don't think has been addressed in this thread is the question of why there are very few non-white, non-drivers. With the actual driving of a car, you can see why there may not be so many different ethnicities because of motor racing's background and history, and only over generations will we start to see more ethnically diverse grids. However this should not really apply to engineers, technicians, designers, mechanics etc.

There are plenty of great minds in China and India etc, but when was the last time you saw a good head count of people from those regions? Is it a subconscious thing from within the teams? Is it a language thing? Is it because quite a few teams' workstaff are based in the UK? But then that doesn't account for why there are so few black and ethnic minority British workers at those teams.

I can only really say that it is mostly because of the lack of role-models. It is an unfortunate situation in society - do black kids start running track because they see 7/8 runners in the Olympic final are black? Is it because middle class Britain is predominantly white that we see so many white drivers? Is there some ridiculous undercurrent that has been imprinted in past generations that "white kids are smart, black kids are athletic"? I'm not agreeing with that statement by the way, but as a pointer, take a look at American Football. The quarterback, and most prized, position is probably 85% white at the professional level, yet I'm guessing at least 60-70% of all professional American footballers are black. The quarterback role is considered one that needs high intelligence but not necessarily athletic ability, while most other roles require far greater athleticism.

It's an interesting and controversial subject but one that intrigues me. Sorry if I've gone on a bit of a tangent.
Western Europe provides the vast majority of staff at F1 teams, so I wonder what the ethnic background of Engineering graduates is in those countries? One might think that the make-up of the teams would (should?) be approximately similar to that - unless there are other factors at work that I'm unaware of.
This is a very interesting topic and one that has been avoided for decades. As has been said, drivers of any race (no pun intended) should be welcomed into the sport, either as a driver or as backroom staff. But only if they are good enough, of course. However, this last sentence is some what controversial.

An example - If there were two candidates applying for a job at, for example, Williams (and I by no means imply anything towards Williams by this) who were equally qualified, experienced, same personality traits, etc but one was ethnically White-European and the other was ethnically Indian then who would they choose to employ?

Perhaps the team would choose the former because being a predominantly white team would feel he may 'fit' in better. On the flip side, in order to promote diversity they may feel it better to employ the latter, and not by fear of being accused of being racist but due to a genuine promotion for the participation of ethnic groups (which is in itself kind of a racist term - aren't there more Indians in the world than any other group, bar China?). Either way, one may lose out, sadly, due to the fact they have a different colour of skin.

It's seems F1 and sport as a whole is genuinely attempting to address these problems. Thanks for posting FB :)
An example - If there were two candidates applying for a job at, for example, Williams (and I by no means imply anything towards Williams by this) who were equally qualified, experienced, same personality traits, etc but one was ethnically White-European and the other was ethnically Indian then who would they choose to employ?

I would guess that they would choose the Indian - he/she wouldn't be as greedy as the European. So, they would have the same experience/knowledge and a smaller hole in their budget.
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