Guest Writing, Opinion

‘Capability and diversity – why it’s possible for F1 to have both’ by Emma Ridgway

Hi, guys! I can’t wait for you all to read this week’s post, a guest-written article by Emma Ridgway. To read more of her work, head to her website – Enjoy!

I recently read a blog post about former McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh, who was being interviewed in response to the recently published Hamilton Commission report. In the interview Whitmarsh, a board member for the commission, spoke of his breakthrough into Formula 1 and how – because he managed to make it – that it was something you could simply achieve through hard work and pure ambition. It ended with his admittance that diversity cannot be achieved without change, stemming from the fact that poorer and ethnic minority communities feel uninvited from the sport altogether. At the bottom of this blog post was a comment from someone which read, “It’s either talent or diversity. You simply cannot have both. Smarter teams will go for the former.”. And whilst I fundamentally disagree, this isn’t the first time I’ve come across comments like this either. So why does a push for diversity in F1 sometimes include the impression of compromising on capability?

See the source image
Martin Whitmarsh, right, with Lewis Hamilton, left. From the Jersey Evening Post

The answer isn’t simple, and nor do I claim to have solved it either. To me, the problem grows from the idea that a push for diversity is impounding on an already functioning recruiting effort. Teams are not struggling to hire from the large pool of highly competitive Mechanical Engineering students, so why the need for a shakeup? In my opinion, it’s all about untapped potential and being able to empower those who have the ability to think differently because they have not ventured down the same path as everyone else. F1 is all about innovation and being able to out-do your opponents – thinking in ways that they can’t or of ideas that have never before dreamed of. Simply replicating the “functioning system” of hiring the exact same type of candidate is certainly a safe bet for scale, but the apparent definition of insanity is repeating the same process and expecting different results.

F1 have seemingly also recognised this as an opportunity for the sport – they have recently announced a funding programme for apprenticeships, interns and scholarships, primarily focusing on Engineering degrees for those from underrepresented backgrounds. The #WeRaceAsOne initiative is fairly junior in its inception but has already made strides in the right direction. So does this mean that the issues are now resolved? Acceptance and self-reflection from the sport itself is without a doubt a huge step forward, but the reality soon hit home that this is – at least – a 10 year-long programme and it’ll be a long time before we see the true impacts of what is being sown today. For example, students applying for the scholarships this year will graduate in 4-5 years and employment in the industry is no guarantee either. For the fortunate few who do make it, a newly recruited graduate still has a long road ahead.

Whilst I’m being somewhat pessimistic, I’m also a true optimist at heart. I believe the changes set out by F1 and the upcoming initiatives from The Hamilton Commission will have a sincerely positive impact on the sport. It’s only realistic that in order to combat the underlying cynicism that diversity and capability do not go hand-in-hand, we must start at the root by setting up future diverse talent for success. But is there also another option which can be done in addition?

Lateral hiring is something that has rarely punctured the F1 bubble. Though ever since Liberty Media’s acquisition of the sport, a more deliberately wide net has been cast in an attempt to spread the popularity of the sport to even more fans. Drive To Survive is, in my opinion, a strong example of this. However, if Liberty Media were a candidate looking for a job in F1, it would likely be dismissed as being too unrelated to the everyday mechanics and logistics of the sport. F1 and the teams tend to hire from within the motorsport pool when in reality, the fresh ideas brought by Liberty have been so successful because of its separation from the sport and the different experiences it brought with it. It is seen as a gamble to bring in folks from outside the industry into the fold but without it, it’ll be a long time before we see any real change in the faces and setup of F1.

When I read the comment on the blog, the competitor within me wanted to respond with the type of phrase I’ve used to motivate myself throughout my life. “I’ll show you”, I wanted to say. As someone who has followed the sport since my teenage years, I knew early on that I was unlikely to go down the science route. And whilst the world of F1 once felt immensely out of reach, I still wanted to create something balanced, creative and colourful to match my background in design and technology. Far from the world of physics and engineering, I vehemently believe that I’m also capable of confidently commenting on the sport.

For the folks who will make their way into the F1 world over the next few years with the help of scholarships and apprenticeships, they more than anyone will not want to be seen as simply making up the numbers. As we’re already starting to see with the ownership of the sport, it is in fact their backgrounds and different experiences which will see them bring ideas never even considered before. Talented or diverse, the comment said. “Smarter teams will go with the former” – it’s clear now that smart teams will, in fact, go with both.

Cover Image Credit: XPB