Sunday, December 12th 2021, the world had its eyes glued on the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the final race of the 2021 Formula 1 season. The rivalry between reigning champion Sir Lewis Hamilton and the hungry, more youthful Max Verstappen was the highlight of the season. The two drivers experienced a season of exhilarating highs and disappointing lows, with a number of controversial moments taking place between them. With the both of them tied on the same number of points, it was simply a case of winner takes all. Verstappen had won pole position with Hamilton right behind him in second. When the light shone green, Hamilton powered into first position and led the race for the longest period. There had been a few moments of excitement but it looked like the Red Bull of Verstappen simply could not take the fight to Hamilton until an unexpected crash took place.
Nicholas Latifi, who drives for Williams Racing, crashed with five laps of the race left and the safety car was brought out. In what is one the most controversial decisions in the sport in recent years, rules of racing were thrown out of the window, giving Verstappen the chance to overtake Hamilton and win the race, thus winning the championship. This was a moment of utter joy for Verstappen but as much as he did not show it, it was complete heartbreak for Hamilton. He was so close to winning what would have been a record eighth championship and it had been snatched from his grasp. An ever-gracious competitor, Hamilton congratulated his rival.
Defeat on the last lap, a moment that was seemingly manipulated off the track and ultimately led to Hamilton’s failure to win another championship is what led to talk of a possible retirement for Hamilton. The team principal of Mercedes, Toto Wolff, came out after the controversial race and said Hamilton was “sad” and “will never get over what happened.” With the safety car out for the last five laps of the race, a certain process was supposed to be followed by the race director Michael Masi. Verstappen immediately took a pit stop and fresh tires were placed onto his car. Mercedes chose not to bring in Hamilton as they wanted to protect their position on the track. Because of Verstappen’s pit stop, five cars were now between him and Hamilton but these cars had been lapped. This means that they were already a lap behind some of the racers on the track, particularly Hamilton and Verstappen. According to the rules of Formula One, the cars that had already been lapped by the race leaders could overtake them while the safety car was on track. This is done to get them out of the way of the drivers competing for podium positions or points. But in this instance the race director gave an order that they should not do so. This meant that Verstappen would remain in his position of 7th while Hamilton led the race. Christian Horner, the Red Bull Racing team principal, exerted pressure on Masi to allow the lapped cars to overtake and this led to all the controversy. Masi changed his initial position and allowed the five lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves but he did not do the same for the rest of the lapped cars. If he had done so it would have meant the race finished with the safety car on the track and a win for Hamilton. Instead the safety car was sent off the track just before the final lap, meaning the race restarted on the final lap with Verstappen at a massive advantage as he had newer tires with better grip. This advantage is what ultimately led to him winning.
Lewis Hamilton is currently the only black driver in Formula One, winning his first Formula 1 world drivers championship in 2008. Before Hamilton, there had never been a competing black driver in the F1 series. In 1986, African-American motorsport driver Willy Ribbs was given an opportunity to test drive for Brabham, a team owned by the former supremo of the sport, Bernie Ecclestone. Ribbs went on to compete in the Indianapolis 500 in the 1990s but unfortunately, he was not picked to drive for the team that season.
Axcil Jeffries is a young Zimbabwean driver who was touted as possibly being the first black African to get a seat in Formula One. He has competed at different levels of motorsport. Jeffries has taken part in Formula BMW, Formula 2, Indy Lights, the GP2 Series, and the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Championship. His dream to compete in Formula One has been delayed by the lack of sponsors. “Unfortunately, a lot [of this career] is dependent on the backing you have. Probably, all in all to get to where we are, we’ve probably spent anywhere in the region of 3 million and 4 million euros. Going up the ladder, karting at the top level is around 50,000 euros a year,” said Jeffries. Jeffries is based in the United Arab Emirates. He has not made the step up to Formula One yet but he has won the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Middle East and he is a Senior Race Driver at the Yas Marina Circuit.
There is also the story of a young Brazilian driver, Wallace Martins, referred to as ‘Hamilton of the favelas.’ He was given this nickname because of the resemblance he shares with Lewis Hamilton in terms of both looks and driving styles. He is currently participating in Formula Delta and might take the step of becoming a Formula One driver but he shares the same problem as Jeffries. He has no sponsor. “Everyone you see [racing] has a sponsor and when you ask them about it, it turns out they are the son of the shop’s owner or something like that,” Martins said in an interview with ESPN.
The presence of these young black drivers in motorsport is encouraging and inspiring to many. It is important for there to be accurate representation in sports such as Formula One. Formula One boasts fans of all colors and creeds; therefore, it should be more inclusive. The teams in Formula One need to create initiatives that search for and groom diverse talent. Formula One would only benefit by diversifying its drivers.