Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2019

Hamilton: Potential F1 talents get ‘leapfrogged by wealthy kids’

2019 F1 season

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Lewis Hamilton says it has become much harder for drivers from working class backgrounds such as his to break into Formula 1.

Speaking on the Graham Norton Show, Hamilton said the prospects for drivers who do not come from wealthy backgrounds has “got a lot worse” in the years since he came into the sport.

“My dad spent something like £20,000 and remortgaged the house several times in the first years,” said Hamilton. “But today it’s just got so expensive.

“There are very few, if [any] working-class families on their way up. It’s all wealthy families.

“I’ve got a friend of mine who was nearly in Formula 1 and then he got leapfrogged by a wealthy kid and then his opportunity was gone,” Hamilton added. “So I do want to somehow get it back to basics.”

Hamilton’s family funded his karting career until he gained the backing of former McLaren boss Ron Dennis.

“There were times along the way when I’d come home from school and I’m like ‘I’m ready to go’ and [dad would] be like ‘sorry, we don’t have the money this weekend but hopefully by next race we’ll have the money to keep us going’. So my dad’s the real hero, I’m just the one that’s in the spotlight.

“If my dad hadn’t done the work he did and if I didn’t get signed when I was 13 by Ron Dennis then I wouldn’t be sitting in front of you today, I’d be doing something different.”

Formula 1 needs to encourage more talents from less wealthy backgrounds as other sports do, said Hamilton.

“I do want to get involved in working with the FIA, which is the governing body, and Formula 1, because they can do more to give back, I’d say. And also it doesn’t need to be as expensive as that. I want to get it opened up because you look at football, at tennis, there’s grass roots.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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54 comments on “Hamilton: Potential F1 talents get ‘leapfrogged by wealthy kids’”

  1. Welcome to racing Mr Hamilton, interesting to see it took 30 years to get “woke”… Racing is a rich kids game…

    Now, lets see how he wants a mechanical sport like racing to be grass roots, coz comparing a game that you play with a single ball and comparing that to karting is a bit mesmerizing..

    Even Simracing is an expensive rich kids game compared to football…

    1. Took 30 years to get woke? So he should have known and been taking action on this when he was 4!

      And his point was that it wasn’t an out of reach goal, but now it is. I grew up in the south east of England surrounded by tracks and just about every other kid had a dabble at some form of racing. Just about everyone came from a working class/middle class background and I knew dozens who made it into professional racing. In Hamilton’s day you needed parents who sacrificed everything. At some stage on the rise up through the ranks, talent would out. Now their is no point unless you are the offspring of millionaires.

      In a few years we wont be watching the best racers in the world in F1, but a select few who convinced mummy and daddy to pay for their latest whim.

      Not sure about other countries or other motorised sports; speedway, MotoGP, Nascar, Superbike, Indy; but in the UK this trend is just not confined to motorsport or sport in general. I read the other day that even the music business in the UK is now staffed predominantly with ex public school kids from a wealthy family background.

      1. And even in hamilton’s days when some families sacrificed financially everything it did not always pay off. There are hundreds if not thousands of hamilton like families where they spent everything into racing but for one reason or another it did not pay off. All they have left is debt.

      2. Very well said. Thank you for that response. It needed this kind of clear and concise explanation!

      3. José Lopes da Silva
        24th November 2019, 23:02

        What do you mean by in a few years? We’re watching Stroll right now. And several fans say he’s good and deserves to be there.

        1. I think the point is that he’s…at least…*sigh*…good enough…to be in F1…

          Man that was hard to say! But he has proven that he CAN drive a Formula 1 car, and he has put in some legitimately good performance on a few occasions. He’s nowhere near the level of dreck that we saw up through the 1990s.

          BUT…are there potentially dozens of people who are of an equal caliber, but never had the funding or level of coaching and support that Stroll did? You’d have to say undoubtedly.

          1. @wushumr2 agree wholeheartedly!

      4. @riptide 80% of Moto3/Moto2/MotoGP riders pay to race, through personal sponsors or family money.

      5. Hamilton is NOT working class. He never was.
        30000 pounds in 1990s money is 120000 in todays money. That’s not working class or lower middle class money.
        And families sacrificing for the career of their children is as normal in football as it is in F1. In football you see real working class families for whom 30k pounds is now a mountain of money.

        Racing has always been expensive, because it is a mechanical sport. Lewis looks at his past through rose tinted classes and still doesn’t realise how privileged he actually was…

        1. You think a single mum in a council house on benefits where Lewis lived; and an absent father who rents a one bedroom flat is upper middle class or rich? You really are sad. And a father who holds down 3 jobs is ‘working’ whichever way you cut it.
          And 30k in 95 is not even 55k today. So stop your nonsense.

          1. @riptide

            How did they afford to send him to a private Kindergarden and buy him racing quality RC cars at 4-5 years old?
            He had a middle class upbringing on a decent housing estate until the age of 12. Then it was a 6 bedroom house.
            Adjacent to Peartree Way (which is tree lined and very tidy) are those middle class faux Georgian houses with above the national average price tag., Hardly a slum .

          2. Huh? Im a single parent and in the early nineties I like most working people sent my kids to a private kindergarten. Or do you thing the state provided for all of us? Not very well informed are you? So a council estate, but in your opinion it was decent, so that doesnt count. You really are clutching at straws. Oh yes, and you didnt explain your blatant lie about the cost of living But then you just spew nonsense when it comes to Hamilton. As many have said before, you are so obvious. But I see what you are trying to say, working class people can’t be decent or tidy and must by definition live in a slum. So the Hamiltons; like my parents; are by definition middle class, especially as we both had trees outside our council house front doors.

    2. Well it not always has been that way. I think the problem nowadays is that the sport has taken a huge step towards the future. Technical side has evolved and if we compare these cars to those in ’09 there is a much bigger difference than let say 09-99. Today there are many nuances that take time and energy and most importantly money. Technical things never stop developing and sport is coming more specific which unfortunatly costs money.

      But I hope eventhough top level racing always had had that “richkid” element to it that in the future we only have 20 Strolls racing around

    3. Well, sad Ferrari fan: It can be done if F1 really wants to. And using the same example you snared at, “Comparing a team sport played with a ball.” FIFA invested Billions in almost every country around the world. This money build facilities, systems, organizations, coaching and so on. This is why football, Baseball etc is so “grassroots” and we have the very best players from around the world. The game is so my more better with talent on display from all walks of life! If F1 has the will, and we know they have the $$$$, it can be done!

    4. The woke response would be to only care about ‘kids of color.’ Kudos to Hamilton for caring about all non-rich kids.

  2. GtisBetter (@)
    24th November 2019, 9:40

    i think the quality of drivers in f1 is as high as it has ever been, with the amount of pay drivers very low. And the teams pick up more young people for their youth programs and help them. But it is still only for the wealthy, and with the costs involved i don’t see a simple solution. Someone has to pay those bills.

    1. I think the pay drivers are just better than they were before.

      1. And there are less of them.

        1. And they’re all rich. Wait a minute…

  3. petebaldwin (@)
    24th November 2019, 10:49

    I used to kart and when I did, we’d turn up with a toolbox in the boot and the kart bungee-corded to the roof rack. We’d compete against people who showed up with a truck, 3 karts, a new set of tyres ever week. Right from that point, money largely decides who wins and it only gets worse and worse the further up the ladder you climb.

    There isn’t a solution – lots of people don’t have a dad who would take their son karting all weekend even if it was free! When you factor in the thousands of pounds it costs, you’re already down to 0.05% who get to even try it.

    1. I remember back in the day when seconary schools would build go-karts and compete in inter-school championships.
      The problem is by the time you are karting at seondary school its too late. By then you are too old for potential career in driving.

      Someone from Hamilton’s background, or Tiger woods for that matter, have to be molded by dedicated parents to be noticed later on.

      I doubt there will be another Hamilton, or another Tiger Woods, they are rare creatures, working class made good in middle class areans. That said, there is the Finish model for finding and encouraging motor sports excellence, Bottas being one example.

      That’s not to say there wont in the future be talent coming into these sports from middle class black familiies…. ;)

      I suppose in the future there could be a symbiotic connection between e-sports and actual sports. Whose to say
      talent wont emerge that way, through more sophisticated simulations of the sport.

      1. Nice to mention the national sports authorities work. In Belgium too there are possibilities to be helped and integrate a sporting programme from a relatively young age. Stoffel Vandoorne and Thierry Neuville are good examples.

    2. When i did kart back in end 60’s and begin 70’s I had this problem too i had the talent which my friend which had 2 karts didn’t had. (his father was rich) i was always faster and did win most championships but when i got serious karting for European and world series i couldn’t sponsor myself and my friend stopped with the sport and i had to stop also.

      But to confirm your story he had a truck and trailers and 2 mechanics to support his son (and me)

    3. One of my favorite memories of karting was when we bought a chassis from the guy dominating the class I was in (100 National, which has since disappeared). His engineer gave us some setup tips and the moment we got on track not only was I as fast as the guy we’d bought the chassis from.

      Unfortunately the next year we couldn’t afford a new chassis and were immediately off the pace, getting caught in silly accidents that eventually ate away our budget and we couldn’t continue the next year.

    4. @petebaldwin

      All true. Which is why it makes me laugh when people moan there aren’t enough women in motorsport.
      There are far less girls interested in Karting and then they need the super dedicated father, super supportive mother, and time rich parents. This only a miniscule percent of boys have, then it’s watered down even further for girls.
      Even if a car mad dad who managed get his daughter to Karting, which is a hard task, but just a drop in the ocean of what’s needed.

  4. To me, the answer requires such a deep reorganisation of the sport that it will never happen, but here is my idea:

    Employ the 20 best drivers they can directly by Fom. They earn the highest wages possible, albeit less on average than they do now. They can also have personal sponsorship. Each driver drives each car once, chosen at random before P1. Therefore, every driver drives for every team twice, ensuring that the constructors championship and drivers championship are divorced from each other. There still will be an element of luck, whoever gets Mercedes at Mexico for example will be gutted, but the drivers championship will rely much more on skill. Also, pay drivers are a thing of the past.

    1. Without thinking about it too much I really like this idea.

    2. I like this, it’s basically a completely different sport.. But I’d watch it..

      A downside might be that there would be too many variables to make the WDC battle interesting. For example if Russell and Sainz were leading the championship with 5 races to go, the mix of the final 5 cars and tracks deprives you of a straight fight between the two. I understand that at the end the best driver should prevail but the battle to get there would be a bit too randomized to enjoy.

      Also, the start of the season is often a bit random as it is, while we try to figure out which teams are ahead. This would mean that you might never really know what team is ahead until the end of the season.

      I suppose you would have a relegation zone where the bottom 5 or so drivers get knocked out which would make the fight not to be relegated at the end of the season something interesting. A decision would have to be made as to what drivers could be promoted into F1 since teams nolonger make that decision.

      Generally on this issue. I’m ok with F1 being the commercial beast that it is and massive budgets making certain teams dominant and giving the wealthy kids a spot rather than raw talent. It’s always been this way. It’s given us some of the sports greats eg. Senna instead of Tommy Byrne. It’s very similar to golf with it’s male dominated class division. It’s expensive to play both sports at a high level. You could change it but money is intertwined with the DNA of F1, take it away and you’ve created a different sport.

  5. He has over £150m in the bank, if the future of working class kids in motorsport matters so much to him why doesn’t he use a few of those millions to fund the karting and junior series careers of some of them? actions speak louder than words!

    1. Yes his actions do speak louder than his words. That’s why he invests and supports so many charities that are specifically aimed at disadvantaged youngsters; be it children in 3rd world countries, education in inner cities, homeless shelters for kids living on the streets of New York and children’s hospitals such as GOSH.
      In this case I think he is talking bigger picture ; as Dennis suggests, than just funding a kart track or something. Many drivers do that now. My local track is owned by the Surtees family for instance. I think he is talking about a wider initiative, involving most of the major players in motorsport.

  6. F1, in fact motor racing, has always been a sport for the wealthy. It has never been easy for middle or working class kids to get into it and, as Hamilton demonstrates, those who succeed in breaking through only do so through the dedication and determination of the whole family. Of course it’s not a great situation but a solution can be nibbled at by those who have made the trip (again, like Hamilton) being prepared to put some of their wealth back into schemes to assist the less wealthy but promising drivers through the stages of the ladder. And maybe the FIA should accept lawnmower racing as the first step to finding new talent. Whatever makes those early stages less expensive is bound to help.

  7. FIA should learn from Indy .. Indycars has “road to Indy” where if you win from a lower class Similair like F4 you get enough money to go to a higher class like F3 and also an automatic spot for that higher class! And this goes on untill you reach Indy!

    1. That wouldn’t really solve it. The root of the problem is the early stages. Jos Verstappen had a shed full of custom made karts for max. He made sure Max got the best for every race. That would mean that Max would get money with a win for the next class, but that just creates a rich get richer spiral, where the guy who has one kart for the whole season is at a disadvantage from the start and can’t profit from the win bonus to improve his equipment.

      1. While was Jos well of he was not a multi milionair but had his own company and invested most into Max. But Even Max could used that money so he was lucky to have a sponsor (Jumbo directeur) who sponsor Max to the F3. Now he is one of his personal sponsor and reap on Max succes.

        1. Note Jos build his own engines (watch BBC documentary) himself which reduced his cost a lot!

        2. Pretty sure Jos falls into the whealty category though, assorted to crucial address book and field knowledge.

      2. @passingisoverrated

        Didn’t Max’s sister too? Why isn’t she in F1 if they were rich?

        1. Victoria Verstappen did kart and did quit well but i think she knew she never can beyond karting so she stopped.

    2. @kavu, as GtisBetter notes, that doesn’t solve the problem – helping a single driver doesn’t address the fundamental issues that make the series inaccessible to others as a whole.

      As GtisBetter notes, there is already the flaw that, even in those junior series, wealth can still play a significant role – it can buy access to better testing equipment, more experienced staff and so forth that can all give that slight edge to those who can afford to pay for it. The sons of former drivers certainly do have advantages in that respect – not only in terms of wealth, but also in terms of having contacts within the motorsport world they can exploit and a marketable name that can make it that much easier to pick up sponsorship and to catch the attention of publicity hungry junior driver programmes.

      Furthermore, if the prize ends up going to a driver who already comes from a wealthy background, then it does nothing to level out the inequalities – it subsidises the programme of a driver who could already afford it and takes that funding away from a driver who could need it.

      Making things better for a single driver does nothing to bring down costs for the wider series as a whole either – you’re doing nothing to make the series more affordable for a wider group of drivers, you’re just papering over the problem by giving one driver a subsidy and failing to address the wider financial problems. In the example of Indy Lights, providing funding for one driver might be good for that one driver, but it doesn’t disguise the fact that only eight drivers could afford to race full time in that series last year – it’s still a fundamentally unhealthy situation.

    3. @kavu The ‘Road To Indy’ isn’t exactly a massive success though as most of those who have gone through it still fail to find a consistent full time ride & the feeder system in general is now a complete shambles with Indy Lights (The Indycar equivalent of F2) struggling to put together a field larger than 8 cars.

      an automatic spot for that higher class!

      Not when you get to Indycar. Indy Lights champions are only guaranteed a spot for the Indy 500 & still have to find there own funding (Or a team willing to pay them) if they want a full season.

  8. I see JV is trying to do something with his FEED Racing School; with the winner getting 400,000 euros for a seat in F4 at Carlin.
    Unlike certain other series and prestigious monetary awards they haven’t given the money to someone whose parents are already wealthy beyond belief.

  9. They can start by making F2 and F3 a professional class, Wich drivers are being paid to drive, not paying to drive. Of course for this to happen it has to be enough prize money for teams that they can do it.

  10. But has it ever been any different? Perhaps it is a little more obvious these days with guys like Stroll, but I think we’ve seen this the last 70 years. I wonder who Hamilton is talking about, De Vries being leapfrogged by Latifi?

    1. “Perhaps it is a little more obvious these days with guys like Stroll”

      About time the tonsorial arts came to F1, Lance obviously always looks fabulous.
      A definite improvement on the likes of Hunt, Stewart and Emmo with those unruly mops.

      @GechiChan, I like the way you think, good idea mate.

      1. @A driving school with active scouts looking for needy talent at Kart events.

  11. Why not start a driving school where most of the costs are covered and kids from all backgrounds can sign-up (except for wealthy kids). Lewis can afford it, and even if he wouldn’t want to spend his own money, he surely can get on board a lot of sponsors. The talent of these kids should do the rest, and if they eventually make it to the higher ranks of motorsport, get a commission from their first major signing.

  12. Well, sad Ferrari fan: It can be done if F1 really wants to. And using the same example you snared at, “Comparing a team sport played with a ball.” FIFA invested Billions in almost every country around the world. This money build facilities, systems, organizations, coaching and so on. This is why football, Baseball etc is so “grassroots” and we have the very best players from around the world. The game is so my more better with talent on display from all walks of life! If F1 has the will, and we know they have the $$$$, it can be done!

  13. Nevermind the fact that not only is it so hard to get into, can we talk about how talented drivers get passed over for teams needing to employ drivers than come with funding. Sort that out and you massively reduce this issue.

    1. Yes, that’s an important issue too.
      With only 20 or so seats available there’s always going to be a pool of talented drivers who just never got into this series.
      Also, there’s good drivers like Nico Hulkenberg who get tossed aside and lesser drivers kept on. I don’t think that is right either, but that’s an issue for F1 to deal with.

    2. I agree but there are a couple of things to consider:

      1) While, seats for talented drivers are being taken by pay drivers, you could argue that this has always been the case. Racing has never been a poor man’s sport. Is it really that much different than back in the day?

      2) Given the popularity explosion the sport has experienced, you could also argue that the supply of drivers has increased dramatically. With more drivers coming through, the average skill level of the field has probably also increased as well. Decent drivers could probably sneak into seats in the past – if you had a car and any modicum of talent, you could probably find a way to race. Today you have to be a specialist just to know how to start an F1 car. So the barrier to entry is much much higher.

  14. when gp2 & then gp3 were created it was understood that there would be enough wealthy families to support the fields. since then, they have stayed with the same biz model. even if a driver wanted to, the marketing value opportunity did not even come close to what it costs. it was essentially impossible to raise sponsorship money towards it. i believe this is why, apart from rosberg & hamilton, the GP2 champions had been duds in F1. since it was transitioned to F2 the quality of the field has improved greatly as it was more accessible to more drivers as the marketing opportunity value increased.

  15. freedomfromchains
    25th November 2019, 9:37

    I agree with Lewis. I’m outraged too that a snot-nosed rich kid like Nico Rosberg could get into F1, let alone cheat his way into a championship. F1 is still very much a rich kids sport.
    Limiting and eventually eliminating parental influence on children’s careers would be a good step towards a more merit based sport.

  16. The Road to Indy is almost like an American Open Wheel Tragedy. It is the racing version of “3 Strikes and you’re out”.

    1. The Indy Lights grid is embarrassing with 8 entries or less. No wonder the FIA can only give them 15 super license points – STRIKE 1.

    2. They can only fund you 1 Indy 500 entry. But 2019 was so sad for Indy Lights Champ Pato O’Ward who did not qualify. And he only had 7 events – STRIKE 2.

    3. Lack of funding, then it is STRIKE 3 and you’re done.

  17. Why were good drivers passed over for Susie Wolff? Previously she’d never won a race in her 10 year career.

    Look on youtube you see kids from proper working class council estates (not like Lewis’s) performing stunts on motocross bikes. Very talented and confident kids. Lewis could easily fund several of those kids through Karting into single seaters.
    The special thing about Lewis was having the dedicated and time rich father.

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