Britain’s Formula 3 driver Enaam Ahmed says the “levels of diversity” in motorsport are “20 years behind other sports”.
“I don’t think it’s a racist sport, but it’s undiverse,” the Carlin Buzz Racing driver, 20, told BBC Asian Network. “It doesn’t feel representative.”
Formula 1 is setting up a foundation to fund apprenticeships and scholarships to increase diversity in the sport.
World motorsport governing body the FIA is contributing 1m euros to this fund.
Six-time F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton has also announced plans to set up a commission to increase diversity in motorsport.
“Racing is an elitist sport,” said Ahmed, whose parents sold their family home to support his career.
“F1 has only been a sport for the rich and wealthy, so that’s a factor. Now with the new campaigns which Formula 1 and Lewis Hamilton are establishing it will hopefully change – mechanics and engineers, for example.
“Hopefully there is a wider appeal and scope to attract people to take up those careers. Hopefully there are more chances for them too – but it’s not been the case so far.
“It does not seem like it’s a sport which is accessible to minorities. The faces are not there so it doesn’t feel representative.
“We need visible role models, so if we get to the top like Lewis it shakes up the establishment and attracts younger people.”
Ahmed, who began racing on the same Rye House track in Hertfordshire as Hamilton, believes he may have been the victim of unconscious bias in the initial stages of his motorsport career, which saw him become junior world karting champion in 2014.
“When I started out in karting I did feel it at times, but less so as I went up the levels,” he says.
Hamilton has been outspoken on the subject of race and diversity in the wake of the global Black Lives Matter protests that followed the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis last month.
On Sunday, before the opening F1 grand prix of the season in Austria, the FIA said of its financial contribution: “Priority will be placed on promoting a diverse driver talent pipeline by identifying and systematically eliminating barriers to entry from grassroots karting to Formula 1.”
Ahmed, who finished third in the Japan F3 Championship last year, is now fully fit after contracting coronavirus. He competed in the opening races of the revised Formula 3 Championship in Austria on Saturday and Sunday.
“It was the worst illness – similar to when I got pneumonia in 2018,” he says.
“Even after I got better I was weak for another month after that. I think I had it for two to three weeks. I lost weight as I could not eat, I was getting tired quickly and I couldn’t open my eyes. It was scary.”
The former British Formula 3 champion adds: “I am fighting for the top five positions then I am sure I will get into Formula 2. The aim is to win the championship convincingly so then I have the super licence points to possibly get to F1.
“Comparisons with Lewis have been flattering and are a compliment but I want to be the new Enaam.”