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Formula 1 and inclusivity: F1world meets Richard Morris

F1world had the pleasure to chat with Richard Morris, co-founder of the Racing Pride movement, which aims to make Motorsport more inclusive

F1world had the pleasure to chat with Richard Morris, co-founder of the Racing Pride movement, which aims to make Motorsport and Formula 1 a more inclusive and welcoming environment

More than ever before, Formula 1 and its drivers are concerned with sending out messages of equality, respect, pride and sustainability. To talk about these issues, the F1world editorial team had the pleasure and honor to chat with young British driver Richard Morris, co-founder of the Racing Pride movement.

First of all, hello Richard! It’s a pleasure talking to you. Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do

“Hi, I’m Richard Morris, I’m a driver and also the co-founder of Racing Pride which is an initiative to promote LGBTQ+ inclusion in Motorsport”.

You are the co-funder of Racing Pride. How did the idea of founding this movement came to life?

“The idea to found Racing Pride came from a few things. Firstly, the experiences in Motorsport that I personally had to deal with as a driver. I started karting, as many aspiring drivers do, as a child, and then entered the world of Motorsport growing up through various series and formulas. As with anyone else, it was difficult during my teenage years to realise I was gay because I loved the sport so much, but nothing and no one ever made me think I would be accepted”.

“I saw things that made me think I would never fit into the sport. I didn’t seem to have the personality that drivers should have according to the common imagination. They have always been portrayed as masculine and womanizing and I didn’t fit into that image. In the paddock I heard several people using unconstructive language and there were a couple of incidents I experienced. However, I have found that most people in Motorsport would like to make this world more inclusive“.

They love the sport and want as many people as possible to get involved. They just don’t necessarily know how to communicate it. This is another reason why I thought of founding Racing Pride. I felt that by creating something that educated on inclusivity, then there would be more people inclined to get into Motorsport, because everyone wants sport to be accessible to everyone“.


“Also, seeing the campaigns that have been done in other sports such as football, rugby, cricket and other major national sports has given me a boost. They are doing really important things for the pride and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community. In this, Motorsport had lagged behind and I wondered why. Finally, when I signed a contract for a team in 2018 I realised that I was moving forward with my career and that if I was serious about this job, then I wanted to do it feeling like myself. I don’t want to hide who I am from my team or the people who follow me. I thought the timing was perfect, that’s when Racing Pride took off. I got in touch with a few people and we started to build this movement“.

First you focused on visibility. Do you think that by making the people who belong to this movement known you can truly bring a change in Motorsport?

“I think Motorsport can reach out to people beyond itself and have positive effects in society. If we can start to change the opinion of its fanbase around LGBTQ+ people, then we can start to have positive effects in their lives and with the people they interact with in a day-to-day basis”.

The misunderstanding of the LGBTQ+ community comes form people not knowing LGBTQ+ people and people not having examples of successful LGBTQ+ people. So, in my racing I always worried about giving my best because people might think I’m not aggressive enough or fast enough, or good enough in wheel-to-wheel battles; because of these stereotypes of a gay man as ‘weak'”.

“This happens because people haven’t seen gay drivers winning. And that’s why I thought it’s important to stand on the podium with my rainbow flag when I win. It’s a small gesture that can change people’s perception and make them say, ‘it’s OK, you can be a gay driver and win races'”.

Hate, usually, comes from ignorance and not knowing the people in the community you’re hating. So, I hope that the visibility we create through our ambassadors and their positive stories will make some people reconsider the way they think about the LGBTQ+ community and their lives more generally”.

What are the goals of Racing Pride? Do you organise awareness-raising events?

Racing Pride does a couple of very important things. One is visibility and awareness, and the other is education. On the visibility front we have a number of fantastic ambassadors, we have some other drivers, I’m not the only one. We have Sarah Moore and Abbie Eton, who race in W Serie and Charlie Martin who was the first transgender driver at the Nürburgring 24 Hours last year. We have people in Esports, we have people in the media, we have people in engineering and technical roles, officials, marshals, volunteers throughout the sport to be visible LGBTQ+ people”.

“I thought that one of the major obstacles with people coming into the sport is that they can’t see people like them. We created a group of people who are LGBTQ+ who have been successful in the sport to say “Look you can be part of this sport” and to start to change perception as well. People can now look at these very successful ambassadors and go “Oh, LGBTQ+ people do belong in Motorsport, look at them!” and hopefully be inspired by their stories. 

“And that’s also why we have quite a large presence on social media. We have done a lot of work with the conventional media, we’ve been to race meetings and talked about racing pride and had pride branding and flags to reach that visible profile”.

“We also have the important work of education, because as I said, a lot of people in Motorsport want to make a very inclusive environment, they just don’t necessarily know how to do it. One very nice aspect of our partnership with Aston Martin Formula 1 team is that you can see the rainbow on the track, Sebastian Vettel wore the ‘Same love’ T-shirt in Hungary; but most of all I appreciated the fact that the team asked us for help to really become more inclusive day by day. This is an important task for Racing Pride”.

Since 2019 your movement has grown a lot. Do you feel that something has changed and how do you feel about it?

“Racing Pride has grown enormously since 2019 and the level we’ve reached is very exciting – we’ve made it all the way to Formula 1! The most important thing we’ve done is bring the topic of LGBTQ+ inclusion to the attention of Motorsport. It’s something that wasn’t talked about before Racing Pride and now these conversations are coming to life. It happened when we went to Qatar for the GP, and it will happen again in Saudi Arabia. People are starting to talk about LGBTQ+ rights issues in the context of Formula 1. There’s Lewis Hamilton wearing the rainbow flag on his helmet sending a direct message to the LGBTQ+ community, which has never happened before this season”.

“I think we have also started to make a difference with the teams we have been working with. Aston Martin has certainly taken this collaboration very seriously, both internally and externally. And then there’s Williams who are racing to create their own pride initiative within the factory and within the team”.

“Definitely there is still a lot to do though. And I sincerely believe that this has to go far beyond just teams saying nice things on social media or putting rainbows on things. The movement needs to be supported by the actions they are taking to make sure they create a truly inclusive sport within teams and in sport in general. Through this we will have more LGBTQ+ people who feel they belong in the sport from their first interaction with Motorsport”.

THE PARTNERSHIP WITH ASTON MARTIN

In June 2021 you announced your partnership with Aston Martin in Formula 1. It is something extremely important to be able to present yourself in the highest series of Motorsport. How did this partnership come to life?

“The partnership with Aston Martin is something that has matured over time. My first conversations with what was then Racing Point happened shortly after Racing Pride was created. We launched (our project ed) in June 2019 and as early as November 2019 I had a meeting at the factory with some people from the team to get them involved. Right from the start we realised it was in their interest to collaborate and start some behind-the-scenes work of inclusion in the team. There was definitely curiosity about what Racing Pride was doing”.

“At that stage we were obviously very young and were still developing the resources and skills we needed to work with a team of that scale, with hundreds of employees and so on. But we were able to plan a partnership. Coronavirus obviously got in the way, they had to work from home and that made things a bit more difficult. It was difficult to have a direct conversation with people and, of course, the GPs had been suspended for half a season. So, in the end, we decided to wait until Formula 1 was back to normal”.


“Then we started working intensively with the team from the beginning of this year and with the internal section they created dedicated to diversity and inclusion. Obviously we made sure to create some meaningful projects before announcing our collaboration to the world in Pride month, June 2021. From my first conversation with the team you could tell that they wanted this partnership to be something sincere; in fact, they worked hard on themselves before announcing the collaboration. They didn’t want to put rainbows on the cars without having done anything for the LGBTQ+ community”.

VETTEL AND HAMILTON: TWO ROLE MODELS

I think of drivers like Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton who try to send messages of solidarity, change and civil rights every race weekend. I’ve always thought that because they have such high visibility, it’s important for drivers to send messages so that fans can take them as role models. People often said ‘a t-shirt doesn’t change things’, but it does create debate. What do you think about that?

“It’s a sensitive topic, especially when you are in countries where LGBTQ+ rights are not considered. In general, the fact that these drivers are sending out messages and being key figures is extremely important. I think it’s incredibly significant for a couple of reasons: firstly, these drivers are watched by people, whether they are part of the LGBTQ+ community, fans of them or not. This raises some interest in the debate and can help change attitudes”.

“Sebastian and Lewis are not part of the LGBTQ+ community, but they want to send a message of solidarity. This creates a lot of following and gets people listening and thinking about what can be done to support LGBTQ+ people around them. It really means a lot to LGBTQ+ people who are fans of these pilots, because it’s feeling like “You matter, you’re valued and I care about you”. That in itself is a very powerful message“.


“I fully understand that Lewis Hamilton wearing his helmet in Qatar and Saudi Arabia is not going to have the laws of that country changed by tomorrow, this is completely unrealistic as an expectation. However, he is using the platform he has in the best way possible because he can carry messages and say things that other people cannot. By going to these places, he is taking the opportunity to stay true to his values and state his principles in a respectful way without forcing people to agree with him, but saying that everyone is equal”.

“When I said we get a lot of support from fans, obviously I’m talking about a certain segment of people. I know there are others who don’t agree with our LGBTQ+ inclusion, but I think that’s why the actions of people like Vettel and Hamilton are really important because they are respected figures that people look at. They can change perceptions“.

They have a very big platform and visibility and they use it in the right way

“Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton are using the privileged position they have to say things or to show things that maybe people living in some countries like Hungary or Qatar could never do. They are simply showing what they believe in as they travel around the world. And by doing that, they can show solidarity to people who maybe aren’t able to speak for themselves in different places. It’s a really powerful and wonderful thing for the sport”.

FORMULA 1 AND ITS COMMITMENT TO CREATE A MORE INCLUSIVE SPORT

This year the Circus launched the slogan “WE RACE AS ONE” as a sign of welcoming diversity. I think you’ve also noticed on social media how fans have accused Formula 1 of being inconsistent: of sending messages of respect, equality, inclusivity; topics that are left aside when it comes to racing in countries like Saudi Arabia, where being part of the LGBTQ+ community is illegal. What do you think?

“I think ‘we race as one’ basically vehicles two important things. One is the fact that it recognises the fans’ demand to have a more ethical and inclusive sport. In particular, we are now reaching out to younger fans and I have seen recently that the average age of spectators at Formula 1 has decreased. This generation cares passionately about the values and ethics of the sport and I think this has led to the creation of ‘WE RACE AS ONE'”.


“Also, I think the slogan can be better understood as an inspiration rather than the current state of affairs. People have rightly questioned it and pointed out the inconsistencies and the gap that there is currently between the good intentions, which I think there are, and what actually happens today. And I think that’s actually one of the best things that has come out of WE RACE AS ONE”.

“This concept hasn’t yet translated into concrete actions and changes, but what has happened is that people have started to ask important questions and so I’m very happy that Formula 1 has taken ‘WE RACE AS ONE’ forward because it means that fans and the media are now looking at Formula 1 in relation to this range of issues”.

“It’s going to take time for Formula 1 to change, there’s a lot of commercial interest, there’s a lot of partners and stakeholders to bring along on the journey, but I think it’s clear we’re on the right track. People like me would like things to happen a lot faster, but we also have to be realistic and I think we have to welcome the fact that the sport is moving for the first time in its history, even if it’s not doing it as quickly as we would like”.


“There are people who say we shouldn’t go to territories like Qatar and Saudi Arabia and I understand that argument, however, going there and showing our values is really important. It would be wrong for the sport to go there and not talk about these issues. This year, as a result of ‘we race as one’ and the Racing Pride movement, we are starting to talk about these issues in these places as well”.

“And so, in my mind, we can justify Formula One in Qatar because we did something very good and positive while we were there. Obviously, we can’t change the world overnight, but we can start a conversation that could change it in the future“.

Linked to this issue, there has often been criticism directed at Formula 1 because it is accused of dealing with political issues, but in reality it is about human rights, there is a big difference.

“Yes, you are right. The reason why sport is compelling and the reason why we all love sport is that sport is about people. Sport is about human stories. So, we follow drivers and key figures in sport because basically we’re interested in people and that’s the connection between the fans and those on the track”.

It’s about people: all shapes, all colours, all sexualities, all genders and all religions. Therefore, we need to embrace everyone in THE sport, which is not (as you say) political. Simply, our sport represents reality, it is about humanity and human connection. I understand why people say “sport is not about politics”, but this push for inclusion is not political. It’s about human rights, it’s about people and human connection”.

RACING PRIDE: WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS?

What you are doing and have done over the years are small steps that have definitely led to change. In your opinion, what more can be done in the coming years? Do you already have new goals?

“Racing Pride has very ambitious plans to expand drastically. We want to work much more internationally. We started in the UK, of course, we are very aware that we are the first LGBTQ+ movement in Motorsport and we want to reach as many people and countries to make a difference. About next projects, we plan to do more in Europe next year and we plan to reach North America as well. We want to reach more series and we want to have a wide visibility through our representatives in the different series. And we want to reach a situation where everyone, wherever they are, can be welcomed into Motorsport”.

“We would also like to reach a situation where governing bodies, series and teams from the elite level to the rest, understand how to be safe and supportive places for LGBTQ+ people. So when LGBTQ+ drivers, volunteers, officials, travel around the world they need to know they are safe and secure, but also when they work in their everyday environment they need to know they are respected and welcomed”.

“We also need to engage with the fans because I think it’s crucial. It’s the fans that give the sport a push to change. And Racing Pride can build that visible support from the fans to change. The greater the pressure on the sport, the faster it will change. So, we definitely want to continue to embrace all the fans who follow us for this cause”.

 

Alessia Gastaldi and Chiara De Bastiani

Redazione

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