Celebrating Black History Month: Sebastian Malcolm
Sebastian Malcolm is a young racing driver who has been competing in karts and recently stepped up to the Formula 1000 single-seater championship. He is a member of the Motorsport UK DiSE programme and is passionate about the need to improve inclusion in motorsport for people from all kinds of backgrounds.
At the start of Black History Month, Motorsport UK spoke to Sebastian to better understand his experience of the sport. Hear his first-hand account in this special feature piece.
Black History Month is a month to represent another section of society. There are similar celebrations for many other communities, and it is just a way to make people feel more included in society. But in terms of motorsport, that history is definitely very limited.
The overall percentage of black people and other under-represented within motorsport is low and we need to widen access so that people feel more confident to enter the sport. Things are progressing, but more needs to be done and the pace needs to be quicker in terms of making the sport more inclusive for black people.
Obviously, for motorsport, the first person that comes to mind is Lewis Hamilton. Everyone who comes from a mixed background, or a black background will be inspired by him because just seeing someone who looks like you in the position you want to be, that is what makes you believe.
I recently saw another Nigerian driver and that really interested me because I never thought I would see that, especially in the UK. Maybe in the US, but that really surprised me. But it’s not just black people. It’s all races. It makes you feel good when you see that, it makes you feel everyone’s being included.
Lewis has been great for black people in the sport, but the standard that it has set is that people think ‘ok, there’s another black driver, that means he’s going to be exactly the same as Hamilton.’ There is an expectation that this guy is going to come in and win everything straight away and ‘he’s going to be the next Lewis.’
That can wear you out a bit. Every person, as much as they look up to any driver, they want to be their own driver. They don’t want to aspire to one person and have their identity overshadowed. That is, for me, definitely one of the negatives, especially when it comes to trying to get to a higher level in the sport.
Meeting all the challenges
It’s a very tough sport in the sense of how far you can get with the resources you have, and that goes for any individual. In motorsport you see a lot of people from affluent families, but some of the things I have heard about the money people are spending actually shocked me. I couldn’t really believe it.
When I first joined the DiSE programme I was just doing corporate karting for £100 a time and some people are telling me they are spending hundreds of thousands. That really knocks your confidence. You look at the stage you are at and think ‘there’s no way, even if I am amazing, how am I going to afford that?’
I’m from Lewisham, South London and it is a very diverse area. There are so many people who would love to be involved in the sport, but can’t afford to get there and don’t know the solution. That’s important.
Just finding ways to make entry to the sport cheaper would help and the development of Streetcar is fantastic. I would love to see that filter down to a lot of youth clubs being able to include motorsport.
You see [youth] clubs for football, swimming, other sports. Having that for motorsport would be really positive. It’s all affordability. It would be hard to start a karting club where kids could do it for pennies but getting something like a Citroen C1 and going racing, you can have a lot of fun and you can still be spotted from that. And that is a really, really good thing, whatever background you come from.
One of the biggest things I have learned is a lot of it is who you know, not what you know. You can know how to get to the top, but if you don’t know people like team coaches and other racing drivers who can direct you to the right place and get you talking to the right people, it just becomes really hard. It can add half a decade or a decade before you get to the place you want to be.
But when you see people like Lewis Hamilton have come from a background like you, it gives you confidence again. There is a lot of talk about how all races should be included, and Motorsport UK definitely open their mind to it – but this year DiSE has two mixed race people out of 24, and that is still low.
I would love to be part of something that can help improve inclusion – but it is more about being able to help all types of people. That’s why programmes like Race with Respect are so important in making the sport more welcoming and inclusive. It’s not that all under-represented groups are poor and cannot afford to get involved in motorsport; equally, there are a lot of people from under-represented still can’t get there.