South Asian Heritage Month: Representation and inclusivity in motorsports

Friday 11 August 2023

Founded in 2020, South Asian Heritage Month [SAHM] is an annual event which occurs from 18 July to 17 August, seeking to commemorate and celebrate South Asian cultures and stories. In the UK, ‘South Asian’ typically refers to those with a background in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Afghanistan.

As history goes, motorsport has had a brief love affair with South Asia, having dipped its toe in the form of a Formula 1 Grand Prix held at the Buddh International Circuit in India, a mere three times from 2011 – 2013.

Two Indian racing drivers have climbed the ranks enough to reach Formula One, with ex driver-turned-commentator Karun Chandhok as the most notable, though Narain Karthikeyan was the first Indian to race in the Championship.

Enaam Ahmed (pictured), a British-Pakistani racing driver, is currently competing in the 2023 Indy NXT series. Having made his debut in 2015, Ahmed’s previous accolades include winning the prestigious BRDC Formula 3 Championship in 2017, as well as several wins and podium finishes in other categories.

With only a handful of professional racing drivers from a South Asian background, it begs the question; why is there not more South Asian talent participating in motorsports?

While statistics on how many British South Asian people tune into an F1 race every weekend are scarce, an official broadcast report released by Formula 1 in early 2020 listed India as one of its top-five markets, with an estimated 31.1 million fans; a figure that would have surely risen with the continued success of Netflix’s ‘Drive to Survive’.

While motorsports in general has a long way to go in becoming more prevalent in South Asia, a small number of British South Asian talent can be found here on UK soil; outside the scope of racing.

Take Aston Martin F1 team doctor Rahul Chotai, a South Asian doctor who travels with the team for six months out of the year, ensuring that team members and drivers are fit for the weekend, attending to emergencies and general medical well-being of the team.

Sophia Bi is a British-born Pakistani motorsport enthusiast, currently working as a Creative Production Coordinator for Sky Sports and has had previous stints working as a Marshall at the British Grand Prix, the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and other Championship races in the UK. She remains in close contact with the Motorsport UK Marshalling community and Girls on Track, encouraging other young talent to pursue careers in motorsports.

On the lack of South Asian presence in motorsport, Marium Tahir, a British Pakistani working for UK based motorsports creative agency Pace Six Four, comments, “The grassroots opportunities for fresh talent have only just started emerging, but there comes a wider conversation in the lack of education not just for the youths, but also for parents, who don’t understand ‘motorsports’ as an industry.

“Many of our parents are first- or second-generation South Asians living in the UK, and they haven’t had the same exposure to motorsports as the younger generations, through outlets such as a social media and Netflix. It requires a lot of education and changing of perspectives to people of all ages to understand that motorsports is a vast industry with various roles worth exploring. Some of which, we are slowly but surely starting to see.”

While the South Asian talent pool currently working within motorsports remains minute, there is scope for these numbers to rise through various initiatives and opportunities, ensuring that doors become – and remain – wide open.