October 3, 2022

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has challenged others in Formula 1 to make a ‘really meaningful’ financial contribution to anti-racism causes, as the team holds a charity auction to support the foundation it has launched with Lewis Hamilton.

Seven-time world champion Hamilton is the only black driver in F1 history and has stepped up his campaigns against racism and diversity in recent years.

He started the Hamilton Commission with the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE), which sought to understand the reasons for BAME’s lack of representation in motorsport, then set up his own foundation called Mission 44 and launched an initiative with Mercedes called Ignite.

On Thursday, ahead of the British Grand Prix, Mercedes and Hamilton announced the first recipients of Ignite’s seed money – half a million pounds granted to Motorsport UK and RAE, respectively, which aim to help increase the participation of women in grassroots motorsport and to focus on Masters-level motorsport engineering scholarships for black students.

The announcement came a week after it emerged Hamilton had been racially abused by three-time world champion Nelson Piquet at the end of 2021, and one day former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone criticized Hamilton for not “ignoring it”.

“I think we live in a time where a lot of people have said they’ve been supporting for the last couple of years, but a lot of [it is] lip service, and we don’t,” Wolff said.

“We’re actually on the action. We put our money where our mouth is.

“So, I’m really proud. I think we have to involve everyone to do something, because we can’t do it alone.

Hamilton has invested £20m of his own money in Mission 44, while Ignite has a multi-million dollar fund set up by Hamilton and the Mercedes team – which stemmed from his negotiations with Wolff over a new contract for 2021.

Mercedes also has its own project called Accelerate 25, which aims to increase the number of people from underrepresented groups in its F1 team.

“I think what we kicked off, we put the money where our mouth is,” Wolff said.

“We invested $6.2 million in Ignite, which Lewis personally committed and the team.

“So it’s not small. And then we have partners like IWC reacting immediately, “OK, I’m part of that, the first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to take a watch, we’re going to auction it off, and that’s going straight in Ignite’.

“And of course that’s not the last thing we did together on this project.

“It’s not just about talking, it’s more about investing money and setting standards that hopefully others will follow.

“Because we’re so in our little microcosm here, everyone from the other teams in their little chase, but we have to do something.

“It’s a global platform and we have to use it.”

When asked if other teams needed to do more, Wolff replied: “I think so. Because each of us can contribute.

“We are in a sport that generates billions of dollars in revenue and hundreds of millions in revenue for each of the teams.

“The drivers are millionaires, and everyone is hiding. When we should be role models and say we are really doing something rather than saying “we are working on it, and yes, we are against discrimination and we are against racism”.

“It’s great, but you can afford it to do something that really makes sense.

“What we’re doing here is real money. And I think hopefully we can pave the way for the community as a whole by doing something.

“Because I’m not aware, other than Instagram posts, [that] someone did something else.

Ignite will also be the beneficiary of a charity auction held over the weekend, with Mercedes and partner IWC hoping to raise a six-figure sum by selling a rare watch.

The watch is the one IWC made in collaboration with Wolff, is numbered 50 out of 100 and is the last available. IWC also announced an annual donation of €50,000 to Ignite.

Chris Grainger-Herr, CEO of IWC, said the auction was not a reaction to events this week, calling it “timely” but the result of something “planned from the start” designed to help funds to team diversity and inclusiveness causes.

“If we don’t actively pursue this, nothing will change,” he said.

“Because we’re all going to turn around and say we don’t actively discriminate, we don’t do this, we don’t do that – but at the end of the day, if we don’t put the firepower, the funds and human resources behind making changes, it will not happen.

“A project like this that gives visibility, but where every penny ultimately goes to the charitable foundation, that hopefully makes the work of change that Lewis rightly fights for every day a little easier.”