BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
ZIMBABWE might currently not have a participating driver competing in the Formula 1 (F1) World Championship, but the Southern African country continues to have a close connection with the popular sport, providing the much-needed racial diversity in a discipline previously dominated by Caucasian men.
This is after the nine-time and reigning F1 constructor’s champions Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team last week announced a partnership with the Association of Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers (AFBE-UK), whose excecutive board includes Zimbabwean engineer Mara-Tafadzwa Makoni.
The partnership comes barely nine months after Zimbabwean trackside fluid engineer Stephanie Travers, who already works with the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team, broke new ground in the sport last year.
Travers was arguably Zimbabwe’s biggest sporting ambassador in 2020 after she became the first black woman to stand on a Formula 1 podium at the Styrian Grand Prix in July, an outstanding achievement in a sport dominated by European men.
Born in Zimbabwe 26 years ago before moving to the UK in 2004, Travers grabbed global attention after collecting the Constructor’s Trophy on behalf of Mercedes and Petronas in Austria alongside drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
Now continuing in favour of diversity in Formula 1, Mercedes last week announced a partnership with the Mara-Tafadzwa Makoni-led AFBE-UK with the aim of involving black people and other ethnic minorities in the team.
The initiative is part of the team’s “Accelerate 25” project launched by the end of 2020, aiming to increase the number of racialised employees to 25% of their total workforce — currently; the number is only 3%.
“We are pleased to see that Mercedes is committed to building a team that reflects the world in which we live in; teams that are more diverse and foster inclusion and belonging for people from often marginalised communities,” Makoni said.
“To see such an elite brand dedicate real time and resources to this goal is a massive leap forward for engineering. Young boys and girls from all origins can now dare to dream about being part of building the brand and sport they have grown up admiring.”
Makoni, who is AFBE-UK’s corporate partnerships lead, is a consultant with international experience in different countries such as the USA, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
She is a qualified systems engineer, who has managed and implemented complex projects in energy and transport, from feasibility to completion.
Paul Mills, director of Human Resources at Mercedes, emphasised the role of AFBE-UK in the partnership as he said: “We are delighted to have joined the Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers UK. As part of our Accelerate 25 programme and commitment to improving diversity within our team and our sport, we have begun to identify organisations who can provide valuable knowledge and support as we raise our efforts on this journey.
“AFBE-UK’s wealth of experience in working with organisations and engineering professionals to encourage and support engineers from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds into engineering is a perfect fit as we look to widen our appeal and increase the diversity of the talent within our team.
“We very much look forward to working with AFBE-UK and learning from their valuable expertise as we make progress toward our ambition of improving the diversity of our team.”
Established in 2007 in the United Kingdom, AFBE-UK encourages the participation of black and racial students in the scientific and technical fields, in addition to supporting over 1500 engineers in the country.
In partnership with Mercedes, the team will include events and work experience events in addition to analysing the main obstacles to involving racial people in motor sports.
Mercedes is engaged in promoting diversity inspired by reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton, who last year inspired F1 to form the “We Race as One” initiative. In partnership with the Royal British Academy of Engineering, Hamilton also created the “Hamilton Commission” in 2020 to identify barriers to racial access to motorsport and to propose alternatives.