Whitmarsh was asked by Lewis Hamilton to become a member of The Hamilton Commission, an initiative the Briton has set up to identify the barriers that are making it difficult for people from ethnic minorities to get into UK motorsport.
The Commission has since published a report with recommendations on how to go about breaking those barriers. Whitmarsh admits he didn’t do enough in this regard when he was the boss of McLaren.
“I’m not trying to be defensive about it,” he told The Race.
“Did I do enough on these issues during my 25 years of leadership in the sport? No, I didn’t.
“I’m not defensive about that, it’s for me to reflect on, and that’s why I do a variety of things that I do now including trying to give to the commission.
“But I do think on a positive scope, however people view any of our motives, Formula 1 is an inspirational sport.
“The technology is inspirational, the athleticism is inspirational, the bravery of the drivers is inspirational.
“And Lewis’s broadening the appeal. Of course, it helps if you’ve come from the right place, you’re born in the right place with the right set of socio-economic circumstances.
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“But we’ve got to try and reach out to those that haven’t and say, ‘Okay, there’s some barriers, but you are invited in – if you want to be inspired, if you want to be part of this, you will be welcomed when you arrive here’.”
Whitmarsh believes the people in the F1 bubble don’t always understand the kinds of obstacles that prevent certain groups in society from getting into motorsport.
“There’s a bit of arrogance in Formula 1 and I’ve been, I’m sure, guilty of this feeling of, ‘Well I’ve got there and if I can, anyone’s just got to have the ambition and the drive and the commitment and go and knock on the door’.
“It’s how I got into F1, I just knocked on the door. But it hadn’t occurred to me that there were big sections of society, disadvantaged elements of our society, ethnic minorities from poor backgrounds, that just don’t feel invited.
“And therefore they don’t go knock on the door and they’re not inspired to go and do that education.”
Whitmarsh also praised Lewis for using his influence to try and change things.
“He recognises that as the icon that he has now become, that is something that gives him a platform, gives him a voice, gives him the opportunity to prompt this debate, and causes us to think about it,” concluded the Briton.