Formula One returns: ‘sometimes it takes removing a mark to leave one’

The black and papaya liveries of the McLaren racing team showcased the sport’s first Indigenous sponsor, DeadlyScience.


After a two-year COVID-induced hiatus, the second weekend of April saw the return of Formula One (F1) to Naarm (Melbourne) which brought with it a world-first. The black and papaya liveries of the McLaren racing team showcased the sport’s first Indigenous sponsor, DeadlyScience.

Founded by Kamilaroi man, Corey Tutt, the start-up provides culturally appropriate STEM textbooks and mentoring to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Since its inception in 2018, DeadlyScience has provided more than 20,000 STEM textbooks to young Indigenous students in remote schools.

DeadlyScience seeks to combat the colonial narrative that deters Indigenous Australians from pursuing careers in STEM. Dismantling this construct that limits Indigenous success to the parameters of sport and art is essential. Tutt said that in providing “opportunities to find passion and purpose”, DeadlyScience is supporting Indigenous children to aspire to be scientists and have it not “defined by race”.

In a world where “cash is king”, F1 car liveries become prime real estate for corporate marketing and exposure. Ordinarily, the price tag for logo placements reaches the millions. The historic decision to donate a logo placement to a not-for-profit was that of SponsorX, an initiative of the McLaren racing team and its software sponsor Smartsheet.

SponsorX provides lesser-known organisations dedicated to a worthy cause the spotlight that is normally enjoyed by the prominent placement of Smartsheet’s logo. Australian McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo said that the initiative enables the sport “to tell the world about the work that matters”.

The logo, drawn by Tutt, was seen by up to a million tracksides and at home. It is also likely to be featured in the Netflix series Drive to Survive that attracted approximately five million viewers worldwide in the opening weekend of its fourth season. In explaining the significance of Smartsheet’s donation to DeadlyScience, Tutt said that “when the kids see the car, they’re going to know that [the logo] represents them”.

McLaren drivers, Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo finished fifth and sixth respectively.

The Australian Grand Prix also celebrated Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay/Gummaroi artist, Reko Rennie. Reko was commissioned by race sponsor Heineken to create an artwork that celebrates Naarm and the Birrarung (Yarra River). Reko explained that the use of “eye-catching colours result in an urban camouflage pattern that celebrates [his] Aboriginal culture and identity”. Reko’s art was featured significantly both on and off track.

These steps importantly represented Indigenous Australia on the global motorsport stage, yet F1 continues to be heavily imbued in whiteness. Seven-time world champion, Lewis Hamilton, remains the only Black driver on the grid. Hamilton’s research initiative found that only 1% of F1 employees are from Black backgrounds.

Much like DeadlyScience, The Hamilton Commission emphasises the need to engage with young Black people interested in STEM. It seeks to understand how motorsport industries can involve and employ Black youth in team engineering sectors.

Initiatives like these have the potential to dismantle the Euro-centricity of F1.


Image from DeadlyScience Facebook.

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