Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
IN an era where English Premiership footballers are taking a knee, and Test cricketers are wearing protest logos on their shirts, a Zimbabwean chemical engineer has been thrust into the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement.
When 25-year-old chemical engineer Stephanie Travers broke barriers on Sunday to stand on the podium in Formula 1 history, it produced a seismic moment in sport.
Stephanie, who is the granddaughter of the late Arcadia United chairman, Pat Travers, joined the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team last year as a Trackside Fluid Engineer.
She got the job after coming out tops in a global recruitment process which featured over 7 000 applicants.
Her family left Harare to settle in the United Kingdom in 2004.
On Sunday, at the Styrian Grand Prix in Spielberg, Austria, Travers became the first black woman to stand on the podium in the 70 years of Formula 1, when she was asked by her team to receive their constructor drivers’ trophy.
Six-time World Champion, Lewis Hamilton, the high-stakes sport’s only black driver, won the race while his teammate Valtteri Bottas finished second.
Hamilton has been very vocal in his support of the Black Lives Matter movement, including attending a peaceful protest in London earlier this year, while his Mercedes team are racing in black-liveried cars for this season.
The team usually race in “Silver Arrows” trim but believe the black-liveried cars will provide both a powerful, and visual, stance against racism.
“Racism and discrimination have no place in our society, our sport or our team: this is a core belief at Mercedes. But having the right beliefs and the right mindset isn’t enough if we remain silent,” team principal, Toto Wolff, said.
“We wish to use our voice, and our global platform, to speak up for respect and equality, and the Silver Arrow will race in black for the entire 2020 season to show our commitment to greater diversity within our team and our sport.
“We will not shy away from our weaknesses in this area, nor from the progress we must still make; our livery is our public pledge to take positive action. We intend to find and attract the very best talents from the broadest possible range of backgrounds, and to create credible pathways for them to reach our sport, in order to build a stronger and more diverse team in the future. I would also like to use this opportunity to thank our parent company Mercedes-Benz and our family of team partners who have supported and encouraged this initiative.”
And, by asking Travers to accept their constructor’s trophy in Spielberg on Sunday, Mercedes were also playing their part in breaking the barriers.
This has placed the Zimbabwean firmly at the heart of the Back Lives Matter movement and Hamilton took to Instagram, on Tuesday, to capture the iconic moment.
“I wanted to post this because it’s such an important moment,’’ Hamilton said. “This is Stephanie, who is one of my teammates. She is one of our trackside fluid engineers.
“On Sunday, she became the first black woman to stand on the podium in Formula 1 history. This is an amazing achievement and I just wanted to acknowledge her for her hard work, positivity, and passion for her job.
“Like most of the jobs, in our sport, they are in high demand, and Stephanie was selected out of over 7 000 applicants for her role.
“Steph said she wants to inspire young black children, and children of colour, to believe that they can do it too, and I couldn’t agree more.
“Put your mind to it, and you can be anything you want to be. So, whilst I really appreciate all of the congratulations, I wanted take the opportunity to lift her up, and share them with her. #manifest #hardwork #bethechange.’’
Travers’ appearance on the podium, at the weekend, was also hailed by her team Mercedes.
“How awesome was it to see Steph collecting the trophy on behalf of Petronas Motorsports and the whole team today,” they posted on Twitter.
The team’s sponsors, Petronas, the global oil and gas company, said they were also proud of the landmark moment.
“Proud to see Stephanie Travers (representing) the entire Petronas family on the podium!”
Travers won the Young Achiever of the Year award at the Zim Achievers Awards in London last year and spoke about her pride in being recognised by her fellow Zimbabweans.
“I was so proud to be recognised by my very own Zimbabwean people,’’ she said. “Thank you to everyone who took their time to vote for me.
“I’m so humbled that my own people actually recognise the hard work that goes into what we are doing. I will always continue to fly the Zimbabwean flag high . . . love you Zimbabwe.’’
And, after her historic podium appearance on Sunday, the whole world appears to have embraced her.
“It would have been easy to miss an important moment in Sunday’s Styrian Grand Prix,’’ reported the South African motoring website www.wheels.co.za.
“What exactly, you may ask? Well, there was a woman on the podium alongside Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. A woman, mind you, from one of our neighbouring countries.
“Zimbabwe-born Stephanie Travers is a fluid engineer with the Mercedes F1 team. She appeared alongside her fellow teammates to receive the winning constructors’ trophy on behalf of the team.
“So what? Many women have stood on the podium before. Well, yes, but Travers became the first black woman to stand on a Formula 1 podium. Amid the current Black Lives Matter campaigns, it was a pretty powerful moment.
“Travers, just like Hamilton, became a beacon of hope of children of colour who are, often, held back by their circumstances.
“She is living proof that one’s dreams are attainable and that your (difficult) surroundings should not be a determining factor in how your future plays out.
“Coming from Zimbabwe, Travers knows the struggles people of colour go through.’’