The young black mechanic given a 'dream' chance by Lewis Hamilton

Extreme E

Jacob Alexander was just an unsuspecting engineering student with dreams of racing when he was told he was under consideration by Lewis Hamilton for the opportunity of a lifetime

Jacob Alexander Extreme E X44 Lewis Hamilton mechanic

Jacob Alexander was given the chance to live out a "dream" by the Racing for All initiative

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It might sound like something straight from a Hollywood film, but the scene is real: young engineering student Jacob Alexander was just a kid with aspirations of a life in motor sport when he was plucked from obscurity by Lewis Hamilton’s Racing for All initiative with Extreme E, and placed in the seven-time world champion’s X44 team, which would clinch this year’s title with rally legends Sébastien Loeb and Cristina Gútierrez at the wheel.

Speaking to Motor Sport, Alexander described the moment he was contacted out of the blue to realise “a dream we all share” by following his heroes Hamilton, Tom Kristensen and Ross Brawn into the world of professional motor sport, as well as “changing” the balance of underrepresented minorities in racing.

The 20-year-old owes his place to the Hamilton Commission, which was set up by the Mercedes driver in 2020. It put forward ten recommendations to help increase diversity in motor sport, including “calling for teams and motorsport bodies to broaden access to motorsport by expanding apprenticeship and work experience programmes,” and “launching scholarship programmes to help black graduates with degrees in engineering to progress to motorsport roles.”

That led to the creation of Racing for All (RFA) with Extreme E, an “action-based programme that will have a tangible effect on addressing some of those barriers,” facing people from minority backgrounds trying to get into the sport.

The series regulations currently only allow for five mechanics per car, but the RFA initiative permits a sixth member from an underrepresented background to join each team and gain further experience.

4 Jacob Alexander Extreme E X44 Lewis Hamilton mechanic

Alexander was embedded in X44 team for 2022

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Alexander is the first candidate to benefit from a work placement. He joined the front-running X44 squad, which would eventually win a thrilling championship scrap with the RXR squad of Hamilton’s old nemesis Nico Rosberg.

As he tells us though, at first he wasn’t even aware he was under consideration – his father had applied for the RFA scholarship after seeing an Instagram advert, without even telling his son.

“I was so surprised as I had no idea about what my dad had done!”

“When I got the email from X44 Vida Carbon with the request for an interview, I was so surprised as I had no idea about what my dad had done!” the engineering student says.

“I’d applied for jobs in the motor sport industry before to no response back, so to finally get a positive reply was really exciting. Then to have a phone call saying ‘We’d like to offer you a place on the team’ was really cool and something I’ll always remember.”

Stephanie Travers, the associate sporting director of X44, says Alexander perfectly fitted the criteria of the young talent that Hamilton and the scholarship aims to promote, and was selected ahead of over 800 other applicants.

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“Lewis is very involved within our team and the series as a whole,” she says. “The Racing for All programme was based on the findings from The Hamilton Commission, and so Lewis was involved not only in offering guidance to Extreme E but he also made sure that X44 were the first team to actively take a candidate trackside in 2022.

“Lewis personally reviewed Jacob’s application before the final interview process with the chief mechanic, and he wrote to Jacob once he was hired to ensure he felt welcomed to the team. Giving more people an opportunity to enter the sport is something he is very passionate about.

“It was a very difficult decision for us as the calibre of the candidates was very high. However, Jacob was very confident in his interview. His education background and also some of the skills he had described through his extracurricular activities around cars gave him that extra edge. He answered all the situational judgment questions very well and demonstrated characteristics of working within a team.”

Midway through the season, Alexander – a self-confessed endurance racing fanatic who thinks about motor sport “all the time” – was parachuted into the team, able to emulate his tech chief hero in a competitive environment.

3 Jacob Alexander Extreme E X44 Lewis Hamilton mechanic

At work in Chile

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“As well as drivers like Hamilton and Kristensen, I’ve also been quite into the technical engineering side of motorsport so people like Christian Von Koenigsegg or Brawn have also been role models for me,” he says.

“As the junior mechanic on the team, I had the responsibility of assisting the chief mechanic as well as giving general assistance to the other members of the team. One of the reasons I was hired was that the team needed someone with some mechanical background knowledge which I had learnt at college studying motor sport engineering.

“I joined the team with some idea of what to expect, but it was totally different being able to put it into practice and learn how the team works during a real race week – which can be much more chaotic than you might imagine watching on TV!

Alexander says he had to dig deep at times to deliver what Hamilton’s squad needs, but feels his skill set is now all the better for it.

“During my time being with the team, I was exposed to what challenges you may face when running a race car whether it’s testing, or the real thing,” he tells us. “Some of the environments you’re in could be quite tough at times and you had to adapt really quickly, but I just had to push through it and do what I could to help the team.”

The RFA initiative is just one of several pushes across motor sport to help improve diversity, including F1’s Diversity & Inclusion programme, IndyCar’s Racing for Equality & Change and the FIA’s Women in Motorsport initiative.

Though he says he has never been a direct victim of racism himself, Alexander welcomes the push for positive change, saying he has witnessed scenes of discrimination similar to what Hamilton has described suffering as a child.

“I’ve been quite lucky in my life that I haven’t had to experience harsh prejudice where I grew up,” he says. “However I have known karting friends that have had abuse thrown their way for simply being good at what they do.

“I realised very quickly from a young age that there were very few people of ethnicity on TV or social media that were in motor sport. In a way that pushed me further, as I knew that by succeeding in the industry, I could play a small part in changing that for the next generation.”

For next season, another candidate will be given the chance to work in the Extreme E paddock, with Travers saying that “the important thing about Racing for All is ensuring the pipeline stays open to give more people chance to take part. Jacob won’t be our candidate next year but he now has championship winning experience, and we’d be more than happy to support him where we can.”

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Celebrating victory (far left) in Chile – the team would go on to win the Extreme E title in a thrilling finale in Uruguay

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Alexander himself is only looking to push on for a life in racing from here.

“I believe working with a professional squad like X44 has and will really help my career in motor sport in terms of being recognised and having gained the real-world skills working on a team,” he says.

“In my next role, I feel I will be able to go into it with real, championship-winning experience, but I also know that there is so much still for me to learn and I’m grateful to the programme for giving me the first step on the career ladder – I couldn’t be happier with how it went.

“Teams should definitely expect applications from me soon!”