Matt Bishop on sexuality, social media and working with Sebastian Vettel
Matt Bishop has worked in Formula 1 for thirty years and is open about his sexuality on his Twitter account (as well as being known for his #OnThisDay posts). In our industry, this representation is exactly what we need. From working at McLaren, to W Series, to Aston Martin Cognizant Formula 1 Team, Matt has been on a journey from the start to the ‘now’.
"I love motor racing and I always have loved motor racing."
While writing his novel, The Boy Made the Difference, Matt was approached by David Coulthard in 2018 and teamed up with him and three other partners – Sean Wadsworth, Catherine Bond Muir and Dave Ryan – to work on a new motorsport project. At the time, it was unnamed, with the name ‘Formula W’ in contention, however now, we know it as W Series. As a Consultant on a day rate, Matt envisaged his role with the small team might only be a few days a week, but it ended up being more than that and he soon became Communications Director on a full-time basis.
To help launch W Series successfully, Matt contacted journalists he knew well from earlier in his career, to pitch the concept of W Series and promote it to the world.
“It was picked up in the UK, obviously, but also Germany, Japan, India, the USA and dozens of other countries,” Matt explains. “We realised then that we were onto something. We knew that W Series would be – or could be – successful.”
W Series has become successful for a number of different reasons in a short period of time – from the outset, it’s shown that racing isn’t just for men, and that is so important – and Matt is proud to have been part of that founding team.
Photo Credit: LAT Images
W Series, as we all know, exists to assist another motor racing minority because women are a minority in motor racing and an extreme minority in the cockpits.
“I’ve always believed that is something we could assist with,” Matt explains his opinion about promoting female involvement in motorsport. “I was proud and pleased to be part of W Series, and I’m still an advocate and a supporter of it.”
Of course, Matt has now moved away from W Series to work at Aston Martin Cognizant Formula 1 Team; he remains close friends with the Chief Executive of the series, Catherine Bond Muir, and some drivers, including Jessica Hawkins, whom he hired as Driver Ambassador at Aston Martin.
"The world has changed a lot in that period, let alone sport and Formula 1."
Now working at Aston Martin Cognizant Formula 1 Team, Matt’s role is ostensibly similar to his at W Series, officially known as Chief Communications Officer. Although, the one main difference is the size of the team he has to work with, which also includes working with agencies outside of Aston Martin. Another important thing to note is that Matt is dealing with a brand over 100 years old and Aston Martin, although only under that name for one year, has been a racing team for 31 years. We all remember the days of Racing Point and Force India… and every other name the team has raced under in its history… well, if you’ve been alive that long.
Matt talks about the challenges which come hand-in-hand with his role, especially thinking of original storytelling opportunities to attract the interest of journalists.
“There are Formula 1 journalists and other journalists who want to write about F1, but they don’t always want to write about Aston Martin,” he explains. “They might want to write about Ferrari, or McLaren, or Mercedes, or Red Bull and to get them to write about our team – when we finished seventh in the  World Championship and we’re brand new as an Aston Martin named team – is a challenge.”
Photo Credit: LAT Images
"In recent years, I've decided to become, by default, an activist."
As a gay man in the industry, Matt says he hasn’t faced many obstacles because of his sexuality. Instead, he explains how he has faced rudeness, disappointment and homophobic abuse, but he highlights how rare this was and is. After nearly 30 years working in motorsport, Matt has observed a number of changes in global society and the sport more exclusively.
“The world has changed a lot, let alone sport and Formula 1,” however, like many others, Matt recognises there’s still a lot to do. “Particularly in certain parts of the world which we’ve raced in, even in the United Kingdom, there’s still a lot to do.”
Matt shares a story about a former F1 driver who used to insult him to his face as well as behind his back by calling him a ‘fat faggot’. Whilst remembering the incident, and choosing not to name the individual concerned, Matt explains that he doesn’t think it would happen now – it’s not the correct way to behave in modern society. Although, he wouldn’t class this as an obstacle in his career.
“I may be wrong about this but my opinion is that the extent to which I used to encounter homophobic abuse back in the day – and even then it was rare – I don’t think it held up my career,” Matt reflects. “In some ways, it may even have helped by making many people in Formula 1 feel sympathetic towards me.”
“In recent years, I’ve decided to become, by default, an LGBTQ+ activist.”
Alongside Richard Morris and in conjunction with Stonewall, Matt was one of the founders of Racing Pride in 2019. He is also responsible for fostering a formal partnership between Aston Martin Cognizant Formula 1 Team and Racing Pride. Matt takes a moment to highlight the importance in that context of Cognizant, as a company, and as Aston Martin’s title sponsor.
“Cognizant is not just supportive, but it has helped us drive that partnership [with Racing Pride] forward in a very energetic way,” he says. “Diversity and inclusion are extremely important to everyone at Cognizant.”
Now, Racing Pride is responsible for rolling out lectures, seminars and workshops throughout the Aston Martin workforce, to ensure team members are compliant, sensitive, sympathetic and empathetic with anyone who may be LGBTQ+ in the workforce, whether they are out or not.
"We are all only human."
Photo Credit: LAT Images
Online, Matt is very open about his sexuality and from time to time shares pictures of him and his husband, Angel Bautista.
However, he often receives an abundance of hateful comments in response to some of his tweets – sometimes unrelated to his sexuality – and when it comes to these tweets, Matt refers to himself as ‘quite a blocker’. He compares it to not liking Strictly Come Dancing, and how if you don’t want to watch it, you switch it off. In this case, Twitter’s block button is the television remote.
“I think people sometimes take blocking as an act of anger or aggression. It isn’t those things,” Matt tells me. “If you block somebody, it just means you don’t want that in your life.
“I block people and report them if they need reporting and move on.”
I think we could all learn a lesson from Matt.
He shares an anecdote with me about something that happened recently, after he uploaded a video to his Twitter feed when in Jeddah, for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
“For a little bit of fun, I’ve been doing these hire car videos on Twitter,” Matt explains. “I have a wedding ring and on my right hand, I have a little bracelet which has the Pride colours on it and the name of my husband. I mentioned that in one of the videos.”
One of the responses to the tweet containing this video was homophobic and inappropriate, and Matt recalls screenshotting the tweet and uploading it to his own feed, to show the type of comments he receives in his notifications tab sometimes. He didn’t tag the username – as to not drive lots of traffic to the page in question – but he wanted to highlight the things he has to put up with from some Twitter users.
“The reason I do that sometimes is that I’m only human and it is actually quite upsetting sometimes, to have a response like that,” Matt says. “You can pretend that you’re as strong as an ox and that these things don’t hurt you, but guess what? Sometimes they do.”
Despite having to call out this negativity online, Matt received so much positivity in response.
“I had an outpouring of lovely, kind support from people I know and from people I don’t know,” this part made me smile. We spoke on the phone, but Matt was probably smiling too. “Sometimes you need that too, because we are all only human.”
“I find myself as a senior person in a Formula 1 team and a gay man,” Matt says. “That is not a common thing.”
When Matt arrived in the Formula 1 industry, he was the only gay man – or at least the only out gay man. Although Little Britain didn’t exist at the time, he came to call himself the ‘only gay in the Formula 1 village’. Now, 30 years later, he’s not the only one, but he is still one of the very few, at least in any way prominent or vocal.
In recent years, especially with the initiation of Racing Pride and his involvement with that, Matt feels the importance of standing up as a member of the LGBTQ+ community in motorsport. With the constant push for diversity in our industry – in a variety of areas – this representation is so important, and we are so lucky to have figures like Matt.
“Having found myself in that position behoves me to stand up and to help youngsters, to help young go-karters who are struggling with their sexuality or struggling with the homophobia they might face, or to perhaps help people my age, or a little bit younger,” he explains. “You know, mechanics and engineers who feel they can’t come out.”
For Matt, he believes it is a little easier for those working in Communications or Marketing, or Commercial or Catering, to come out than it is for mechanics and engineers.
“Perhaps to help those types of people, I found that there was a role that I could take on and assist with.”
"Racing Pride came into existence at the right time."
When Aston Martin still went by Racing Point in the Formula 1 world, they published a press release about Matt, welcoming him to their team and explaining how he ‘will help deliver Aston Martin Formula 1 Team’s commitment to supporting diversity and inclusion, both internally and externally’.
Matt has been successful in doing that so far, through fostering a partnership between Aston Martin Cognizant Formula 1 Team and Racing Pride, helping the AMR21 carry the rainbow flag colours during Pride month and of course, by working with Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll.
Photo Credit: Aston Martin Cognizant Formula 1 Team
Racing driver Richard Morris contacted Matt about the Racing Pride initiative in 2019.
Matt explains how he believed he would be important rather early on in the process because of his extensive contact list, which was a huge help to Richard, “I thought it was a very good idea and something that I would like to be involved in.”
He also knew of another racing driver, Oli Warman, who stopped racing because of a lack of funds and, instead, created an initiative called Gay Racers as a side project to his actual job as a videographer. Matt introduced Richard and Oli, and they worked on the Racing Pride project together in its early days until recently, when Oli decided to move on to other things.
“I was so pleased to introduce Richard and Oli, and indeed to make sure Aston Martin was able to form the partnership with them under the encouragement of Cognizant,” Matt says. “I actually thought the time was right.
“Oli started Gay Racers a few years ago and the sporting world wasn’t quite ready to embrace LGBTQ+ initiatives in the way that it so obviously is now.”
Many of us are probably accustomed to seeing rainbow flags and banners outside of a variety of businesses during Pride month. Matt highlights how he thinks they’re doing it for the right reasons, but also because they realise it’s the right thing for their business. He believes it is a great thing to see and that the idea of embracing and supporting anything to do with the LGBTQ+ community as a business would have been amazing a few years ago. Now, however, he sees it as “not at all amazing and absolutely mainstream”.
“Racing Pride came into existence at the right time to take advantage of that and to promote it,” Matt tells me. “I’m proud and pleased to be part of Racing Pride.
“I think it’ll go on to achieve more and more.”
Matt says that if thirty years ago - when he was first starting out in motorsport - he was told that there would, one day, be an initiative called Racing Pride - something which conjoins those two parts of his life - he wouldn’t believe it.
“I thought those things had to be kept separate,” he says. “I was able to come out in motorsport, but I never thought it would be put together in that way.
“I am proud of it and very excited about its future, and I think Racing Pride is a wonderful thing to be proud of.”
"I said to him, 'Seb, you are the biggest star in the world on social media.'"
Whilst working at McLaren, Matt worked with seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton for five years. Now, he’s been working with four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel for one year (and counting) at Aston Martin.
“Not only are they [Lewis and Seb] brilliant multiple World Champions and super-successful on track, but off track, because they don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk,” he says, “they have taken onboard the mission of using their platform – the platform that Formula 1 gives them – to further and promote good causes that they think are very important to them.”
As we all know, Lewis is a very proud supporter of pioneering diversity and change in motorsport, and he holds the Black Lives Matter movement close to his heart. We saw his LGBTQ+ rainbow helmet which he sported during the last few race weekends of the year, in countries where laws on LGBTQ+ communities are very restrictive.
“Lewis has now taken onboard LGBTQ+ initiatives, particularly in countries where LGBTQ+ people are disadvantaged. I think that’s remarkable to see,” says Matt.
Photo Credit: Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 Team, LAT Images
"He's doing it because he thinks it's the right thing to do. And it is."
In the past year, we’ve seen Sebastian campaign for more awareness across a variety of areas, including the environment, LGBTQ+ issues and women’s rights.
First of all, after the British Grand Prix, pictures of Seb litter-picking surfaced online. Travelling all over the world means you get to visit and experience so many different places, and when travelling from Heathrow to the Aston Martin factory at Silverstone, he realised that the United Kingdom has a litter problem.
“He elected to do a litter-picking initiative after the race,” Matt explains. “Don’t forget he’d just driven a Grand Prix, but he immediately went out and enlisted a small number of supporters and helpers.
“He didn’t just do it for twenty minutes for the cameras, he did it for hours. Back-breaking work, up and down, picking up litter, putting it into black bags and off he goes again.”
After that, Seb went with the local refuse collection team to the recycling plant, so that he could see exactly what happened to the litter and how it’s recycled.
Then, when Formula 1 moved to Budapest, Hungary, a country which has faced open opposition from other countries because of their hardline stance on LGBTQ+ laws, we saw Sebastian’s famous rainbow Converse for the first time, as well as the ‘SAME LOVE’ rainbow t-shirt. He was vocal about the disadvantageous LGBTQ+ laws in Hungary across the weekend.
“I said to him, ‘Seb, you are one of the biggest sports stars in the world’,” Matt reflects. “You are talking about these things and inspiring people – LGBTQ+ people in Hungary, other people in Hungary, LGBTQ+ people all over the world and other people all over the world.”
And again, at the penultimate round of the 2021 World Championship in Saudi Arabia, Seb hosted an all-female karting event, #RaceForWomen, inviting women of different ages, with the prime goal of learning more about the reality of gender concerns in the country.
Photo Credit: Aston Martin Cognizant Formula 1 Team, Motorsport Images, Matt Bishop, Autosport
“He stands for diversity and inclusion for minorities and I found it very touching, and sometimes I’d even go as far as to say moving, to work with him on those things and see his absolute steadfastness.”
Of course, Seb doesn’t have any form of social media, so he’s not doing this to add to his following or anything like that. He’s doing it because he knows it matters.
“He’s doing it because he thinks it’s the right thing to do,” Matt says. “And it is.”
Rather than saying we [Formula 1] shouldn’t race in countries with disadvantageous laws for LGBTQ+ communities, Matt thinks going to these places and introducing positive representations about common issues is significant.
“I think that if you were an LGBTQ+ person, perhaps frightened, in one of those countries, it might be an inspiration and an encouragement to know that here are these people from other countries - whether they are LGBTQ+ people or straight allies - who are speaking to the ongoing troubled conditions in someone’s life that they have to fight.”
Maybe in the near future, as Formula 1 and other motorsport series race in countries with disadvantageous laws towards LGBTQ+ communities - like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, for example - more will be done to promote change. Among others, we have already seen Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel partake in important work and conversations as devoted allies.
“That’s what I think can be done,” Matt says. “And what should be done.”