Lewis Hamilton believes Formula One has become a “billionaire boys’ club” and said it would now be “impossible” for him to break into the sport.
Hamilton heads into this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix as the most decorated driver in F1 history.
He is embarking on an unprecedented eighth world championship, while his tally of 98 victories and 100 poles is better than anyone else.
But the 36-year-old, who was raised on a Stevenage council estate, has claimed F1 is solely for the wealthy.
Lance Stroll, Nicholas Latifi and Nikita Mazepin are all sons of billionaires, while Max Verstappen and Mick Schumacher’s fathers both competed in F1.
Hamilton’s father, Anthony, worked multiple jobs to fund his son’s junior career before he was picked up by Mercedes, aged 13.
“We live in a time where this sport has become a billionaire boys’ club,” said Hamilton, in an interview with Spanish publication AS.
“If I were to start over from a working-class family, it would be impossible for me to be here today because the other boys would have a lot more money.
“We have to work to change that and make this an accessible sport, for the rich and for people with more humble origins.”
Hamilton finished third in second practice on F1’s return to Monte Carlo on Thursday following the event’s cancellation from last year’s Covid-hit calendar.
Hamilton was beaten by the table-topping Ferrari duo of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, but he finished ahead of Verstappen.
Hamilton has revelled in his new rivalry with the Red Bull driver, delivering a series of impressive displays to win three of the opening four rounds, and silencing some critics who claim his recent dominance is owing to his Mercedes machinery.
Hamilton added: “People will always find a way to minimise success, so I don’t spend time on it.
“I know how hard I have had to work to be strong, not making mistakes, extract every opportunity I have had and no one can take that away from me.
“With more wheel-to-wheel battles I hope I have more opportunities to show people what I’m capable of.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes boss Toto Wolff recently claimed that his superstar driver could remain in F1 beyond his 40th birthday.
But Hamilton added: “I’d have five years left for that, and I don’t think I’ll keep running then, even if you never say never.”
The unique Monte Carlo street circuit here in the principality is considered among the hardest in F1 and a number of drivers fell victim to the narrow confines of the two-mile course in Thursday’s two practice sessions.
First, double world champion Fernando Alonso carried too much speed through Rascasse and hit the barrier. The Alpine driver broke his front wing and limped back to the pits for repairs. Then Sainz nudged the barriers at the swimming pool complex but escaped without significant damage to his Ferrari.
In the afternoon running, it was the turn of Schumacher. The rookie lost control of his Haas on the entry to Casino Square and collided with the metal barriers.
Schumacher sustained a right-rear puncture and attempted to make his way back to the pits, virtually on three wheels, before he was forced to stop on the exit of the tunnel.