How women have shaped the world of motorsport
With the 2018 F1 season already gathering momentum and having a grand total of 21 Grand Prix’s scheduled, it’s interesting if you take a look through the list of 2018 F1 drivers. There is a good age range, with Williams’ Lance Stroll, the youngest at 19 and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen the oldest at 38 but, yet again, all 20 drivers are men. The front line absence of women in F1 has been a talking point for some years, but although female F1 drivers are not making it onto the Formula 1 grid, there are women racing drivers represented in Formula one development and the proportion of female racing drivers to male is bigger than it ever has been.
Bernie Ecclestone’s dismissive comments in 2016 about women being physically incapable of controlling an F1 car are perhaps less disappointing than his suggestion that the sport would not take them seriously. The future of women in motorsport looks strong, and we are not just talking about women in F1 here, there are successful female Nascar drivers, successful female rally drivers and a whole generation of eager and talented young women coming up through the ranks. We take a look at female racing drivers and how women have shaped the world of motorsport.
Female Racing Drivers – The History
It is easy to imagine that, to date, the only way women who have found their way onto the F1 grid have done so via the dubious position of scantily clad ‘grid girls’, a role that has, incidentally, been dropped by Formula One for the 2018 season. The story of the ‘grid girls’ however is not the only example of women on the F1 grid.
Maria Teresa de Filippis was the first of the women in Formula 1 to challenge the male domination of the series when she started in the 1958 Belgian Grand Prix. Not only did she start, but Filippis also finished 10th with 9 other drivers, including Stirling Moss and Graham Hill, retiring.
Leila Lombardi held the flag high for female F1 drivers during the 1974, 1975 and 1976 F1 seasons but her most remembered moment was the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix when she became the first (and remains the only) of the female F1 drivers to score points.
Since Leila Lombardi, three female racing drivers, Divina Galica, Desiré Wilson and Giovanna Amati have entered but failed to qualify for a Grand Prix. F1 history suggests that, although there have been many promising women racing drivers, very few have managed to overcome the obstacles, be they physical or attitudinal, and take the step into motor racing’s elite Formula 1 Series.
Women Racing Drivers – The Next Generation
With the retirement of Susie Wolff as a development driver for Williams, the future of women in F1 remains questionable. Wolff, however, is hopeful for the next generation of female racing drivers and the launch of her ‘Dare to be Different’ initiative aims to inspire and encourage young females in all areas of motorsport. The FIA are also making efforts to encourage young women into motorsport through their new ‘Girls on Track – Karting Challenge’ programme. The programme, which sends a clear message that motorsport is not just for men, aims to ‘develop the presence of young women in motorsports at grassroots level’.
If we were hoping to see British women in F1 over the next few years, we would do no better than to follow the progress of Jamie Chadwick who, at the tender age of 19, has already achieved an admirable level of success. She was the youngest driver and the first woman to win the British GT Championship in 2015 and her driving style and commitment to the task have impressed at the Aston Martin Racing Evolution Academy. In 2017 Chadwick took a drive in the British F3 championship, often thought of as the first step on the ladder to F1.
Women in F1 – The Pros And Cons Of An All Female Championship
Women like Wisconsin’s Danica Patrick have already set the bar high for female Nascar drivers and in the world of rally, female rally drivers such as Michele Mouton who took four victories in the World Rally Championship are also succeeding on a male dominated playing field. Women in motorsport are proving that they can compete on the same level as men. Interestingly, however, there is still a call from some quarters for an all female F1 championship.
In October 2017 Carmen Jorda, development driver for Lotus F1 (now Renault Sport Team) added her voice to the call for an F1 championship for female racing drivers.
‘I believe a women’s F1 championship would give us the chance to achieve our dreams and compete on an equal footing – as in other sports.’
Despite joining the other notable proponents of a female F1 championship, including Bernie Ecclestone, Jorda’s comments were not greeted with universal agreement from women in F1 and her subsequent appointment to the FIA’s Women in Motorsport commission has not proved popular with some other female racing drivers.
Female F1 Drivers – The Gender Divide
The argument as to whether or not motorsport should be segregated into male and female divisions in the same way as other sports is interesting. There can be no doubt that motorsport is still a male dominated world but is this because female racing drivers are incapable of meeting the physical demands of the sport or because existing perceptions still favour men? British F3 racer Jamie Chadwick claims that factors such as hard work, total dedication and natural talent are far more significant to motorsport success than gender but admits that the balance of men and women is skewed.
The presence of a separate Formula 1 series for female F1 drivers would arguably give more women in F1 the opportunity to shine and would present an exciting opportunity for motorsport’s media profile. However, some women feel that this would become a lesser championship and continue to celebrate the opportunity to force their way through the layers of male motorsport domination.
Women In Motorsport – What The Future Holds
Whatever your thoughts on the idea of an all female F1 championship, it is clear that women in Formula 1 and maybe all women racing drivers face an uphill battle. History has not been generous in its allocation of support to female racing drivers and there is an imbalance here that needs to be addressed.
Changes are beginning to happen but the issue, as with any issue of gender imbalance, is complicated and one that extends beyond the world of FIA and motorsport, into our homes and classrooms. If society wants to see more women in F1, female Nascar drivers and female rally drivers; it is going to have to work hard at an ambition and attitude level.
There are women racing drivers out there proving that they are talented enough to take the boys on at a game that is, for now, their own. How much we are prepared to support these women and those coming along behind them is up to us. We are all hoping to see more female racing drivers in the future.
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