Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

What do women have to do to earn their place in motorsport? // Showing the men that they are capable of anything

Published by Anna Duxbury

Female racing driver

As far back as the origins of motorsport women have played a small but determined part despite the prevailing mindset that it isn't a place for them. In 1921 Italian Maria Antonietta d’Avanzo came third in a ‘gentleman’s’ race, and ‘ladies’ races were not uncommon. In the 1920s and 1930s a significant amount of rally drivers were women, far more than today. Pat Moss, sister of F1 great Sir Stirling Moss, had three rallying wins and a number of podium finishes and in 1958 Maria Teresa de Fillippis was the first of five women to ever take part in a Formula One event. Lella Lombardi was the first to win world championship points in 1975. Jutta Kleinschmidt in 2001 became the only woman to win the famous Dakar rally and Danica Patrick made history in 2008 when she won an Indy Japan 300 race before coming third in an Indianapolis 500 race in 2009.

Inspiring a new generation

To the present day and yet more tales of female talent. After being named rookie of the year in Indianapolis 500 in 2010, Simona De Silvestro spent 2014 testing for Sauber but was dropped due to their financial troubles. Although this signalled the end of what could have been a promising F1 career, she then competed as the only female driver in the FIA’s Formula E championship for the 2015/16 season. In 2014 Susie Wolff was the first female driver for 40 years to take part in an F1 weekend when she drove in first practice at the British Grand Prix. Although she has now retired from motorsport her Dare to be Different campaign launched this year has begun inspiring a new generation of female drivers and engineers. British driver Alice Powell became the first female winner of Formula Renault BARC in 2010 before becoming the first female to score points in GP3 in 2012. This year GP3 once again has a female entrant with Tatiana Calderon who has followed Powell's success by scoring points.

And we don't have to just look at drivers. In 2010 Monisha Kaltenborn achieved the unthinkable and became Team Principal of Sauber F1 team. This was quickly followed by Claire Williams' promotion to Deputy Team Principal. Although she has inherited the team from her father, it would be unfair to suggest she hasn’t earned her place at the team. After university, she worked in the press office at Silverstone circuit, before being recruited by a different F1 team. It was only after she had too much experience and skill for them to turn her down that Williams hired her and it was a further ten years before she got the top job. Within engineering, Leena Gade, after being told she would never be a successful mechanic due to her gender, has gone on to work for Audi Sport Factory team in the World Endurance Championship, becoming head engineer of the team and winning Le Mans. Ruth Buscombe has recently been made strategy engineer at Sauber after successful stints at Ferrari and Haas.

This vicious circle

So why then, is Formula One still such an unequal place? No woman has taken part in a Formula One race since 1975 and there is no real sign of one in the next few years. Only 8% of race licences issued in the UK are to women and the overwhelming majority of engineers, officials and journalists are male. The answer could be as simple that not enough girls begin karting at a young age and that there are few clear female role models. This vicious circle means that potential Michael Schumachers are not ever getting involved in motorsport.

Another issue could be the 'male only' exterior of motorsport. When F1 greats such as Sir Stirling Moss, Bernie Ecclestone, Murray Walker, David Coulthard and Niki Lauda have expressed the opinion that motor racing is not a place for women, it is discouraging for young girls to say the least.

Whilst women are not expected to be able to carve a career out for themselves in motorsport it's not a surprise that they don't, however much talent they possess. So what do women have to do to earn their place in motorsport? It seems that all they can do is keep racing, keep engineering and keep getting involved and showing the men that they are capable of anything.