Women in F1 - It will take someone special

 

Sir Stirling Moss has told a BBC 5 Live programme that he does not believe women have the “mental aptitude” to race in Formula 1.

As part of a radio programme called ‘Women in F1, which was meant to be aired last night but was understandably curtailed due to the Boston Marathon explosions, Moss said that “ it’s pretty tiring” and that he was not sure if women have the mental strength to race competitively.

Despite the show not having been aired yet, Moss’ comments are still in the public domain.

Of course F1 drivers need to be mentally and physically fit. But it's not the physical ability Moss doubts. Besides, women have done it before so it's not that they aren't allowed to compete, it just takes someone exceptional. 

Also featured on the programme was F1 hopeful Susie Wolff, who is currently a development driver for Williams, saying that she believes it is possible to break into F1 and hopes to do so.

And why shouldn’t it be possible? F1 is a sport which relies on a skilled driver driving a vehicle that matches all the competitors. How is it any different to female jockeys, such as Katie Walsh competing in the Grand National on Seabass, as well as other female jockeys that have competed previously?  It is not just about the skill of the jockey, but also the ability of the horse. In the same way, it is not just about the Lewis Hamiltons and the Mark Webbers, it’s about Ferrari, Red Bull, Mclaren and all the other teams.

However, on paper Moss’ comments look to be backed up by history. Lella Lombardi leads the pack as the most prolific female F1 driver, having started 12 races in the 1970s and scoring half a point.  She is one of only five women to have raced in a Grand Prix.

So it is possible to break into F1 if you’re a woman , although the very limited success of the previous women competitors suggests that it will take a very rare, talented female to really cause a stir on the F1 scene, as F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone says.

Nevertheless, it is possible and especially in an age where the profile of women’s sport is steadily, albeit slowly, increasing. The England’s Women’s Football team have qualified for Euro 2013 in Sweden in July and England’s  netballers  have recently enjoyed success in the World Series against Australia and their recent test series in Jamaica.  Despite a disappointing display at the recent World Cup, our women’s cricketers are also a force to be reckoned with on the international circuit. Maybe next on the cards we will have the first woman to win a Grand Prix? Who knows.

There is no doubting that F1 is difficult to get into no matter what your sex. After all, there are only 22 places on the grid and with only one chance every few seasons to commission the driver you hope will win you the championship, how many of the big names are going to take what they see as a gamble on a women driver to drive for their team ?  Especially as none of the previous five women have set the sport alight.

The real problem is not the lack of opportunity for women, although that is an issue.  But the opportunity issue is not just one for women. There are only ever a handful of chances at the end of every season to make it as a driver for a team so there’s a lack of opportunity for anyone trying to get into competing in Grand Prixs. Competition is fierce and teams understandably want the cream of the crop.

I think the real question is  ‘Is this something many girls aspire to?’ Maybe their dreams don’t involve travelling the world, racing cars but that’s not necessarily because they don’t have the mental strength.

There should be no reason why those that do have F1 aspirations such as Susie Wolff, rising star Alice Powell and recent Red Bull signing Beitske Visser shouldn’t be able to compete on the same grid as the men, if they’re good enough. Equally, I don’t believe they should be given any special treatment to compete if they are not good enough. ‘Mental aptitude’ is not restricted to one gender and neither should be racing in F1 if there are women out there with the talent.  

I look forward to hearing Sir Stirling’s comments in full, and the rest of the show when it is aired.

 

 

Comments

The issue of women in top-level motorsport, never mind F1, is less about the sport being sexist and more about how many women are involved throughout. In nine years of national-level kart racing, I raced against three different girls - more than a hundred guys. There's no more frustration in being beaten by a female competitor than there is a male competitor - it's equally a killer when someone finishes in front of you or mugs you off. So, in terms of what the racing world views women drivers as - rivals, nothing more or less.

What motorsport could do better is lose the false "aw, isn't she doing well?" I'd like to state that Susie Wolff is not the right person for aspiring drivers to look up. She has a rather pathetic record in junior formulae and score points in just one of her seven seasons in the DTM - the German Touring Car championship. Her position at Williams comes largely, if not entirely, because her husband Toto Wolff was previous among the top brass. However, my understanding is the team seriously rate her intelligence and feedback - she has developed into a valuable engineering commodity, but a good racing driver she is not. Certainly not one worthy of a Formula 1 seat. 

Similarly, Danica Patrick is a perfectly good driver - you don't win IndyCar races and compete at the front in American single-seater and stock car series without being a good driver. But lauding 12th-place finishes as anything more than an average drive is incredibly patronising because it implies that "she did good - for a girl".

But Visser could be the real deal. ADAC Formel Masters is a series held in high regard and the fact she won two races in her rookie year is impressive.  

I think saying it would take a special woman to make it in F1 is to paint a rather negative picture of motorsport. Ultimately it *should* be special drivers occupying the 22 seats on the grid but that's naive in the current climate. Using Visser as the example. She's well-backed, she'll have less trouble finding external financial support should Red Bull not fund her entirely because - sadly - in mainstream media/commercial avenues she will generate added hype, being a woman.

But the important thing is she's talented. Possibly no more talented than the best male drivers in the series but certainly no less talented - especially just because she's a girl.

By Scott Mitchell

Exactly, I agree that it isn't about sexism , although that is the debate that has stemmed from the comments that have been made. It will take someone special because of the fierce competition for one of the few places as a driver anyway, regardless of sex.

As I said, I think women should only compete if they are the best of the best, I don't believe it should be gender balanced or anything like that. It should be based on talent and if there are no women who are deemed talented enough, then so be it but I think drivers like Beitske Visser could be.

As for Susie Wolff, I can't say I knew a lot about her before but someone else I was talking to today did also raise the same point you made, and again, if a female is going to make it I'd like to see them do it on their own merit. 

By Victoria Polley

I'm struggling to see the comparison between horse racing and F1. Just because women jockeys ride in the Grand National (although overwhelmingly it's a male thing), you say ask why this can't be the same? 

You cite Katie Walsh, quite rightly. I hope she is an inspiration to young female riders just like Nina Carberry and Carrie Ford (both have enjoyed minor success in the National). 

But the difference that those jockeys have is that they are an instrumental part of the stables they hail from. None of them are professionals, they are amateurs by trade. They prepare the horses just like stable lads and grow up with them. The horses will know them better than any professional because they're a part of the team. They muck them out. They cheer when the stable wins and they cry when, touch wood, an accident occurs. They hone the emotion that some horses need. 

Just because they're racing competitions that take skill and strength, it doesn't mean they are similar. Horses respond to certain people better than others. Sometimes they happen to prefer a female touch. I don't think you could say that a Mercedes would suddenly kick into gear if you changed the gender of pilot. 

By Anthony Dunkley