The general impression of motorsport is that it’s a very male dominated profession, and perhaps that impression is right, to a degree. With International Women’s Day right around the corner, we thought it about time to shout about some of the successes for women in motorsport.
Today, we don’t have any ‘household’ names on the grid for F1, not in the hot seat at least, but it hasn’t always been so. Desiré Wilson was perhaps the most successful F1 female driver, but she opened the door to a number of others.
More recently though, the F1 circus has made the headlines due to the banning of ‘Grid Girls’, which whilst it was done for the right reasons (outdated and sexist), the fallout has come mainly from the ‘girls’ themselves.
In an almost accidental sexist act, the decision to ban the grid girls has been seen almost as a retrograde step, at least in the decision-making process – many believing that they’ve had the decision taken for them, regardless of how they feel.
Some may say that we’re still a million miles away from parity, but there is no doubting that today’s world is different for women. Roles within motorsport or the automotive industry in general are no longer gender-defined – you’re not a female engineer, you’re an engineer.
Desiré Wilson was the first female driver to ever win a race for Formula One cars, nearly 38 years ago. However, throughout that period of time, we’ve seen a number of women testing, developing and promoting F1 cars, including Lella Lombardi (the only F1 female driver to score points while competing), Carmen Jorda (development driver for Lotus and Renault Sport) and Susie Stoddart (very successful race driver and F1 development driver).
Looking further afield, we have Danica Patrick that’s carved out a legacy by competing (not just taking part) in the ultra-competitive NASCAR and IndyCar, at which she’s the only woman to have won a race – Japan 2008. Or we could look at Vanina Ickx, daughter of the legend that is Jacky Ickx, who regularly competes in GT racing and the Le Mans Series, all with a degree of success.
There is no doubt that Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport, to make your way to the top takes years of consistent hard-work, results, grit and determination. One woman in particular has forged her way to the top by doing just that – Claire Williams OBE.
Forget who her father is, anyone will tell you that Sir Frank doesn’t do nepotism, nor does he do positive discrimination – Claire is the boss at Williams Formula One racing team for one reason only: she’s the best at what she does.
Along with team management, we also have the FIA Women & Motorsport Commission, led by Michèle Mouton – an ex-Audi works rally car ace, in the team at the same time as Walter Röhrl. Mouton went on to win four world rally champion races and claim a number of runner-up spots, this was at the height of the ‘Group B’ cars – the most dangerous period in all rallying history.
Behind the scenes
Despite the sometime negative or simply sexist portrayal of women in the automotive business, the facts are that just as Nina Simone sang (yes, we know it was originally Bob Dylan – but this is about strong women!), ‘the times, they are a changing’ – the gender pay gap has never been closer (averaging around 9%) and there are more women than ever in the automotive world, and not just as ‘popsies’ for the likes of the Pirelli Calendar.
Filling the blanks for high-profile ‘Women in Motorsport’ is relatively easy, but we should remember that there are quite literally hundreds of thousands of women that maybe less well-known or have a lower profile.
This could range from anything from sub-assembly technician through to Lead Engineer or Team Principle. Whilst it’s true that there is still some division, society as a whole is changing, and roles are being filled by those most qualified for the job, regardless whether you’re male or female.
Of course it’s always good to shout about the successes of women in this male dominated area, but by doing so, are we perpetuating the whole sexual gender disparity?