Formula 1 is a boys club. It shouldn’t be, but it is. In this day and age a woman in motorsports is still this unusual spectacle that needs to be studied and analyzed; some people still are unable to wrap their minds around such a concept. Girls are still met with shocked expressions of “What?! YOU like race cars?!” as if we’ve just revealed ourselves to be from an alien race. Women in Formula 1 do not get the respect or the chances they deserve to show off their talents. From female drivers to pit crew and even fans, women are unwelcome in this man-sport at every apex and corner.
Formula 1 is a sport claiming to be on the cutting edge of technology. It utilizes hybrid energy, 3D printing parts, and a whole bunch of other cool technical shit I won’t even pretend to understand. For a sport boasting their level of advancement, they still lag far behind in the aspect of equality. Women can be seen in a variety of high-level motorsports, but in this modern day and age, they still can’t seem to break the glass ceiling into F1. In 2013 Ana Carrasco was the first woman to score points in over ten years in the motorcycle racing series Moto3 at the age of 16, and Jenny Tinmouth holds the Guinness World Record for being the first to compete in the British Superbike Championship.
The world is changing. Women athletes are making huge strides, but Formula 1 stays stagnant.
F1 teams have hired female drivers like Susie Wolff and Carmen Jorda, but have never given them an actual chance to really prove themselves. In 2014, Wolff became the first woman to participate in a Formula 1 weekend in 22 years. She drove the Williams Martini Racing Team’s car in a practice session, and posted times that were within two tenths of a second of teammate Felipe Massa, a veteran of the sport with 250 race starts.
Susie Wolff was able to set a comparable lap time to him in the identical car on her first go, but still was unable to pick up a full time spot on any team. That same season saw the entry of rookie Max Verstappen. At the time Max was only seventeen years old and entrusted with driving around one of the most expensive cars on the planet, simply because he showed promise. Teams are willing to let boys as young as seventeen pilot their cars, but balk hard at the idea of giving a woman driver a chance.
In Formula 1’s 65 year history there have only been a handful of female drivers. Lella Lombardi is one of the most notable, being the first woman to ever score points in Formula 1 at the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix. She did this right in the middle of the second-wave of feminism movement. This was a time when women were not taking ‘no’ for an answer, going out and getting jobs and making a name for themselves. Lombardi followed her dreams, and still remains the only woman thus far to score Formula 1 points. She also holds the title of being the female driver to compete in the most races, with 12 starts. It seemed like a great first step, but it was a stutter-step; the female drivers who have followed her have not been able to climb through the ranks in the equal-rights-race of the sport.
The only place you see the sport focus on women is the antiquated tradition of grid girls. Models hired to stand at each driver’s car as they line up before the race smiling, usually half clothed, hold a sign with the driver’s name and car number. It is a tradition many fans would like to see fade into the past. The World Endurance Championship has already done away with it, stating on their Twitter, “We have many more beautiful women who work with the WEC than just those holding number panels.” Sports such as Moto3 and IndyCar have provided their female drivers with grid boys instead of girls.
In 2015 the event organizers of the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix decided to adapt the grid boy idea to the entire grid. Every driver had a sharp dressed male model in a classy polo and shorts holding up their ‘number panel.’ This incited outcries of rage from male fans and drivers alike. Four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel said in the post race press-conference, “What was that? Fuck, you get there and park behind George or David? What’s the point?” making it abundantly clear in many interviews from then on that Formula 1 needed to stick with letting ladies do the sign holding. It was a small but bold step for the sport to take that unfortunately kicked up a lot of backlash that has kept the grid boys off the track since.
I’ve been watching Formula 1 with my father for as long as I can remember. I have memories as young as five or six sitting on the couch with my dad as he taught me all about the cars, teams, and drivers. Our typical Sunday morning entailed cheering from the couch as we watched Michael Schumacher winning races in his bright red Ferrari. There were no female drivers at this time, and it seemed the only role for a girl to play in F1 was to be a grid girl. That was all I could imagine myself doing when I dreamt about being a part of the magical world of F1 some day. The representation of ladies doing all sorts of badass things in the Formula 1 just wasn’t there.
Luckily now we have women like Claire Williams managing the Williams team with her father, and Monisha Kaltenborn who is not only the Sauber F1 team principal, but is also a part owner as well.
This still isn’t enough.
As Susie Wolff wrote in her retirement announcement, “We have two issues: not enough young girls starting in karting at a young age, and no clear role model. Sometimes you just have to see it to believe it.”
I am fortunate enough to have found such a strong community of female F1 fans, but there are always asshole internet-dude-bros online who get angered by women stepping in on ‘their’ territory of sports and cars.
The things they come up with to accuse us on stepping on their toes for following this sport are absurd. My personal favorite is ‘girls only watch Formula 1 because they think the drivers are good looking.’ I don’t know a single girl who would want to waste so many hours of their weekend watching cars go around in loops just because the guy inside the pixelated helmet flashing along the screen at hundreds of miles an hour has a cute face. Then maybe, just maybe he’ll do a short two minute interview afterwards so his face is finally visible, dripping damp and disgusting with sweat and bearing those sexy imprints of their fire-proofing head socks.
Head socks. What an alluring sight to behold.
There are far easier ways to see men with cute faces than this.
The same men who typically offer these criticisms are usually hot on the concept of grid girls. As a woman I get criticized for not ‘respecting the sport enough’ because I of course am only watching it for the hot guys, but male fans can drool over grid girls day in and day out without any question? Men are allowed to stare at the beautiful grid girls and not have their motives as a fan questioned, while women are tested constantly because they’re women.
Female fans have to become formula-facts-machines, ready to spit out trivia knowledge at the drop of a hat to be seen as equal. The bombardment of questions never ends. I love talking statistics and numbers, but not in the form of a witch hunt in which I have to prove myself worthy. It’s so exhausting having to constantly talk myself up and pass lame tests just to be seen as an equal. I have to prove I know what I’m talking about and have a valid opinion all because I don’t ‘look like a typical F1 fan.’ This in itself is a stupid concept. How can you generalize what an F1 fan ‘looks like’ when it’s the second most watched sport in the entire world?
And god forbid I prove that I know more than than the man testing me, or that I call him out for being wrong.
Women should be able to have a comfortable role in this sport, no matter how big or small, without it becoming a shocking news headline. They should be able to smash that glass ceiling, should be given the opportunities to prove they have what it takes – opportunities equal to those granted to men. Women like Susie Wolff are important in paving the path through the sport to make this a possibility in the years to come. In 2014 girls all over the world got to watch someone like them live her dream and drive damn well in a Formula 1 car, as well as that same year take home a silver trophy from the international motorsport challenge Race of Champions.
The sport of Formula 1 constantly strives to be on the front line of advancements in technology of motorsports. The next step is to be on the cutting edge of equality. I can see it starting to happen in the younger generation of fans, my generation. An international community of like-minded women is coming together and sharing stories, opinions, and views on the sport striving for a change. Traveling to a race half way across the country, and immediately being surrounded by an awesome loving community of girls like me enjoying Formula 1 together, shows me that a change is coming.