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F1: An open formula, except to women

Formula 1 has a problem that no one’s talking about: 22 competitors visiting all four corners of the globe, and not a single one of them female in sex…
Wednesday, October 9, 2013

October 9th, 2013 (F1plus/Victor Brown-Villedieu).- 21 years after Giovanna Amati, F1’s most recent female driver, last entered three races for the Brabham team it doesn’t look like we’re any closer to seeing that feat repeated in the sport anytime soon.

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Astonishingly, this is the longest period F1 has had without a woman being entered for a race in the sport’s 63 year history.
Of course, some will point out that Susie Wolff is Williams’s current development driver and Minardi gave Katherine Legge a Formula One test for them back in 2005. For many that will suffice.

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However, it should be a cause for concern to more people that the female sex is so poorly represented in our sport.

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This is not a problem restricted solely to Formula One, I might add. Female sport in general does not get the coverage it deserves.

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But motorsport is a unique case. Unlike other sports where athletes are alone in extracting their own maximum performance which dictates the final outcome, drivers rely heavily on an exterior component (a car) to compete and the driver provides the human element that will separate all competitors at the end.

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If a car is fast, a good driver will be able to extract all the speed from it. An average driver will always leave something on the table meaning the car and driver never reaches their full potential. The two must work in harmony to deliver a strong result.

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Therefore, owing to the large role the machinery plays in determining the outcome in motorsport, men and women are allowed to compete together because the physiological differences which might mean they could not compete on equal terms in other sports are less important in motorsport.

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But something has gone wrong along the way. If men and women have equality of opportunity in motorsport then how can we explain the lack of women at the top?

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Some, if not all, of this question can be answered by looking at how women are systematically objectified in Formula One.

Looking at the pre and post-race formalities in F1 should horrify anyone concerned with portraying women in a fair and respectful way.

It is hard to believe we are living in the twenty-first century when you see grid girls standing at the front of cars whose sole purpose is to stand there, hold a board with the driver’s name and number on it, and smile.

Similarly, the walk from parc fermé to the podium at the end of races is a cringe-fest of women lining corridors rhythmically clapping as the top three drivers walk past ignoring them, which can only be described as an embarrassing showcase of F1’s sexist attitude to women.

These are surely remnants of a bygone era when no one knew any better? Not in the world of Formula One, apparently.

Any self-respecting woman will look at these examples and wince at the very sight of them. It is not so outrageous to think many may even decide such images are enough to put them off motorsport completely.

This all leads one to question whether the sport is doing enough to positively portray women.

The only crumb of comfort is that there are a couple of notable examples of women who have taken up positions of power in F1, in two midfield teams: Monisha Kaltenborn at Sauber and Claire Williams at Williams.

But Formula One is in no position to rest on its laurels and think these rare cases make up for its wider transgressions. And the dismissive among people should remember comments such as Sir Stirling Moss’s earlier this year when he said he thought women lack the “mental aptitude to race hard,” a comment which was rightfully met with much disdain.

Such views are profoundly insulting and completely untrue anyway but, unfortunately, not uncommon in racing.
Motorsport is in an advantageous position in allowing women and men to compete side-by-side since no other top line sport can boast a similar level of parity.

So women would be ill-served by breaking away from men to form women-only championships as they would, sadly, suffer from a lack of exposure and women in racing would be forgotten even more than they are being now and share in the plight of other underrepresented sportswomen.

The irony is that a sport that leads the way in new technology is lagging several decades behind on one of the most important social trends of recent times.

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