Last weekend Danica Patrick became the first woman to win a race in a major international open-wheeled single-seater category. Patrick won the third round of the Indy Car series at Motegi in Japan.
But F1 has had precious few female drivers and there’s no sign one might arrive in the sport any time soon. So… why?
It’s not as if there aren’t women racers in other categories. In Indy Cars Patrick raced Milka Duno and Sarah Fisher last year. In Europe the German Touring Car Championship boasts two women: Susie Stoddart and Katherine Legge.
Legge was the last woman to drive an F1 car, when she tested a Minardi for Paul Stoddart at the end of 2005, while the team was being taken over by Toro Rosso.
The only woman ever to get on the championship leader board in an F1 race was Lella Lombardi. She scored half a point for finishing sixth in the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix, which was shortened after a crash that killed four spectators.
Five years later Desire Wilson won a round of the British national F1 series Aurora at Brands Hatch in a Wolf WR3. In 1980 it might have seemed quite likely that, by 2008, there would be women drivers regularly scoring points and winning races in Formula 1. But it hasn’t happened?
Some racing drivers I’ve spoken to – all men, I hasten to add – have suggested that women don’t have the physical strength to compete in top flight motor racing. I think Patrick’s success in Indy Cars challenges that view.
But it wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of people hold that view, and aren’t keen on backing women drivers as a result.
On the other side of the coin is the undoubted marketing appeal of having a successful woman in motor racing. Indeed the Indy Car series has been criticised for using the PR value of Patrick to maximum effect.
Why do you think there are so few women in the upper echelons of motor racing?