Where are all the women?

Danica Patrick, Indy Car, Twin Ring Motegi, 2008, 470150

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?

52 thoughts on “Where are all the women?”

  1. Well, I do remember Bernie’s comment about women in motor racing… I hope you do too.  :)

    But for the most part, I think the reason we have so few in F1 is because there’s few of them in the lower ranks as well.  I think the US motorsport clubs are doing much better than the EU motorsport clubs are in encouraging women to try out local karting and similar feeder formulae.  It’s something that needs to be worked on.

    On the other hand, Danica is driving a Honda-powered car, and she did visit Indy in 2006 as a Honda guest, so why don’t they just get her to replace Barrichello?  :)

  2. Journeyer – or replace Button for that matter. I found Patrick’s win over the weekend momentous – she is the reason i have been keeping a half an eye on the Indy Car Series and i was disappointed that i did not manage to watch the race and see her get her first win. I think women drivers in Formula 1 would change everything including how us fans discuss the sport.

  3. It’s over 40 years since motorsport’s first female world champion (and she beat Ronnie Peterson!)…

    But anyway. At the moment I know of a 14 year old (Michelle Gatting) and a 17 year old (Lucie Panackova) who might be good enough, whereas I know about 20 boys of a similar standard. Most of those boys will fall by the wayside for reasons that have nothing to do with talent, so what chance does one of the girls have of making it?

  4. No women in F1 just because they are women there is enough of that in the politically correct society we all live in.
    If they are good enough them OK but I don’t think it will ever happen, there are still certain things men are just better at.

  5. It depends, Mary-Ann.  If they’re pretty enough and they’re fast enough, they’re good enough.  Yes, it’s gender discrimination, but that’s how life works.  And (astoundingly enough), F1 has not taken advantage of it.

    If Danica entered F1, she’d easily be the most popular F1 driver, even more popular than Lewis!

  6. Let me qualify what I said, if they’re fast enough, they’re good enough.  But if they’re pretty enough, their chances of moving up will be a LOT higher.

  7. Were she to fail, as the highest credentialed and best ranked female to make the big show, it would put everything back a great deal.
    Maybe that is the risk the powers that be aren’t willing to take.

    I wish she has Ruben’s seat

  8. Journeyer, neither looks like the back of a bus ;) And I don’t actually think that’s a sexist remark – I’ve never seen an ugly man succeed in racing either. It might be unfair but it’s the reality.

    Mark, you are absolutely right. If Danica Patrick was to be average in an F1 car people would be queuing up to say women can’t hack it, but in reality it would just be the luck of the draw. When Da Matta was average it wasn’t taken as evidence of anything in particular.

  9. No women if F1, they just are not good enough. In fact if I ruled the world I don’t think women should be allowed top drive at all as they are wreckless and a general menace as they can distract male drivers.

  10. Really enjoyed the Indy yesterday and glad Danica got that first win going to be interesting to see if many more women pick up the sport but I can’t see her being much of a role model outside of America

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