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?

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52 comments on Where are all the women?

  1. DD I’ll ignore the first comment apart from to point out that everyone looks the same in a helmet…

    But those BMW drivers just both need a stylist, they’re a long way off most of the mingers in your average local pub.

  2. @ Journeyer
    Of course I am serious. DD is my bust size ad I can promise you tat many drivers are put off their driving when they see me
    @ Rohan
    Well I wouldn’t kiss him – yuk!

    Women should never get anywhere just because of our gender. If we are good enough we are good enough. If there were a woman good enough for F1 then they would be there as they would be a marketing dream – fact is there is not.

  3. Takes some guts for any woman to enter a male dominated sport….I say well done!

    Being a woman myself, I wouldnt know where to begin…it is such a man thang!

  4. Rabi said on 21st April 2008, 13:23

    Schumacher wasn’t pretty

  5. D Winn said on 21st April 2008, 13:33

    @10 DD Using your logic, Danica would do fine in F1 – she can distract the male drivers enough to pass them and win the race. As to women being wreckless and a menace – there are good and bad women drivers, just as there are good and bad male drivers (think white vans). The insurance companies rate women as a lower risk than males, and where £$ is concerned you can bet they are right.

  6. KB, that’s kind of the problem. Most of the women I know in racing, me included, come from families with a history of it.  And if a girl in the magic 8-14 age group when professional drivers most often start racing expresses an interest, most non-racing parents are going to say "that’s nice dear". But with boys they are more likely to go looking for a kart track.

    Incidentally I saw something on News24 earlier, some bloke theorizing about women (road) drivers and saying men are more prone to road rage because evolution has made them more competitive. Men are more competitive? I can’t see why anyone would think that unless they went to an all-male school and have no social life!

  7. 40% of British 14-year old karters are women, but by age 16 the proportion falls to 2%, according to a survey BBC Radio 4 quoted a few years back. I would suggest that any attempt to bring women into F1 would have to resolve that bottleneck first. If I remember rightly, they quoted a combination of academic focus, parental bias, hormonal differences in how boys and girls develop in that time period and sponsor hesitation due to the risk/reward principle for why this sudden drop-off existed.

  8. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 21st April 2008, 14:49

    That’s some fascinating data Alianora.

  9. Journeyer said on 21st April 2008, 14:50

    That’s a HUGE drop, Ali.  That combination of reasons makes sense, but that plunge in numbers is still very much surprising.

  10. D Winn said on 21st April 2008, 14:52

    Is this the future of F1 ? – I got the OK from Keith for this, although I agree with him that it’s terribly cheesy LOL

  11. D Winn said on 21st April 2008, 15:06

    @ 10 DD In mild defence of your comments, I might add that my significant other is American – and insists on driving on the right here in the UK ! I keep telling her – “DON’T DRIVE LIKE THAT, put the hazards and headlights on first”

  12. Robert McKay said on 21st April 2008, 15:31

    We’ve already seen teams (either reluctantly pressured or quite happily)  take a driver decision based on nationality, either because of the teams nationality or main sponsors nationality. I tend to think that, for a woman the PR would be even stronger, and so I’d expect that even if a female driver was slightly worse than the worst male driver currently on the grid, then many teams near the back would be desperately snapping her up. The fact we haven’t seen that suggests to me that there just isn’t any woman quite good enough as of yet to do the required job, or they would be in there ahead of a slightly better but less-marketable male driver.

    (Looking at the obvious examples, Legge was medicore at best in Champcars, I thought, Stoddart isn’t much better in DTM. Danica herself has said she’s much better at the ovals in IRL than the road/street circuits, though she’s getting better at them, and whilst oval racing is a skill in itself, the vagaries of the American open-wheel racing system means that winning on an oval is not neccessarily the most obvious indicator you are a driving star, but that’s just my opinion and don’t hate me for it :) )

    This isn’t a chauvinistic, narrow-minded post – I don’t think nowadays there’s any reason why women shouldn’t be able to be in F1. As already noted above, the problem is getting women into the lower single-seater support categories – F3 and below, let alone GP2. I’m sure part of it is just that much fewer women dream of being racing drivers and have the drive to try, and the ones that do might well be stifled more by a chauvinistic attitude in a much lower formula than F1.

    If you think of how many decent (male) names get to F3, or GP2 and then stall and never get to F1, and then the relative proportion of females in those categories to men, it’s not really a surprise that we haven’t seen many women in F1.

  13. 40% of British 14-year old karters are women, but by age 16 the proportion falls to 2%, according to a survey BBC Radio 4 quoted a few years back.

    It’s actually rubbish – have a quick look at the names in the results section on karting.co.uk. It’s more like 2-5% all the way through. I have heard 40% is about right in parts of America though.

  14. theRoswellite said on 21st April 2008, 16:13

    Mr. McKay….as usual, very nicely stated.

    One thought….when she comes, and she will, her  PR leverage will be a bit beyond spectacular (imagine Maria Sharapova in a Ferrari).  If she were Asian, and a world champion, she could become the most marketable individual on earth.

    I would enjoy seeing that day, and the equality it betokened.

  15. DD is my chest size so I feel I can speak as I see it: no woman should get to any position by positive discrimination. If a woman is good enough to compete on equal terms and equal speed as the men in F1 them so be it but in the real world they are not and that is just a fact.
    If a woman (ugly or not) were good enough then F1 would grab her as she would be a money machine, fact is she isn’t out there so to my fellow sisters – get over it.

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