Where are all the women?

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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 comments on “Where are all the women?”

  1. i’ve met some female triatheletes who could probably make some drivers look weak.  i don’t think the physical limitations have anything to do with it. in fact i’ve always thought that it would probably be the ideal sport for men and women to compete together.  the problem is, racing isn’t easy to get in to on a professional level for men even, and it is still a male dominated arena even though i don’t believe it is intentionally so. 

    the same question could be asked of blacks.  why haven’t more blacks been involved?  hamilton and willie t ribbs are the only two that spring to my mind.

    most of the club racers i’ve known, and really anyone interested in any racing starts out with an absolute love for anything with an engine in it or on it.  and for some reason  girls just don’t  go for it in as big a way-yet.  and certainly most parents aren’t too keen to have their sons in karting much less their daughters.

  2. MJohnHurt: …were silent when they went to driver+car weights and took away some of her natural advantage…

    marc: Sorry guy, you’re a day later and a dollar short. IndyCar took away the weight advantage before 2008 season started.

    you’re right, I obviously didn’t know that, my comment doesn’t reference that or anything…

  3. Sam: yeah, that was an unfortunate coincidence, but Danica Patrick won a race as competitive as those Sebastien Bourdais won when IRL and Champcar were separated series, and I dare to say that Danica faced a stronger field on Motegi (Castroneves, Wheldon, Dixon, Kanaan, Andretti) than Sebastien did when he won his four straight titles…

    Still, the paralel race at Long Beach was much worse, with many retiring teams making their only race entry of the season, to respect contractual interests and thus avoid a grid as empty as the 2005 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix…

    So, she was a bit unlucky to grab her first win precisely in one of the "split races", but that doesn’t diminish her merit, as the chauvinistc Yahoo sports article tried to state…

  4. theRoswellite
    22nd April 2008, 4:37

    If anyone doubts the veracity of the Motegi win they should just ask the drivers and teams that she beat as to their level of effort.  Something tells me they were making every effort possible to win.

    Also, if anyone questions a womens ability to drive a race car based on physiological characteristics, they should attempt to determine what those characteristics really are.

    I think you could certainly make a case for the following: 
        -overall neural reaction time
        -a sense of balance
        -visual acuity 
        -kinesthesis (the sensation of movement in various body
        -cognitive ability to multi-task

    Are men dominant in these areas, I’m not sure.

  5. If you’ve been to a race meeting lately, it might be apparent. I spent the weekend at the Hamilton 400 V8 Supercar round in NZ (which was excellent) and even though there are plenty of women fans, the place was wall to wall tits & ass. It seemed as if every sponsor had a team of skimpily clad girls wandering around, handing out schwag and getting their photos taken with (mostly) leering blokes. There were girls in bikinis up and down pit lane, on the grid and doing a show in the "family area".

    If you were a young woman coming up through the karting ranks and you ran into that at the next level up, why would you want to have anything more to do with it? Surely you’d quit for a sport that’s a little more mature?

  6. If they’re good enough then they should make it through, no matter what the distractions are. Any woman that is fast enough should be given equal chance to get up to F1 – surely that’s obvious to everyone?

  7. Danica won her race in large part to fuel strategy, not in a competitive wheel to wheel charge. She’s not the first and won’t be the last to win a fuel mileage race, so she deserves the credit regardless of how diminished some may wish to make it.

    As for using her sexiness and states of undress, she was posing that way long before she broke into Indycars, and she also brought sponsorship to Andretti Green racing.

    She should use whatever "talents" she has to promote herself, but personally I don’t need to see my drivers, male or female, in any state of undress. For a comparison of another attractive female driver, this one with little driving ability, please reference Milka Duno.

  8. Jutta Kleinschmidt won the Paris Dakar and that doesn’t seem to me like an easy one, plus have you see Vettel, Massa or Alonso? they look quitr weak to me. I guess that is more a lack of top women drivers and sponsors not willing to take any risk.

  9. I think the simplest answer to “why aren’t there women in F1″ is that there don’t seem to be enough women that like to race at that level of competition at the moment.

    That’s a paraphrase of the answer given to explain why the male-to-female ratio at a music college I attended was so poor.

  10. I find it strange that there are not more women in open wheel motor racing – there are now quite a few in Rallying, DTM and occasionally Touring Cars.
    The F1 teams, and others, have not made the discovery that Horse Racing stables found a few years back, that women are generally smaller and lighter than men, although not as strong.
    In an F1 car, where weight is everything, a smaller lighter woman might be a better bet than even a superlightweight Hamilton. Is strength an issue? But if Danika can handle an IRL car, she should be able to drive an F1 car.
    Perhaps the main concern for the F1 teams is the extra publicity generated by an attractive young woman driver, but then seeing the recent hype over Hamilton, I am sure it could be managed just as easily.
    The Bernie/Danika spat is purely down to personalities, or even publicity, as I doubt Bernie has watched a single IRL race, or even a NASCAR race! It would be good to see the likes of BMW, Honda, Toyota and McLaren start using women drivers, as I am sure they would see the benifits if they brought them through a racing career similar to Hamilton – there aren’t any women in GP2 either at the moment I notice, but there are some in Formula BMW and Formula Renault.

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