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. Well, if we’re going by chest size, my 34Es qualify me to say that if there’s 34,000 racing license holders in the UK out of a 60m population*, there’s a fair amount of people of either gender who would be perfectly suited to driving F1 cars and haven’t had the awareness and opportunity to pursue it.

    Those female drivers I mentioned up-thread are far better than Patrick, Legge and Stoddart were at the same age so it’s a bit premature to say there isn’t anyone out there.

    Very few women get anything by positive discrimination – if Rubens Barrichello had boobs he wouldn’t have got beyond F3. To be the first of any minority to do anything you need to be the best. Witness the way any time Lewis Hamilton puts a foot wrong there’s no shortage of snarkers saying he’s only where he is because of his race, when in reality he screws up far less than most.

    *not trying to be Brit-centric but that’s the stats I had to hand.

  2. Journeyer said on 21st April 2008, 18:00

    Well, I respect your view DD, but how can you be sure all women can’t compete on equal terms?  I think you’re underestimating many female racers out there.  You have to give them a chance too.

  3. MJohnHurt said on 21st April 2008, 18:13

    I would love to see more women in racing.  Honestly, I want them to reach at least the point where it isn’t a story anymore.  I just want to watch the cars.  I was furious when I found out Erin Crocker was sleeping with Ray Evernham, the more women who succeed on merit the better, but Crocker sleeping with the team owner set back women in NASCAR at least a decade I bet.

    Couple of points regarding strength.  @#3’s comment about Vettel, I think that was half kidding, but Danica weighs 100 pounds.  I know race drivers are tiny, but show me an adult male race driver who weighs 100 pounds.  At least she’d get some good ballast advantage =).

    And about strength in general, I honestly don’t know how big a deal it is, but I do know that when IRL started testing "steering assist" or some such a year or two ago there were conspiracy theories that they were trying to level the field, strength wise, and give Danica a better chance at winning.  I generally feel that if every driver has the same stuff, who cares what the stuff is, but the real conspiracy is that during testing they had a select few drivers running the assist technology and she was one of them and the usual race winners were not.  Of course those same conspiracy theorists were silent when they went to driver+car weights and took away some of her natural advantage…

  4. Loki said on 21st April 2008, 19:33

    Wasn’t it Jenson Button who said their breasts would get in the way of the harness, or distract the mechanics? (Something along those lines).  Maybe the women are all afraid of DC?

    I think if a woman were to enter into F1 at any point from here-on, it would have to be a dramatic entrance to sustain any possible future.  Not in terms of results ala Lewis Hamilton’s debut year (because that will be hard to top), but to prove it’s not just a PR stunt, they can give as good as the other drivers (I’m sure they can) and, like most drivers, are capable of winning a championship given the good set of wheels.  Perhaps it’s more social and mental pressure than their actual ability.

    I don’t doubt that women racers have the technical ability – the number of times I’ve seen women out-perform, or at least  par with, guys on equal ground in physical activities such as martial arts and in the forces I’m surprised more women aren’t out racing.

  5. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 21st April 2008, 19:48

    Sounds like something Eddie Irvine would say I reckon Loki!

  6. Was definitely JB who made the crack about boobs getting in the way! I have DC on the record saying that there’s nothing wrong with female drivers and that his sister had more natural talent than he did when they were young, so he’s nothing to be afraid of.

  7. Men are for driving us women are there at an F1 venue to give it sex appeal and to be sought after.
    I like it that way – come and get me boys!

  8. Uppili said on 21st April 2008, 20:54

    Alianora points to an interesting statistic there. One thing that strikes right  in the face though is why doesn’t a company like Redbull, Mclaren, Honda etc have a female driver in their young driver development programmes which they pride so much about?

  9. read this on Yahoo Sports…. putting Danica’s win in perspective:
     Patrick’s win came against a shrunken field of competitors, one which was devoid of the last two series champions (who both left the open wheel series to race in NASCAR), not to mention lacking any of the Champ Car drivers, who were in Long Beach, Calif., competing in Sunday’s finale for that series before the two – IRL and Champ Car – unite for good. Only 18 cars took the green flag in Japan – six to eight fewer than will be competing when the two series are reunited at Kansas Speedway next weekend – and just seven were running on the lead lap at the checkered flag.Despite her having only won in go-karts and not while driving in a professional auto race, Patrick has been able to command a legion of fans, perhaps for no reason other than she is a woman participating in what most regard as a man’s sport. And after tiring of fending off questions about when she would win, she distracted her detractors by posing in swimsuits and making suggestive ads for her sponsors. For now, Patrick’s lone victory is more a marketing executive’s dream. She can now be identified in her product endorsements as IndyCar “race winner” Danica Patrick instead of just Indy car driver. 

  10. MJohnHurt – “Couple of points regarding strength. @#3’s comment about Vettel, I think that was half kidding, but Danica weighs 100 pounds. I know race drivers are tiny, but show me an adult male race driver who weighs 100 pounds. At least she’d get some good ballast advantage =)”

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

    Sam- Screw what Margolis said at Yahoo sports. He’s one of those “Yeah but,” types, and that’s just what he did in that piece.

    “Danica won…BUT..” And also note that article went up so fast after she crossed the finish line it was as if it had already been written and waiting for the chance to publish it.

  11. verasaki said on 22nd April 2008, 0:32

    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.

  12. MJohnHurt said on 22nd April 2008, 1:18

    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…

  13. Daniel said on 22nd April 2008, 3:11

    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…

  14. theRoswellite said on 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.

  15. 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?

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