Different year, same drivers. When will F1 finally see women race again?
F1 is in a period of stagnation. Viewing figures have dropped from 500 million at the start of the decade to around 390 million last season. That’s a loss of over 20% of viewers. The figures are even worse when you look at viewers who actually tune in throughout the season. Plenty of fans just dip in and out for historic races or for their home Grand Prix. The sport has been obsessed with trying to become fan friendly. There’s been discussions about sprinkler systems, medal tables and reverse grids – and yet the biggest reason for declining interest is lost on the old white cis men of the FIA. F1 is simply mundane.
F1 is outdated, archaic and doesn’t reflect the real world. The ‘good old days’ mentality of toxic masculinity might have sold well in the 80s but it’s 2017. Watching spoilt middle class boys crash their multi million pound cars into each other and then tell one another to “suck my balls” isn’t entertaining. It’s pathetic and childish. It’s also the same thing we’ve watched every weekend since the championship was established back in 1950.
“Watching spoilt middle class boys crash their multi million pound cars into each other and then tell each other to “suck my balls” isn’t entertaining”
In 2014, Susie Wolff managed to complete a few runs in a Williams during practice sessions but the last woman who got close to competing before Susie, was Giovanna Amati – back in 1992. Amati was replaced after she failed to qualify in her Brabham and was replaced by (eventual world champion) Damon Hill, but Hill didn’t qualify the Brabham to race until his seventh weekend. Amati received poor treatment from the Brabham team. She was roundly criticised in the press despite her racing inexperience in the Brabham and the fact the car was, to steal a quote from the great Nikki Lauda, a shit box.
The legacy before Amati was hardly inspiring. That’s no insult to the women who raced before her, it’s simply due to the fact that there have been so few women in the sport. Lella Lombardi is the only woman to have ever scored points in F1, and she raced between 1974-76. Before Lombardi, the only other woman to race in the sport had been Maria Teresa de Filippis during the 1950s. Apparently, the legendary five time champion Fangio who raced alongside de Filippis told her “you go too fast, you take too many risks”. While she showed she could compete with any man in an era that was all about physicality de Filippis revealed that a race director had prevented her from taking part at the French Grand Prix of 1958, as he felt the only helmet a woman should wear was a hairdresser’s.
We’ve not progressed. In 2014, Sergio Perez was so aghast at Wolff being allowed to participate in an F1 practice session he said that women “better stay in the kitchen”, adding “imagine being beaten by a woman”. This is the same Sergio Perez who blew his chance in a top car, has crashed into his younger and often quicker team mate several times this season and still gets the backing of sponsors. In contrast, women rarely attract sponsors at any level due to inherent misogyny in the sport and the belief that motor racing should be reserved for ‘real men’.
Without financial backing, women stand no chance in a sport dominated by the rich. Many fans complain that when a woman good enough comes along then we will finally see a woman champion. But why should women have to be superb to mediocre men? The grid, every year, is filled with men who are pay-drivers with huge backing and who last a couple of seasons at most and then go back to sheep farming or DJing. They were never cut out for the sport but they still got a chance – because they were cis men.
“They were never cut out for the sport but they still got a chance – because they were cis men”
Women (and non-binary people) are never afforded the same privilege. Men are given free passes into the sport and everyone else has the door slammed shut. We’ve only had one black champion. There has never been an Asian champion, despite the sport supposedly being a world championship. We don’t even have a race in Africa anymore. The championship skips an entire continent and yet still claims it is a global force. There’s never been an out queer F1 racer and with the culture of the sport, it’s unlikely anyone would come out. The sport is steeped in toxic masculinity.
The idea that in nearly seventy years, there has not been a woman who could be a champion of the sport is ludicrous. Its an argument hinged upon the very notion that women are not as good as men. It is inherently sexist. Women have almost no chance to get into F1. Due to less financial backing, a culture that discourages girls from ever getting into a kart and a governing body barely interested in diversity there is no chance for women to succeed.
There’s the odd sign of hope. There have been two women who have led teams. Claire Williams in particular is a great force in the sport. Williams is one of the most respected teams on the grid and to have her lead the team is a major boost. F1 journalists tend to be slightly more balanced in terms of gender too but still white men who barely understand the sport get gigs before women who live and breathe racing.
F1 keeps trying to get back to days which were actually pretty poor. Commentators wax lyrical about the rivalry between Prost and Senna but they had a car that dominated the grid. Every race was predictable. If Prost didn’t win, then Senna would and vice versa. Is it really any surprise that Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton battling it out for three years actually saw viewers switch off? Their car was dominant and despite the nostalgic yearning, the reality is that men beating their chest as they cruise to victories with minimal competition is actually pretty dull. Even the rivalries haven’t been entertaining. This season almost every team has had their drivers crash into each other. There are battles across the grid and within each garage but it’s not enough to excite viewers. We’ve seen it all before. Men throwing tantrums quickly loses its appeal.
F1 is supposed to be at the cutting edge. The whole philosophy of the sport is about relentless progression, and yet the governing body is trying to hold the sport back from true progress. Brands and franchises globally are finding that diversity is actually engaging fans and winning new support. F1 needs to start paying attention to this. When fans start to watch racers they can see themselves in then they will start to care. It’s why F1 took off in South America, thanks to Piquet and Senna. Fans want to see drivers they relate to. Right now, all we’re getting is spoilt rich kids driving around in circles.