what place for women in the paddock?

If Formula 1 is officially listed as a mixed championship, the place of women in the discipline remains in reality still too weak. Focus on this evolution in motorsport.

Historically discreet and invisible

In 75 years of history, only five women have driven a single-seater in Formula 1, and paradoxically, these pioneers have appeared on the front pages of motorsport. Maria Teresa De Filippis made a total of three starts between 1958 and 1959, including one in Monaco. In 1978 Lella Lombardi finished 6th in the Spanish Grand Prix, finishing 21st with 0.5 point.

The short list continues with Divina Garcia, who has three non-qualifiers in 1976 and 1978. In 1980, Désiré Wilson attempted, unsuccessfully, to qualify for the 1980 British Grand Prix, at Brands Hatch, with a Williams.

The case of Giovanna Amati is notorious for being used as a marketing tool in F1. In a precarious financial situation, the Brabham team decided to hire him in 1992 to bring back sponsors. After only three races in which she failed to qualify, Amati left the stable. More recently, Susie Wolff, Katherine Legge and Marie de Vilota have taken part in winter testing, free practice or private testing.

Katherine Legge drives her Porsche 911 GT3 R at Sebring in the United States. LAURENT CARTALADE / MPS AGENCY / PANORAMIC

Formula 1 does not stop at single-seaters and Grand Prix. Motorsport brings together an arsenal of different professions and roles. Today, for example, Claire Williams has become one of the most powerful protagonists who took over the management of the legendary Williams team between 2013 and 2020, succeeding her father Frank, founder of the team. A ubiquitous position that puts women at the forefront of Formula 1 – in the spotlight on a daily basis in the paddocks.

penetrating reviews

In 2014, at the British Grand Prix, test driver Susie Wolff drove the Williams single-seater instead of Finland’s Valtteri Bottas during free practice. A first since Italy’s Giovanna Amati behind the wheel of a Brabham in 1992. A few years later, Wolff would talk about the world of Formula 1: “The paddock is like a pool of sharks. There will always be people against women in Formula 1.”

Now director of the Venturi team in Formula E, she stands out as one of the first women to step forward to champion the presence of women in motorsport.

With the purchase of the commercial rights to F1 by Liberty Media in 2018, the new management made the decision to remove the Pitgirls and Grid Girls from the podiums. the media. A decision justified by the new owners who confirm that this practice is not “was more in line with modern societal norms” of the woman.

The stables used the image of women for media and commercial purposes. David Goldman / PANORAMIC

Rare supports on the paddock

Without discussing performance and competence, women in motorsport are often sexualized and belittled because of their physique. Jenson Button told British magazine FHM in 2005: “A girl with big breasts would really not enjoy a bath. The mechanics wouldn’t be able to concentrate. Put yourself in the position of the person who has to fasten their seat belt.

While Eric Boullier, former Lotus Team director, gave a speech full of negative bias: “Women don’t have the same ability to coordinate behind the wheel as men. There is also one more step to take: the survival instinct. If a girl can do that, she might become a real tomboy.”

In his book The Pits: the real world of Formula 1 Journalist Beverley Turner reported the words of one of the bosses of the German brand during a dinner with two Mercedes heavyweights: “We have excellent drivers, very talented. The problem, Beverley, is that they’re not very pretty. They are strong, they are fast. But they are not beautiful. Pretty ugly even. They look like men”

A scientific explanation?

Another hot topic: Can a woman biologically handle the same G’s, the same turns, and the same speed as a man? A question was raised following the statements of several pilots about the physical dimension, including Frenchman Romain Grosjean who questioned whether a woman could physically support the discipline – knowing that a pilot can lose up to 5 kilos per Grand Prix.

According to a US military study of fighter pilots, women bear the effects of acceleration just as well as men, even though they have an average of 30% less muscle.

The best in perspective

Seven-time world champion and regarded as one of the greatest drivers in history, Lewis Hamilton has often used his platform to spread social messages, such as during the Black Lives Matter movement. He said about this in December 2019 in a video published by his team: “I hope one day a strong young woman will come along and beat everyone”

There is hope and the door is absolutely not closed, on the contrary. This season, several teams are part of the female test and development drivers: Colombian Tatiana Calderon at Alfa Romeo and the promising Jamie Chadwick at Williams, who represents the rising star of motorsport.

Jamie Chadwick, Marta Garcia and Jessica Hawkin on a W Series stage in May 2022. Mark Thompson/AFP

The 23-year-old Briton said of her status as a woman in F1: “It is of course a big dream, but I sincerely believe that it is possible and that I can achieve something. So I will do everything I can to make it happen. Yes, it’s a male-dominated sport, but there’s nothing stopping me from going.”

Some female figures would rather opt for a women’s Formula 1 championship, such as the WTP in tennis or the WNBA in American basketball. In 2017, Renault essayist Carmen Jordá proposed a separation between men and women to allow them to exist in the media and in sport: “I believe that a women’s F1 championship would give us the opportunity to fulfill our dreams and compete on an equal footing like in other sports”

In 2019, the W Series, a motoring championship exclusively reserved for women, was established and signed a long-standing partnership with Formula 1. Director Catherine Bond Muir was delighted with this agreement, which symbolizes a step towards progress: “We want the W Series to entertain and it will. But we also want it to become a vital stepping stone for any driver looking to build a professional career by default and our proximity to F1 will help and improve that process.” A woman who will soon compete with Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc?