“The base number of women is still so low,” said Michèle Mouton, a former World Rally Championship driver and president of the International Automobile Federation’s Women in Motorsport Commission. “We need to promote more in all areas, then we’ll have more women involved in all areas of motorsport, including competition.”
In the early years of grand prix racing, when access to motorsport was as restricted by access to funds as it is today, female competitors were much less of a rarity. Motor racing as a pastime for the upper classes led to a small coterie of successful female racers in the 1920s and 1930s, and the manufacturers of the era were not blind to the promotional opportunities.
Invicta, a marque of the era, used Violette Cordery, a racing driver and distance-driving record-holder, to promote its cars with stunts, proving their reliability by driving from London to Monte Carlo in third gear and a 1927 round-the-world trip in which she drove over 10,000 miles in five months.
Danica Patrick of Indy-car racing and Nascar has shown how marketable a woman in the cockpit can be. Patrick’s reputation may exceed her racing results, but her presence in the sport has increased global awareness of Nascar.
Formula One currently lacks such role models in the cockpit, but the sport has its eyes on Colombia’s Tatiana Calderón, 24, who is racing in GP3 and is a development driver for the Sauber Formula One team; and Marta Garcia, 16, now in her first season of single-seater racing with MP Motorsport in the Spanish Formula 4 national championship.
Susie Wolff became the first woman in 22 years to take part in a Formula One grand prix weekend during the 2014 British Grand Prix, when she drove for Williams during a practice session. Wolff was a development driver for the team and never raced the car.
But Wolff’s impact on the future of women in motorsport extends far beyond her time spent in the cockpit, both during her seven years racing in the Deutsche Touring Masters, or D.T.M., championship, or the four seasons she spent with Williams. She is an ambassador for the F.I.A. Women in Motorsport Commission, and founded Dare to Be Different, which is aimed at inspiring young girls interested in careers in motorsport, providing networking opportunities and mentoring.
“It’s not just about finding the next talented female racing driver,” Wolff said. “It’s about opening up the different disciplines, so that these young girls understand that this preconception that motorsport is just for boys is wrong. There are many successful women. Dare to Be Different is about them understanding that the world is open for them, that there are opportunities.”
Wolff’s program is not the only one aimed at promoting futures in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, in motorsport to female students. The Women in Motorsport Commission has partnerships with 76 member clubs, promoting motorsport as a career option and giving support and training to young drivers.
Formula One also has its own international STEM program, F1 in Schools. It is actively attracting girls into exploring science and technology careers using the excitement and glamour of Formula One, and provides a grounding in all areas of the sport, including branding, sponsorship, engineering and design.
That shift is coming from the schools and from an effort within the sport to promote itself as a viable career for women.
“We have to go out and make sure that we’re actively promoting Formula One as a career destination for students more, that being primary, secondary or tertiary educations,” said Claire Williams of the Williams team.
“Williams in particular does a huge amount in that field: different academies, different engineering awards,” she said. “What we’re seeing now is more women coming up and applying for those positions that we have within the academies, within the engineering apprenticeships. In fact, for last year’s Randstad Williams Engineering Academy we had more females applying for places than we did males.”
The Mercedes-AMG team reports a similar increase in interest from female applicants in recent years.
Chloe Targett-Adams, global director of promoter and business relations for Formula One, said, “I started working in F1 nearly eight years ago from a city law background, and one of the things that really surprised me and really interested me about the job when I first applied for it, was that it would be the first time I would be directly working with a large team of women.”
“Over the last eight years within our business itself,” she said, “we have seen a greater diversity of young women talent joining across many of our business functions.”
Behind the scenes, women have long had a role in Formula One. Bernie Ecclestone, who ran the sport until 2016, when it was bought by the Liberty Media Corporation, had an inner circle of mostly female lawyers in charge of managing the hosting, broadcasting and promotion of each race.
Kate Beavan joined Formula One Management in 2003 as a commercial lawyer and is now global director of hospitality and experiences.
“Bernie gave you the room, the space to grow, and he did it in a very quiet way,” Beavan said. “If you strongly believe that you needed to do something in the business or you wanted to do something and you argued your case, he’d let you, and he’d let you grow sideways, upwards, and he quietly did that.
“That’s been fantastic, because that migration — from coming in as a lawyer through to taking on commercial projects that were a crossover between law and commercial — then leads you to think, ‘I like the commercial side of it, I’ll move a bit more.’ Bernie never pigeonholed, and I think that’s really good from an employer. What’s really great is that Liberty has the same approach, so I think you will see even more women progressing in the organization and the sport.”
“Formula One is quite meritocratic,” Beavan said. “If they see you’re doing a good job, they actually don’t care whether you’re a pink giraffe, they will support you in it.”
In a world where results are everything, the delivery is more important than the package. Francesca Venturi, a chassis designer for Ferrari, says the common goal of a team trumps any differences.
“We all share the same passion, men and women,” she said. “This is important from the technical point of view: We all work to design and produce a fast car, and that is the important thing.”
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