For the right reasons, equality is becoming more important than it has ever been in society. As a reflection of that, it is also becoming more obvious in the sporting world. Although the salaries earned by players such as Lauren Hemp and Beth Mead indicate that there is still a long way to go compared to those received by the top male stars, steps are being taken in the right direction. The fantastic victory of the Lionesses in the Euros was rightly hailed as a watershed moment in football. Women are also obtaining more publicity and receiving greater compensation than they ever had in cricket’s The Hundred, and this scenario is duplicated in many different sports.
Games such as football, cricket, and golf are too physically demanding for men and women to compete head-to-head on an equal playing field. On the other hand, sports such as rugby and boxing most surely are. Yet, there are a few sports, such as darts, snooker, and Formula One, which is most certainly not the case. The Formula One championship is our focus for the day. Although it places a significantly greater physical demand on the body than darts or snooker does, there does not appear to be any reason women cannot compete against males in this championship.
Are There Any Female Drivers Competing in Formula One?
The straightforward response is that no females are currently competing in Formula 1 in a major driving capacity. For the past 20 years, only some teams have fielded a car with a female driver at the wheel.
It has been quite some time since a woman drove competitively in Formula 1, although this has been a possibility in the past.
Formula One Drivers Who Are Female
Giovanna Amati, an Italian woman, was the last woman to compete in the sport for Brabham in 1992. She did so by taking part in three races during that year. Before that, South African driver Desiré Wilson had one excursion in 1980, and British driver Divina Galicia drove for Surtees and Hesketh greatly in 1976 and 1978.
Despite competing in seven Grands Prix, the three ladies were kept from taking their places on the grid. They participated in many races and made multiple attempts to qualify, but they were unsuccessful. If we want to discover the last woman who competed in a real Formula 1 race, we must go back to another Italian driver named Lella Lombardi.
Piedmont native Lombardi is the only female athlete in the sport’s annals to ever place in the top six in a world championship race. She competed in 17 Grands Prix, 12 of which were for March, RAM, and Williams during the years 1974 and 1976, and she was awarded a half point for her efforts at the Spanish Grand Prix in 1975. 1975 was by far her best successful season, and she finished seventh in Germany and sixth in Spain, as well as finishing in three other competitions but having to retire from four others due to injury.
Yet, she is not the only woman to have made it to the starting line. Maria Teresa de Filippis, another Italian, was the very first woman to compete in Formula 1. She was the very first woman to race in any motorsport. Her first attempt was in 1958 at the Monaco Grand Prix, but she could not qualify. She only participated in her first Grand Prix three races later when she competed in Belgium. She was the first woman to ever compete in a Grand Prix and came in tenth position. She competed in five races during that season, qualifying for three but only finishing the Belgium race. During that season, she qualified for the Grand Prix held in her native country but was ultimately forced to withdraw.
Drivers Who Do Tests and Get Practice
Even though very few women have held the position of official Formula One driver, even fewer have qualified for the start of a race, and even fewer have scored points in a Grand Prix, there have been other instances of women behind the wheel of a Formula One car for the sport’s history. There have been multiple instances of women working for teams in various jobs, including those of test, development, and practice drivers.
These include the likes of the American Sarah Fisher, better known as a driver in Indy Racing and NASCAR, and the Scottish Susie Wolff, who competed in the British Grand Prix in 2012 and made it as far as the first practice session. Among these, we also have the likes of other notable female drivers. There is also the terrible instance of Maria de Villota, who worked as a Marussia test driver. Maria was the daughter of former F1 driver Emilio, and she was killed in an accident. She was involved in an accident in 2012 that occurred at very moderate speeds. Still, she sustained fairly significant injuries due to the accident, ultimately leading to the loss of her right eye.
In 2013, she was discovered dead in a hotel room in Seville. Although it was initially believed that she had died of natural causes due to cardiac arrest, it was later established that the earlier crash she had been in was the source of the neurological damage that ultimately led to her death.
Several women have also driven Formula One car for the sport’s history, sometimes with the intention that their testing would serve as a stepping stone toward a career in racing. On the other hand, this has never actually taken place, and it is difficult to predict when a woman will next compete for points on the Sunday of a Grand Prix.
What is It That Prevents Women?
From the outside looking in, many people would question why there have not been more women competing in Formula 1. Although race car drivers need to be physically fit and able to handle tremendous G-force, heat, and pressure inside the car, it is not a sport that is so physically demanding that men have an edge that women cannot overcome.
Yet, one of the female drivers striving to make it to Formula One, the British driver Jamie Chadwick, has questioned whether or not women are physically ready to compete in Formula One.
But, the problem is, as it always has been, more complicated, and some of the obstacles that appear to be physical have, in reality, more to do with the fact that engineering has always been geared toward men. For example, in Formula 2 and Formula 3, the steering wheels are frequently too thick for many women to grip properly, and the seats in the cockpit are frequently too narrow for the larger hips that are typical of women.
Chadwick is of the opinion that the entire subject needs to be investigated in a much more in-depth manner, with the absence of power steering in the lower categories of racing (F2 and F3) being another concern that may prevent women from competing. F1 cars have power steering, but if women need help being competitive lower down the pecking order, it is unlikely that they will be granted the opportunity to go up in the standings and use it.
The primary reason why there aren’t as many women competing in Formula One is due, in large part, to the fact that there are far fewer women participating in racing overall. This trend can be seen in a variety of other sports. This is where cultural and societal factors come together, and it becomes difficult to be too clear about why women are not on top teams. Still, as with other sports, we expect it is a situation that will change, albeit slowly. However, it isn’t easy to be too clear about why women are not on top teams.
Women have been more competitive in other forms of motorsport; nonetheless, Formula One is often regarded as one of the most difficult forms of racing for anyone, regardless of gender, to enter solely because so few drivers make it to the starting line. It is an elite sport, and there is a good chance that it is also elitist; nonetheless, the fact that women have been successful in drag racing, for instance, demonstrates that women can compete in this athletic endeavor.
Other People’s Success and a Better Future
In 2019, the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) featured 12 professional racers, five extremely competitive (in the top 10) in their respective divisions. Allison Doll became the first woman to win the drag racing championship in 2019. Women have also had great success in drag racing in the United Kingdom and Europe, winning various titles.
Most recently, former Formula One world winner Nico Rosberg, who now manages Rosberg X Racing in Extreme E, indicated that he believed women could be as quick as men and deserved to be on any grid. He added that “if 1,000 guys go karting every year and just 15 girls,” it is obvious that women have a more difficult time making an effect. Yet, he also stated (in a Sunday Times piece) that Extreme E aims to address “societal and social difficulties, such as equality.”
He talked about the prospect of F1 adding a quota to give more women an opportunity, and while that might not happen, he said that “there is a solution to every difficulty.” Extreme E is an FIA-sanctioned race that, as the name implies, uses electric vehicles. They are off-road vehicles, but many find it most intriguing that the sport provides equal driving time for men and women.
Each team must have one female and one male driver, who must alternate driving duties throughout the race. Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky is Rosberg’s female driver, who “not only matches but even beats” the boys.
There are currently an increasing number of women active in various motorsports, and while it may take some time, we are confident that more women will make it to F1 in the coming years. Drivers like Ahlin-Kottulinsky and Sophia Flörsch, a young German driver who has raced in F3 and the Le Man’s series, are just two examples.
The W Series debuted in 2019 and was designed to help the top female drivers advance to the F1 world championship. Some argue that segregation is harmful and ineffective. It is too early to tell whether the W Series will propel a woman into one of F1’s most coveted driver spots, but it has undoubtedly raised the profile of certain female drivers.
There are great hopes that Chadwick, born in Bath in 1998, will be the next female F1 driver. Chadwick grew up on the Isle of Man, a place well associated with motorsport, and she won the W Series in 2019 and will defend her championship in 2021 (there will be no series in 2020, which, as you may recall, was not a good year for sport!). She has since been appointed as a development driver for Williams in Formula One. If it isn’t Chadwick, hopefully, it will be another woman sooner rather than later.
Make that decision later
Unfortuitously, just as we were preparing this piece, a story came out that demonstrates how much of a topic of conversation this issue is right now.
We say “unfortunately” because it was a remark from F1 President Stefano Domenicali saying that he felt it was highly improbable that we would see a woman make it to the grid over the next five years. He said he believed a woman would be unlikely to make it to the grid.
Domenicali, who served as the team principal for Ferrari in the past, made a statement that was encouraging to hear. He said it was “crucial to give a maximum chance for women to come to F1 – we are dedicated to that.”
He observed that the W Series was operating effectively but that for women to get to the Formula One level, there needed to be a greater number of younger female drivers participating in the F2 and F3 classes.
He also indicated that they were working to enhance the system. Still, on a sad note, he said that unless there was “something like a meteorite,” he didn’t “see a girl going into F1 in the next five years,” adding that it was “extremely unlikely” that this would happen.