Formula 1 is not a sport typically associated with women. The world of motorsport seems to be one that continues to be dominated by men, and women’s alleged inferiority on the road seems to be so universally accepted that it pervades popular culture and is the subject of countless YouTube compilations.
Rampant sexism aside, and despite what the Formula 1 greats (hello, Stirling Moss!) think, women have played significant and influential roles in the sport and continue to do so today.
As we approach the beginning of the season and celebrate International Women’s Day, we have taken the liberty to highlight a few of the most powerful women to grace the grids/pits/design labs over the years, shattering stereotypes and busting balls, all in a day’s work.
Spanish racer Carmen Jordá was just announced as Lotus F1’s new development driver; all eyes will be on this Spanish driver’s performance in 2015.
Born in Alcoy, Spain, the daughter of former driver Jose Miguel Jordá has been a professional driver for over a decade and her presence doubles the number of female drivers in the paddock in 2015.
On joining the team, she recognised the challenges: “I know this is just the beginning and the biggest challenge is yet to come but already being part of a team with such a history is a real honour. This is a great achievement, but an even greater opportunity which will lead to bigger and better things.
“I’ve been racing since I was 10 years old so it was my dream to drive a Formula 1 car since I was very young,” she said to the Daily Mail.
Having completed three GP3 seasons without taking home any points, it will be interesting to see how and if she progresses with Lotus. She took out 16th place in 2010 in the Firestone Indy Lights racing for Andersen Racing, and her highest ever final position was back in 2007 when she placed fourth in Spanish Formula 3. We wish her the best of luck with Lotus!
I originally wrote this piece on the day of the Bahrain GP for the International Political Forum - check it out here!
The F1 world exists in a bubble of its own. Although highly political, its politics are usually internal, and as such the domestic politics of the host nation rarely rates a mention. Granted, (by and large, with exceptions of course) most of the races are in stable states, and so voicing of political concern is either verbal or doesn’t make the international news.
That is why the case of today’s race in Bahrain is very interesting indeed.
Just briefly – the Bahraini race was the result of the work of King’s son, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, who thought it would be a great way to put Bahrain on the international radar. It worked wonderfully in doing so, and its first race in 2004 was a huge success (according to the BBC at any rate), both domestically and internationally.
The problems only really started appearing in early 2011, when the island nation got swept with Arab Spring fever, and the Shia majority began protesting in earnest against the ruling Sunni minority. Their main issue is with the human rights record of the government (which, as the Bassiouni report showed, is a spotty record indeed).
The race was cancelled that year. A brief roundup of those events by the BBC can be found here.
So where does that leave Bahrain and Formula 1 now?
Well, media stories are filled with visual depictions of angry protestors holding anti-F1 signs and chanting slogans such as “Your race is a crime,” and “No, no to the blood Formula.”
Bahraini leaders are downplaying the unrest, with the Crown Prince insisting the event will be safe for teams and spectators. However, MP’s within the government requested that the event again be cancelled. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Democracy in Bahrain said: “We request you cancel the Grand Prix. It is likely to attract as much negative publicity as last year.”
The world motorsport’s governing body the FIA and the promoters Formula One Management (FOM), caught in the middle, have simply said the event will go ahead.
CEO of FOM, the infamous Bernie Ecclestone, wants to keep the sport as far away from the politics as possible, saying to the BBC: “We don’t want to see trouble. We don’t want to see people arguing and fighting about things we don’t understand, because we really don’t understand. Some people feel it’s our fault there are problems.”
“We’re not here, or we don’t go anywhere, to judge how a country is run”, although he did also mention that he thought the government was “stupid” to put the race on, as people will use it [emphasis added] as a platform for protesting.
Bernie is right in a way; trying to figure out which side is right or wrong never ends well. There are too many shades of grey.
What the true question is about though, is how much of a role as Formula 1 plays in domestic and global politics. Much of the media focus has been around the protests, whether Formula One as an event should be in Bahrain, trying to figure out if there is a “morally” correct side to be on.
The sad fact of the matter is if Formula 1 hadn’t come to Bahrain, the country wouldn’t rate a mention in any international paper. It certainly doesn’t appear to have done so, especially not alongside the even more unfortunate tragedies of Egypt and Syria.
Formula 1 is both a sport, and a business. From a business sense, no, it isn’t desirable to be associated with or seen to be friends with a government that is denying its citizens human rights. But sport is a common language. Like music, sport has an uncanny ability to transcend politics and bring people together. Granted, this isn’t the Football World Cup, but it is a huge international event, with lots of focus on a nation where the battles are usually forgotten.
It is understandable that protestors are upset that the Formula 1 circus is coming to town – they are likely to be upset at many of the ruling party’s initiatives. But the race can be seen as an opportunity for their nation to bring their issues to the attention of the international media. Not that this is what Bernie Ecclestone wants, but Formula 1 doesn’t have to find the answers. It is only a sporting event after all, not the mediation arm of the United Nations.
No, Formula 1 doesn’t have all the answers. What it does have is an amazing capacity to draw the attention of millions of people towards various places, and in doing so, highlight the goings on in that state.
It is that opportunity, that captive audience, that international focus. That is the power of Formula 1.
Some might see sport as a frivolity, but it has an important role to play – in its own unique way – in the journey of every nation.
After all, the Formula 1 coming to town is one the main reasons we are all talking about the plight today anyway, isn’t it?
Sometimes a public figure will say something that makes you want to check your hearing just in case you didn’t hear it right the first time.
“I think women have the [physical] strength,” former Grand Prix winner Sir Stirling Moss said to BBC Radio 5 Live, of female F1 drivers.
“…but I don’t know if they’ve got the mental aptitude to race hard, wheel-to-wheel.”
He goes on: “The mental stress I think would be pretty difficult for a lady to deal with in a practical fashion. We’ve got some very strong and robust ladies, but, when your life is at risk, I think the strain of that in a competitive situation will tell when you’re trying to win. I just don’t think they have aptitude to win a Formula 1 race.”
Well, well, well…
To be honest, my first reaction was a very diva-like “Oh no, he didn’t!”, with the side-to-side head movement to boot!
On further thought, however, there unfortunately is a little more to it than just that, as it has clearly started a conversation on the prospects of women competing alongside men on the F1 grid.
Firstly, we have to remember what era Moss hails from. The 1950s and ’60s, during which he raced and probably formed his opinions on such matters, weren’t exactly the most egalitarian.
When you put it in context, given the fact that women were only really allowed to vote only thirty or so years before, that attitude (unfortunately) makes a little more sense.
At that time, women weren’t even allowed to run in the Boston Marathon! The first lady to do so only officially competed in 1967. Check out the video of what happened when she ran:
Fast forward a few decades, and the first female fighter pilot in the US Airforce was only accepted in 1993. Two decades ago only…?!
There have always traditionally been ‘male domains’ and ‘women’s domains’, and it is only really in the last few decades is that starting to change. It’s slow going though…and traditionally technical areas, like my field of engineering, still have less than 10% (9.6% in Australia!) female representation.
It is true though that Formula 1, and motorsport in general is one of the few sports where men and women compete head to head and not in separate series. That in itself, is a strange type of egalitarianism, but that isn’t enough.
There is no question of whether women can be Formula 1 drivers – they have already proven they can. The first woman competed in the 1958 Monaco GP, Maria Teresa De Filippis, in Moss’ era (has he forgotten being snapped with her, pictured above?):
While she never achieved a points finish in F1, Maria Teresa de Filippis’ very presence on the grid in 1958 was a victory for women’s participation in motorsport.
The last woman to compete was Giovanna Amati, in 1992, although she failed to qualify on each of her three outings in a Brabham.
Sure, females only have half a point combined between all five of them, but that is beside the point. Clearly, women do have the capacity to compete in the sport, whether Moss likes it or not.
Outside F1, there are a heap of awesome women who race and they are all inspiring.
Danica Patrick in undoubtedly the most high-profile. She became the only woman (to-date) to win an IndyCar Series race in 2008 before making a full-time switch to NASCAR racing last year.
Finally given a competitive engine and team in which to race, Simona de Silvestro has proven herself to be a frontrunner in the IndyCar Series.
Take the case of Venezuelan Milka Duno, the former IndyCar racer who has shown excellent pace in the Daytona endurance scene. She’s more than just a racer, however. Duno is a qualified naval engineer with four master’s degrees and has published a book for young children on the impact of an education.
That’s what I’m talking about.
F1’s Famous 5 Females (L-R): De Filippis, Lombardi, Galica, Wilson and Amati
But the true issue underpinning Moss’ comments is that this highlights the strongly held belief one of the most respected men in Formula 1, and ‘kind-of, sort-of’ backed by Bernie Ecclestone himself, who said he could not see a woman racing for a top team in the near future.
“There’s no reason why a woman shouldn’t be able to compete with a man,” he said recently, when asked about women’s roles in F1 in the wake of Danica Patrick claiming a historic pole position in the season-opening NASCAR race.
“Unfortunately, the way things are, I don’t imagine a lady will ever get the chance to drive a Red Bull or a Ferrari.”
If the top men in the sport (a sport where support is paramount to success) can’t even fathom women competing on the same level, how is it ever going to happen?
“Regretfully, the problem is that many ladies who could compete probably as well as the guys won’t get chance.” Ecclestone added.
Why won’t they get the chance? Is it because the movers and shakers won’t give them a chance?
The problem with comments like this is that they back up sexist views that do nothing to help women that do want to get involved in motorsport and are interested in racing, engineering and all manner of technical things.
If the guys at the very top aren’t even giving the idea a chance, no matter how archaic or old school they are, people subconsciously take it in. It isn’t about affirmative action or making allowances, it is about being open to the idea.
Is it fear of change? Possibly.
Is change going to happen anyway? Probably.
There was once a time when men didn’t think women could run, and that it was bad for their health.
There was also once a time when men didn’t think women could compete in Formula 1…and win.
I can’t wait until the day we can joke about the ludicrousness of such a statement!
Perhaps the most significant change of the next decade will be the dramatic increase in worldwide connectivity via the Internet. The online community is projected to grow from 2 billion people in 2010 to 5 billion by 2020. Three billion new minds are about to join the global brain trust. What will they dream? What will they discover? What will they invent? These are minds that the rest of society has never had access to before, and their collective economic and creative boost becomes our final force: the power of “the rising billion.” We are living in a time of unprecedented opportunity.
Physical education for girls is banned in the public school system and while there are more than 150 official sports clubs regulated by the sports ministry, general presidency of youth welfare, none of them even allow women on the grounds, never mind to actually play. Saudi women are not only not allowed to participate, they are barred as spectators in all major stadiums.
Morsi won the election by a slim margin, and is now President of Egypt. His first few days in office have already been eventful. He banned portraits of himself in public spaces, asked for minimum security when moving around Egypt, met the families of the martyrs and guaranteed them access to him directly, and has announced that his two vice-presidents will be a woman and a Coptic Christian**. These moves have already impressed many both inside and outside Egypt, and are a welcome change from Mubarak’s reign. An important point is that Morsi won the election because he was supported by a variety of social actors, including activists, revolutionaries, youth groups, and Egyptians who did not want a member of the old regime to win. This means that Morsi has a lot to prove. He knows that he would not be President without the support of Egyptians who do not necessarily identify with or support the Muslim Brotherhood or their ideals. The pressure on Morsi is immense, and the expectations endless.
The revolution must be peaceful: A really interesting look on whether revolts must be peaceful, or if that can actually succeed? A question I have been asking of myself lately…
While there is no doubt that a peaceful revolution is a good thing to aspire to, I wonder if it can simultaneously be effective? Can brute power be removed peacefully? Can an entrenched regime that doesn’t have second thoughts about using violence be brought down through peaceful demonstrations and organizing? On the other hand, could it be the case that we are taught that peaceful people power is pointless and ineffective? Are we somehow bringing ourselves down to their level of inhumanness by engaging in violence?
This is fabulous! Oh how I want to find a copy of this film...
Le Gran Final!
How is it possible that children living in the remotest part of the Mongolian steppes know who Ronaldo is? This documentary film tells the adventurous story of three heroes, none of whom have ever met, but who nevertheless have two things in common: firstly, they all live in the farthest-flung corners of the planet and, secondly, they are all three determined to see on TV the final in Japan of the 2002 World Cup between Germany and Brazil. The protagonists in this 'global' comedy are: a family of Mongolian nomads, a camel caravan of Tuaregs in the Sahara, and a group of Indians in the Amazon. They all live about 500 kilometres away from the next town – and the next television – making their task a particularly daunting one. Nevertheless, these inventive people possess the resourcefulness and the willpower to achieve their goal.