Most people who know Formula One know that whenever its “Supremo” Bernie Ecclestone talks about a headline grabbing initiative he’s probably trying to distract from a much wider problem. However when, last weekend, he floated the idea of an all female F1 series Syren’s male team member just felt he had to rise to the bait.
In recent years the profile of female racing drivers has been on the ascendency, at least to those following motorsport. Unlike many other sports, football, darts, rugby and cricket to name just a few, Formula One and motorsport generally has never drawn a distinction between genders (In the US for example female drivers have had a presence for a number of years). In fact, in the distant past, women have raced in F1 races but without much success. Bernie’s proclamation sounded logical to many in the (male dominated) F1 press though because women have become ever more present in the Sport in recent years. Some of the most high profile examples are the two teams now led by women in the guise of Claire Williams and Monisha Kaltenborn and the BBC’s coverage which is now led by Susie Perry rather than the usual cast of paunchy middle aged men. I was also present at Silverstone in 2014 when Susie Wolff received a great reaction from fans as the first woman to take part at an official F1 event since 1992. I could bore on about other women who have had contracts with F1 teams in recent times but they will only go to prove a growing presence in the sport which led Bernie to his rather arcane idea.
Now I’m not claiming for a second that there are not serious cultural problems that mean women are struggling to break through into motorsport, principal among which is the fact that Dads (and it usually is Dads) won’t generally take their daughters go-karting, which is the first grassroots step into a very expensive sport. However, Bernie’s idea that the solution might be a Women’s F1 misses the point dramatically. F1 teams are famously ruthless in their approach. If someone is good enough for the job and can lead to them winning races they will be employed. Claire Williams has proved this by spearheading the revival of the struggling, but once dominant, Williams team. The same will be true when one of the few women who were taken karting as a child breaks through and proves themselves in the lower series of motorsport.
Our recent work, looking at female trends, shows how women today do not want to succeed simply because they fill a quota or because it is “gender-equal” to do so. Women succeed because they are as good as anyone else and certainly not because they are spoon-fed patronising concepts such as an all Female motorsport series. We call it “Thrive” in honour of Arianna Huffington’s book. Women are taking control of their careers, not as ball-busting, shoulder pad wearing matriarchs but by collaborating and fulfilling their ambitions. If F1 wants to be forward thinking and innovative it should be no different.
If F1 wants female drivers it should solve some of the cultural barriers that stop women succeeding at the grassroots. Alas it’s most likely though that Bernie’s idea was more about disguising some of the more serious problems that are turning men and women alike off his sport and ignoring the huge PR boost that could come from a genuine female racer.
To learn more about our female trends work please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to tell you more.