Weekend Debate: How hard should F1 try to encourage a woman to race?
This week has seen a storm over comments by Bernie Ecclestone that women drivers "would not be taken seriously" in Formula 1, during a Q&A session ...
This week has seen a storm over comments by Bernie Ecclestone that women drivers "would not be taken seriously" in Formula 1, during a Q&A session at an advertising forum.
Susie Wolff, the most recent woman to drive an F1 car in some tests and Friday practice sessions at Grands Prix defended Ecclestone, having learned that his comments had been reported out of context. And the 85 year old promoter clarified his statements by saying, "Let me be clear, I would love to see a woman driver in Formula 1. Absolutely. 100 per cent.
"I was asked on stage by Martin Sorrell [the advertising mogul and an F1 board member] 'If by chance there was a sponsor out there that wanted to put 100 million into a team, providing it had two women drivers, what would you say to that? I said 'I'd be very happy and I'd give another 20 million to make it happen'."
So how hard should F1 try to make it happen? How good would it be for the sport to have a female driver?
Susie Wolff's Dare to be Different campaign was established this year to encourage women to consider taking part in motorsport.
This weeks' discussion has focussed on women drivers, but not mentioned the increasing number of women taking roles in all areas of motorsport and F1 in particular. The Force India and Haas F1 teams have female strategists while two other teams are effectively run by women, Sauber and Williams.
That's almost 50% of the teams that have a prominent female figure, while many teams have female engineers at the track and in the factory, Ecclestone's own company F1 Management has several senior female executives and there are many prominent females in the F1 broadcast media.
Dare to be Different has stated that its mission isn't primarily to find a woman driver, it's "it is about inspiring women of all ages and backgrounds to break the mould and shatter perceptions. In the coming months, a fully integrated online community will be formed across our all-new website and social channels, bringing together girls and women from all over the UK who share a passion and desire to get involved in motor racing.
"It's about increasing female participation, not just on the track but in all aspects of the sport and other perceived male-dominated industries. It will achieve this in two key areas – creating an expansive online community, and bringing young girls (aged 8-14) together with some of the sports’ most inspiring women in a series of special events."
But driving is a different matter. The physical argument is sometimes cited, but the reality is that the biggest problem is the funnel; in other words, you don't end up with a woman driver at the highest level of the sport if you don't have enough drivers coming into the funnel at the bottom level. Quite a few girls compete in karts, fewer try their hand at single-seaters and so it's no wonder there hasn't been a strong contender for F1 in the fully professional era of the sport.
It is also about examples, like Wolff, that are rare in F1 and prominent international motorsport. Examples like Haas race strategist, Ruth Bascombe, while less high profile than a driver, nevertheless inspire other women to believe that it is possible to enter the sport and play such a role.
Spain's Carmen Jorda, who works with the Renault F1 team, has floated the idea of a women's only series on the F1 support programme. She is on good terms with Ecclestone's wife Fabiana and the idea has been kicked around, but the answer surely has to be for a woman to compete against men in F1.
The question is, how hard should F1 work to make it happen for a female driver? Has the time not come for a concerted programme, backed by a major sponsor or manufacturer and the sport itself, to be put in place to identify a few talented female drivers in karting and help at least one of them to progress via a properly mentored programme, through GP3 and GP2 or via the FIA's pathway of F4 and F3, to Formula 1?
During Jean Todt's time as president, the FIA has started a Women in Motorsport commission, as well as a Drivers' Commission which we wrote about this week and this represents women from all areas of the sport and seeks to encourage participation. Wolff is a member, as is Claire Williams.
Having someone as powerful as Wolff, married to the Mercedes Motorsport boss Toto Wolff, championing the cause all helps to get the flywheel spinning. She played a good hand this week, intervening over Ecclestone's comments and in return he has come out and said he will help to support Dare to be Different.
So while on the face of it, the story this week seemed to be another eccentric pronouncement from Ecclestone, the real outcome is that Wolff's Dare to be Different campaign has got a lot of coverage and it has made us all think again- why not?
What do you think? Should F1 make a special case of trying to promote a woman driver in the next five years? Leave your comment below
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