Have you heard the one about the woman and the car?

Monday 15 April 2013, 11:53

Jennie Gow Jennie Gow

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Susie Wolff There are hundreds of ‘hilarious’ jokes made about women drivers. However, as more female drivers make their mark in motorsport the last laugh could well be on our male friends.

It’s over 35 years since the last female took part in a Formula 1 race, but the tide is turning. For a BBC 5 live F1 special I decided to find out how close we are to having a serious competitor who could take on the likes of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.

Joining me in the studio are the Williams pair of Susie Wolff, the team’s development driver, and Claire Williams, Williams’ deputy team principal. We also hear from motorsport icon Sir Stirling Moss and F1 head Bernie Ecclestone.

Let’s start with a quick history lesson. The first female to ever take to the F1 circuit was Italian Maria Teresa de Filippis who competed in 1958/59. She started three races, cruising round the circuits at the same time as Juan Manuel Fangio - who treated her like a daughter and gave her driving tips - and our very own Stirling Moss.

Next came the most successful female so far, Lella Lombardi. The Italian made 12 starts between 1974 and 1976 and is the only woman to ever have scored points in F1: ½ a point for a 6th place finish in the 1975 Spanish GP.

Since then three women have tried and failed to qualify for a F1 race: Brit Davinia Galica, South African Desire Wilson and, most recently, Italian Giovanni Amati. Amati drove for Brabham in 1992 in three meetings.

It’s not a glittering history and it’s pretty short. So how bright is the future for women in Formula 1?

Susie Wolff made history last year when she was named as Williams F1 team development driver. She has seven years’ experience driving in DTM (German touring cars) with Mercedes. She’s also been a finalist in the BRDC McLaren Autosport Young Driver of the Year Award.

Susie knows she has to earn her place in the F1 paddock and is hopeful she can get a Young Driver test this season to do just that.

“When it was announced I was joining Williams people were saying, ‘When are you on the grid?’” she tells me. “It’s about learning to walk before you can run. It’s about proving that I’m good enough at each step of the way; you have to prove your worth at every level.”

“By no means do I think that I’m there just because I’m a girl or they want the publicity, I’ve got to be good enough to hold my place.”

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There are some people in the paddock who still think that women just don’t have what it takes to drive at the top level.

Sir Stirling Moss says, “I don’t know if women have the mental aptitude to race hard wheel to wheel. I just feel, as one would expect in a fight, I don’t think women are equipped to come in and fight with men.”

F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone thinks it’s unlikely we’ll see a women race in F1 any time soon, “unless someone has done something quite extraordinary in racing.”

“The only chance they would have is one of the lesser teams and they would only take someone if they come along with a good sponsor to support the team,” he says.

“Regretfully, this is what the problem is. There might be many, many, girls or ladies that could compete probably as well as some of the guys today but won’t get a chance.”

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However, there is hope, according to F3 cup and GP3 racer Alice Powell. Alice is one of the brightest developing female talents we have in racing in our country. She has competed against boys and men, and beaten them repeatedly. With the right funding she could be a contender to at least test a Formula One car.

“I noticed people saying I cant get beaten by a girl but once you’ve shown you’re not useless and you have a bit of speed they give you more respect,”  says Powell.

“I think it’s all about the pennies, unfortunately. Male or female, you need someone to sponsor a driver and if you want a female in Formula 1 that’s what it’s going to need.”

Will we have a female driver competing in F1 any time soon? Can Susie Wolff persuade Sir Frank Williams to give her a young driver test? Can Alice Powell get the budget to continue her career path to F1?

Interestingly, Red Bull have just signed their first female young driver. A real talent from the Netherlands, Beitske Visser is definitely one to watch and may well be the next great hope we have of seeing a woman competing in F1. Watch this space. 

Listen to Women Drivers at 9.30pm on Tuesday 30 April. The programme will be available for download after broadcast here.

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  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1.

    I don't think there is any issue with a woman competing in F1 at all as long as it is for the right reasons. I personally think mental strength is down to each individual rather than gender. I hope we do see a female F1 driver in the next ten years but it should be based on ability. It should not be based on image, family connections, the sponsorship she would bring or the sponsorship and media coverage she would attract. At the same time, that can happen with male drivers as well, particularly on the sponsorship and connections side.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 2.

    I hope that there's mention of Indycar in this. There have been women competing for years over there, and they are respected as much as their male rivals. in fact, trhe last 2 Indy 500's, there has been a British women competing. F1 (and more likely, the team bosses) need to be dragged into the 21st century.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 3.

    Sadly, Beitske Visser is not from Denmark, but the Netherlands.
    In Denmark we set our hopes to young Kevin Magnussen and has no young women drivers.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 4.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 5.

    Agree with post 2, I find it amazing that with all these articles and 'Fasted Woman in the World Doc' that there has been hardly any mention of Danica Patrick. As far as I can see, easily the most successful female racing driver at the moment. Given that she has won an Indycar race, qualified on pole for the Indy 500 and now competing in America's premier motorsport - NASCAR. I am not saying that she would be faster than Susie Wolff in an F1 car over one lap but looking at Susie's race performance in DTM (best finish of 13th) I think Danica would be better prepared for a Grand Prix. However, I have heard she has had offers from F1 before and rumours are she was not interested...

  • rate this
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    Comment number 6.

    No issue with there being women in F1 or racing in general. The reason its male dominated is that its predominantly males that are interested in this at an early stage. One of the finest examples of a female driver would be Michèle Mouton who raced "group B" rally cars in the eighties. These machines were bonkers. F1 cars driving through a forest! Sadly I feel that if suzy gets a drive, it will just be a gimmick. Girl or no, she doesn't have the CV to earn her an F1 seat by a long way. She has never one of excelled in any of the classes she has raced in. yes shes a development driver, great, lets move on and make sure the real female talent out there is supported!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 7.

    I like Susie, and I hope she gets a drive soon. But it should be based upon her ability to go round the track quickly. As to Danica Patrick and NASCAR... I don't feel there is much science to NASCAR. Those races should only be ten laps in length. Other than that, it's just a bunch of rednecks driving in a pack in a circle. It's not really racing so much as driving.

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 8.

    You don't seem to mention that Mrs Wolff is married to a major shareholder at Williams, her DTM record isn't stellar and that at 30, she's stretching the definition of young driver. I'm totally for F1 drivers of either gender, but preferably ones that get there on talent rather than who they know / how much cash they bring / who they are married to. This is a problem that is by no means gender related - several members of the current grid are taking up slots that more talented drivers with fewer connections / less sponsorship should really be occupying.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 9.

    Hopefully there will be another female F1 driver in the not too distant future, I don't buy any of this rubbish about 'women not being capable'. However, because I am cynical, I fear that this is most likely to be more about the marketing opportunity that it will afford her team/backers, rather than her talent as a racing driver. Of course, marketing and money overriding merit is nothing new in motor racing and I'm sure it's just a mater of time until there are women being successful in F1.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 10.

    You're there sweetie because your hubby is a major shareholder in the company...and don't kid yourself otherwise.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 11.

    Susie Wolff drove in DTM from 2006 to 2012. 73 Starts. 0 Wins. 0 Poles. 0 Fastest Laps. Highest place finish? - 13th in 2010. If all that isn't enough to convince you that she has no place in F1 ask yourself this. Would a 30 year old man with that track record be let anywhere near an F1 car? He’d be lucky to be hired as a polisher.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 12.

    Beitske Visser is from Dutch origin and not Danish as mentioned in the report

    From Christian

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 13.

    In reply to post 7, it's a good thing then that Danica Patrick has been successful on street and tracks in Indycar as well as ovals.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 14.

    S_P_R
    I agree, Patrick has enjoyed success in open wheel cars. I just don't think NASCAR is a launching point for F1. Even in IndyCar, I believe the cars are all made by the same company. Whereas F1 teams build their own cars. How would Patrick drive a car that is built for Alonso, or Hamilton?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 15.

    Looking at how Barichello did in his first season in Indycar last year, I think Patrick in a Ferrari or Merc F1 car would do ok, not on Alonso and Hamiltons pace - they are the best in the world and have vast F1 car experience, but I think she would be top ten.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 16.

    I agree with #11 pedelibero. We are talking about S. Wolff because of her husband's relationship to Williams and Mercedes. I am sure there are more qualified female drivers with better track record! She probably made it to DTM for the same reason which means she took away the chances of another more qualified driver, be it female or male. In an ideal world it should be purely based on merit and not gender, connections, etc.. But I suppose we don't live in an ideal world.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 17.

    Sir Stirling seems to forget that his sister was quite competitive in pro rallying, certainly not the safest of endeavors.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 18.

    Susie should be given the chance, she's beaten enough male teammates and ex-F1 big names in DTM. Her Williams lap times were competitive.

    Unfortunately with limited testing and running it's even less likely to happen nowadays.

    F1 should make more effort to showcase new drivers, male and female, say on GP Fridays. Even better make it more entertaining such as 4 shootouts a year for new drivers on GP Fridays that the teams have to provide cars for, say a twenty lap race with a reverse constructors position grid. Susie would more than hold her own then.

    She unluckily doesn't come with big company sponsor backing or country sponsorship like say Bruno or Pastor, but being a woman F1 driver will bring massive PR and media with it so Bernie should provide the pennies. Why not use it to her advantage like Danica has.

    Susie could race hard wheel to wheel against the men, not bad for a bit of 'crumpet' eh Mossy!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 19.

    Possibly said already but the new Red Bull girl is from Holland not Denmark.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 20.

    I have no problem with women in F1. I am not sure that Mrs Wolf is good enough though. I suspect she is there because of her husbands connections. As for Sir Stirling, I am afraid his comments represent the views of an increasingly old fool. He was great once but that time is long since passed.

 

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