Women In Formula 1: From Adversity to Diversity


Good news!

And no, it’s not that Mercedes’ exhaust trumpet was an utter failure.

For the first time in 22 years, a woman will be behind the wheel of a Formula 1 race car during a race weekend.

Susie Wolff has so far completed a number of laps for Williams in its FW36 during testing in Barcelona this week, reaching as high as fifth on the time sheets, yet she will also drive in a practice session at the British GP in two months.

When asked if a race seat at Williams in 2015 was on the agenda, Wolff has had this to say:

"It’s definitely too early to say. I’m a very proud part of this team and I have a great opportunity this year and I have to prove myself. I have to keep doing a good job, today was good, but the free practice sessions are my next focus. Of course, it’s the dream of every driver to be on the starting grid, but it’s a tough sport, it’s tough to get on that grid and there are many drivers trying. I’m just one of those drivers trying."

Though Wolff was hesitant to speculate whether or not a race seat was a possibility, her presence at this test and a future drive at Silverstone, bodes well for the Scot.

However, this recent celebration within Formula 1 has also achieved to emphasize that women drivers are currently a minority within the sport. But why is this still the case?

One way in which we can answer this question is through an understanding of the evolution of the sport itself. In its humble beginnings, Formula 1 was a ‘boys club’, and as the sport grew, it unfortunately did so around this unofficial gender exclusivity.

Sir Stirling Moss himself, a man who was at the forefront of Formula 1 in its early years, has recently said:

"I think [women] have the strength, but I don’t know if they’ve got the mental aptitude to race hard. The mental stress I think would be pretty difficult for a lady to deal with in a practical fashion. I just don’t think they have aptitude to win a Formula 1 race."

Though he is in no way a spokesman for Formula 1 today, Moss’ comments do give us an insight into the possible mentality of a man within the sport sixty years ago.

If faced with this adversity, it’s quite clear that it would have been hard for a woman to participate in Formula 1 in its early years, regardless of any talent that they may have possessed.

As the decades went by however, the struggle to compete continued; only seven women would actively participate in Formula 1 between 1958 and 2008. These numbers being a stark contrast to the thousands of men who also participated in that time frame.

This lack of representation of women within Formula 1 was obviously a concern to the FIA as in 2009 it created the Women in Motorsport campaign.

Through this campaign, the FIA has made it its mission:

"to support and accompany current female drivers; to encourage the participation of new young drivers and officials; to promote the involvement of women at all levels of motorsport and to highlight where women are successful thus strengthening their participation."

Since the Women in Motorsport’s inauguration we have seen three women climb into a Formula 1 race car (María de Villota, Susie Wolff, and Simona de Silvestro). This is almost half of the number of women who participated in Formula 1 between 1958 and 2008, and it has only taken 1/10 of the time to reach.

Though women are still a minority within Formula 1 regarding active participation, these numbers are, at the very least, an encouraging sign. With the help of a proactive FIA and its positive outlook on women in motorsports, gender exclusivity is fading away and in its place a more diverse world of Formula 1 is beginning to appear.