Why is there a lack of Female Drivers in F1?
The announcement by Williams that their new development driver is going to be Susie Wollf , and that Susie will drive in two practice sessions in Grand Prix’s this year, means that she is about to become the first women to take part in a Grand Prix race weekend for over 20 years.
The question is though, why has there been only five women drivers in the 62 year history of the Formula One championship, compared to 822 male drivers?
Some may consider that it is harder for female driver to enter the world of F1, but that is not the case. There are thousands of young male drivers out there all trying to break into the sport, but with only 24 seats available on the grid, and with only one or two of those seats becoming available each season, it is easy to see why F1 is so hard to get into for both male and females alike.
The problem for female drivers though, is that they are at the moment a very small minority compared to the thousands of male drivers all fighting for a seat in an F1 car. So it is not surprising that female drivers are going to find it harder than male drivers to win a seat.
Susie Wollf also commented on the fact that one of the main reasons that there is only a small number of girl racers, compared to the large numbers of male racers is that “young girls have no one to aspire to when growing up, whereas young boys can grow up wanting to be Sebastian Vettel”.
When asked about being a female driver in a male dominated sport Wollf replied “Being a female in a man’s world is sometimes tough” and “you just have to work harder”.
There have been female drivers in F1 before, and although they competed against great drivers of their time, their results were not that great. The thing we need to remember is that whether a driver is male or female they are going to be judged on their ability to score points for their team, and how many podiums they get to stand on.
Maria Teressa de Filippis competed in five races between 1958 – 1969, but had only 3 starts and did not score any points at all.
The last female driver to score points was Lella Lombardi who competed in 17 races between 1974 – 1976. Although the most successful female driver to date, Lombardi only managed to rack up 0.5 points.
We can’t leave this list of female drivers without also mentioning Divina Galica who between 1976 – 1978 entered 3 races, but did not qualify to compete in any of them. This was also the case for Giovanna Amati in 1992, and Desire Wilson in 1980 who only had one race entry where she also failed to qualify.
One excuse people try to use as to why there is a lack of female drivers is that women are not strong enough to cope with the demands of driving a F1 car. However Dr Riccardo Ceccarelli, who gives medical support to both Lotus and Toro Rosso F1 teams said that “strength is not as important in F1 as many people think”.
Ceccarelli went on to state that “Yes, you do need the strong muscles in the neck and upper body so you can have the energy to drive without tiredness, but once you reach a certain level there’s no more benefit. There is no point putting on extra muscle.”
“Endurance training rather than weight training, then becomes the key. The heart will become bigger, which pumps more blood to the brain. That in turn improves the efficiency of the brain and improves the driver’s ability to perform all the tasks he needs to perform in the cockpit”.
He also added that their research shows that “to achieve optimum in training, a driver needs to spend just 30% of their time on physical training and the other 70% on brain training. If you can train the brain to be more efficient, it’s easier to multi-task, and that will make the bigger difference in terms of performance.”
Using a lack of strength as a reason why women have not been, or will not be able to compete alongside men in Formula One, is obviously not as cut and dried as many may think. A more realistic reason why female F1 drivers have not been successful in the past is probably down to having a car that simply was not good enough, and having a less supportive team.
As mentioned earlier, five of the female drivers that had a chance in F1 in the past, three of them failed to qualify for a single race.
Giovanna Amati failed to qualify in a Brabham in three races in 1992. Later the same year, Damon Hill also struggled to qualify in the same car. In 1975 Lella Lombardi became the only women to score points in a race, even if it was just 0.5 points because the race was stopped.
Having a less than fully supporting team to drive for is possibly another factor in why these earlier female drivers struggled to break into F1 fully. Although Lombardi went on to enter another 14 races, four other female drivers were only given less than 3 races to adapt to F1. For anyone, whether male or female, surely need far more than 3 races when stepping up to Formula One.
So will we ever see a female driver in Formula One competing alongside the men?
Wollf reckons we will within the next decade, but I am not so sure she is right. Although the evidence is there to prove that females have the mental and physical ability to race F1 cars, there are still real reasons why we will not see female drivers in F1.
We are already seeing established, and proven male drivers finding it hard to get a seat from season to season. We are also seeing, unfortunately, drivers being able to win seats if they can bring enough sponsorship money with them as part of any contract deal.
With the hundreds of millions of dollars it now takes for a F1 team to survive in the sport from season to season, the team that gives a seat to a female driver is going to have to take a huge leap of faith. Harder still, is they are also going to have to convince their sponsors that a rookie female driver can make the grade.
I would like to see women competing alongside men in Formula One, as it is probably one of the few sports that men and women can compete alongside each other, without having to have separate male and female events. Not only that, but the playing field, or should we say race track, would be even, regardless of whether a driver is male or female.
The big question is though, what do you think?
Leave us a comment below giving your own thoughts on women drivers in F1.