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The Rise of Women Motorsport Drivers

6th December 2019 Print

Our society is hugely influenced by sport. Be it football or motorsports, American football or golf, the viewing figures, as well as the prize funds and wages on offer, are huge. A prime example was Alexis Sanchez’s move to Manchester United. The transfer saw him pick up a weekly wage of £391,000, plus £75,000 if he starts a game. Elsewhere, November’s World Tour Championship Golf winner in Dubai in November nets $3 million.

However, there are many sports which are still hugely male dominated. While there are female teams available, the publicity and earning potential is nowhere near at the same level in many cases. Although viewing figures are rising, there’s still a long way to go to match the male equivalent. In the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015, held in Canada, viewing figures surged, with 2.4 million tuning in to see England lose to France. However, compare this to the 26.5 million viewers for England’s male team losing in the 2018 World Cup semi-final to Croatia. 

Darts saw women allowed to enter the previously men-only World Championships at Alexandra Palace in December 2018 though, showing that sports are beginning to integrate more where possible. Motorsports have also been a very male-dominated world, especially in Formula 1 and 24 Hours of Le Mans. However, that prominence could be starting to even out. In this article, Audi A6 dealer, Lookers explore how women are starting to take up more major roles in motorsports.

Formula 3

Like F1, Formula 3 is still male dominated. However, in August 2018, Jamie Chadwick became the first woman to win a British F3 race. It sees her added to a prestigious list of winners, which also includes Mika Häkkinen and Ayrton Senna. However, while Chadwick admits that she has sometimes struggled with the G-force and weight of steering, she says that this can’t be used as an excuse for females not to perform well in the sport.

She pointed out: “I just want to prove it's possible. I know when I drive my best, there is nothing stopping me from being one of the best and there is no reason why there wouldn't be the same case for girls coming through in karting to get the same opportunity in F3.”

Pit team

Pit teams across motorsport are starting to have more female staff members too. In NASCAR, two female tyre changers made history in February by becoming the first female pit crew members in the Daytona 500 as part of the Drive for Diversity project. This follows the McLaren team in F1 organising an all-female pit stop in July 2017’s Austrian Grand Prix. 

Test drivers

While only five female drivers have entered into an F1 race since its conception in the 1950s, there have been several test drivers. Williams signed Susie Wolff as a test driver for their vehicles in 2012, for instance, showing a willingness to get females involved in the predominantly male environment. She became the first female driver in 22 years to participate in a race weekend, when she took part in the first practice session at Silverstone. Williams later appointed Colombia’s Tatiana Calderón as a development driver for 2017, who went on to be promoted to test driver.

Wolff has since launched a programme to promote female drivers at grassroots level. Williams later appointed Colombia’s Tatiana Calderón as a development driver for 2017, who went on to be promoted to test driver.

W Series

This women-only series started this year. It’s been backed by some of Formula 1’s biggest names, including former champion David Coulthard and Red Bull’s design chief Adrian Newey. Newey, who has designed many of the vehicles to have won the F1 championship, doesn’t believe that women are, or should be, inferior in the sport. He said: “I believe the reason why so few women have so far raced successfully at the highest levels against men is a lack of opportunity rather than a lack of capability.”

The W Series will enable this opportunity and, in time, help men and women perform on an equal scale in F1. The six-race championship pits up to 20 of the world’s top female racing drivers against each other in identical cars. President of the Women in Motorsport Commission for governing body the FIA, Michèle Mouton, also backs the series, believing that it will allow a platform to be created to help propel women into the male-dominated competitions.  

24 Hours of Daytona 

In 2018, Audi entered an all-female team in the 24 Hours of Daytona event. They debuted their R8 LMS GT4 with Ashley Freiberg and Gosia Rdest teaming up behind the wheel. The decision to have female drivers wasn’t a new concept for the team either, as Michèle Mouton raced in the 1980s, while Rahel Frey was part of Audi Sport Team in 2017 as they finished third at the Nürburgring.  

All of the above shows that, while that is plenty work still to be done to make motorsports have a better standard of gender equality, huge strides are being made.