Ex umbra in solem – Women in motor racing Part I

Brought to you by TJ13 contributor Danilo Schöneberg

This will be a three part series exploring the arguments for women in motorsport and in particular, Formula 1. Part I looks barriers to women entering Formula 1. In part II we’ll look at some examples of women who have disproved negative comments in just about all areas of motor sports except F1. In Part III, we’ll look at who could be the first girl to finally make it onto the big stage.

Sir Stirling Moss © Frank BarnardWhen it comes to racing heroes, there are a few who always seemed untouched by scandal and controversy. One of them was Sir Sterling Moss. I’m using the word ‘was’ deliberately here, because some of the things he said recently can only mean that either senility has taken him to the night or he is still stuck in a view on the world that went out of fashion a century ago.

This is what the universally revered gentleman had to say: ‘We’ve got some very strong and robust ladies, but, when your life is at risk, I think the strain of that in a competitive situation will tell when you’re trying to win. 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 the aptitude to win a Formula One race.’

This clearly is a viewpoint from a time when young men in leather caps and t-shirts raced front-engined monsters on cookie cutter tyres through the woods around Bremgarten, and at the end of the season at least two of them were dead. A time when men thought that if their wives looked out of the kitchen window it meant that the leash was too long.

But in defence of of Sir Sterling Moss – however backward his views might be – he at least put the topic back on the table, and among all this ‘tyresome’ squabbling about unsuitable Pirellis and illegal tests, it is good to complain about something else for a change.

LewisHamilton © McLarenBack in the late eighties, a certain Bernard Charles Ecclestone said that F1 needed three things – a woman, a black guy and a German. Two of those things would come in the next 20 years.

F1 got more Germans than it bargained for, especially the one from Kerpen, and Lewis Hamilton seems to have quite a healthy tan, so that part of Bernie’s wishes came true as well. What is missing from the list is the lady driver, and if we were to believe Sir Sterling, with good reason.

But is he really right? Is the lack of women drivers really down to mental stress intolerance?

The biological view

On paper there is little that men can do and women can’t. Peeing standing up in a practical fashion is one thing, but that certainly isn’t a criterion for entering F1. Then there is a certain bodily problem that men don’t have once a month, but unless they are suffering from dysmenorrhea, women have learned to deal with that just fine.

Enter stage left the age old myth that women aren’t physically strong enough or lack the stamina to get the job done.

The last time I watched the Olympics, I saw women running a marathon, so I’d hazard a guess that we can throw the stamina argument out of the window right away. If women are capable of running for more than two hours in the summer heat, then driving a car very fast surely shouldn’t be that difficult from a stamina point of view.

Russia's Tatiana Kashirina competes in the women's +75kg group A snatch weightlifting competition at the ExCel venue during the London 2012 Olympic Games © ReutersWhat about strength? Again, at the Olympics I saw women shot-putting and weightlifting. The current world record for a 48kg woman is 98 kg. in the snatch discipline, and 121 kg. in the clean-and-jerk – a 48 kg girl!! If a pint sized lady can lift the equivalent of 4 sacks of cement, I bet a woman of 60kg can turn a steering wheel and press a brake pedal.

Some will say, ‘But look at her! She’s practically quadratic.’ To that I answer: ‘Who cares?’

Have you ever seen a female cyclist? A sprinter like Ina Yoko Teutenberg, perhaps? They have huge legs and, frankly, that probably rules out a catwalk job with Victoria’s Secret, but that’s not what they built up these muscles for. They wanted to be a cyclist.

As a racing driver the most important muscles are neck muscles, because they have to keep the head where it belongs under the influence of severe G-forces. So, if a girl wants to be an F1 driver, she can live with the 22-inch neck, and it honestly doesn’t look as freakish as people make us believe.

So, from a biological and physiological point of view there is simply nothing that suggests that women couldn’t compete in F1. In fact, with their generally smaller frame they may even be better suited to it than men.

The mental view

The main argument of Sir Sterling Moss was an alleged lack of tolerance toward stress and pressure that prevents women from competing at the big stage. I call bovine excrement.

Few things are more stressful than giving birth to a child and carrying the bugger around inside you for 9 months beforehand. For obvious reasons, we men are completely hopeless at that unless your name is Charles Tucker III and you stick your fingers into a bowl of rocks on a Xyrillian spaceship.

Women can handle this most stressful of biological processes. It’s not a question of mental capabilities either. My ex-girlfriend could iron her shirts, watch some useless soap on TV and gossip with her lady friends on the phone – all at the same time.

I’m out of my depth trying to have a beer and a fag at the same time, which is why I all too often dump my ash into the glass and then pour the blond stuff into the ashtray.

Maj. Shawna R. Kimbrell © US Air ForceWomen serve as fighter pilots in war zones, as astronauts on dangerous missions, and as paramedics dealing with the gory aftermath of horrendous motorway pile-ups. Does anyone seriously believe they couldn’t handle a scrawny Spaniard in a Fiat harassing them down Hangar Straight?

So why…?

Why do women not make it to F1 then?

First of all, a lot less girls take up karting, and not everyone who starts out racing karts is a future F1 prospect. With only 33 seats – including test driver spots – available, the percentage of those, who ever reach F1 is very small.

And since the female contingent is very small to begin with, the chances are almost nil, although it’s not for lack of trying. Especially the current generation of girls is blessed with several ladies whom, if I were a team boss of a F1 outfit, I would sign up for at least a test, without second thoughts.

Beiske Visser © Beiske VisserThirteen years ago, I witnessed a 14-year-old girl administer a massive trouncing to a whole field of boys at the karting track at Oschersleben, on her way to clinching the European title. One of the boys she made look very ordinary that day would later become a Toro Rosso driver, Red Bull test driver, and, as of late, front wing delivery man.

Did that get her anywhere? Nope. She was never offered really competitive material after that. She climbed through the ranks, finishing in the top ten in Formula Renault and F3, including pole position and third place at the only ever F3 race on an Oval on the Eurospeedway, before going where you have to go if you want a shot at serious open-wheel racing as a girl – Americaland, where she delivered several top ten finishes, including a fine fourth at Mid Ohio in the Indy Lights, driving for an underfunded team.

Since then, she’s stuck with the odd sportscar gig on the Nordschleife and at Le Mans, but that’s it.

Danica_Patrick_Indy_500 © Planetc1.comThere’s the dilemma: nobody ever dares to give a talented girl top material. Only one man did – Michael Andretti. Over the course of four seasons he got a win, six further podium positions, 17 top five finishes, and a fifth in the championship in return. The lady in question was snatched up by NASCAR and is therefore lost to the open-wheel world.

To be continued… Part II – Women that have disproved Sir Stirling Moss’ comments

42 responses to “Ex umbra in solem – Women in motor racing Part I

  1. First of all, thanks for another well written article Danilo.

    However, there is one thing on which you could have done with some more research rather than following the popular, women-friendly view on things, and that is the ‘maternity instict’ that as of the age of 20 becomes the dominating factor in the decision-making and thus risk-taking process of the big majority of women. This ‘maternity instict’ is not a physiological reason, but it IS a ‘biological predestination’ that makes it a lot more difficult, if not impossible for the typical women to make it into F1. Don’t get me wrong, I do think that sooner or later a woman will make it into F1 and will do well, but she will only be able to do so provided that she is an atypical female species that is not feeling this ‘maternity instinct’ that – as Ferrari’s young driver academy manager Luca Baldisserri puts it in the below video (see as of minute 29 but especially as of minute 31) – will always make you lift off when approaching a fast corner…

    • Sorry, BDP, but I think that’s a load of baloney. They also say that a male driver goes a second slower as soon as he becomes a father. I’ve never seen that happen to Schumacher and he’s got more than one kid. Also Berger didn’t go any slower once he was a dad.
      Wouldn’t that ‘maternity instinct’ prevent women from giving it their all in a fighter plane over enemy territory? And there are so many female pilots, they can’t all be atypical.
      And frankly, listening to an Italian talking about women? That is laughable at best. In European comparison their machismo is off the scale.
      Why do you think Red Bull just signed up the first girl to their young drivers program? because she’s shying away from corners?
      This whole thing about why women can’t make it is a load of baloney spred by guys, who think that women should stay at home cooking noodles and pumping out babies. You’ll find them in the most terrifying jobs in the world, why should F1 racing be an exception? That’s simply ridiculous.

      • You are of course entitled to your own opinion which as it turns out never seems subject to reconsideration despite the scientific evidence, but Baldisserri’s job is to assess young male and female drivers so I would think that he knows what he is talking about.

        And it’s very tempting but I will not comment on your generalization of Italians…:-)

        • Of course there are non-macho Italians, but the do have a very unflattering image in Europe 😉
          My opinion is of course open to reconsideration, but it is a fact that most European teams manage to find female talent, while Ferrari strangely fails to do so.
          Mercedes picked up a certain Suzie Wolff, who drove a 2 year old car to 7th, beating a certain David Coulthard in a one year old car in the process. Red Bull have signed a girl and you don’t get into the RB drivers program by winning the lottery. As my second part of the article will showm women have won almost everything except F1, so unless F1 is some sort of witchcraft, there is nothing to suggest that why women should be unsuitable for it.
          BTW: Luca Baldisseri is an engineer. I would go as far as to say that this isn’t the ultimate qualification to assess driver talent. Wouldn’t a former driver be more suited for that job?

          • My point was not that there is no talented female drivers or that a female driver will never successfully make it into F1 (also Luca B is convinced that it is just a matter of time), my point was that in your article you do not mention this extra hurdle that female drivers have to take, their ability to give birth is of course not a weakness sensu stricto but it is a true disadvantage to become a racing driver. To the contrary, in your article you seem to suggest that their ability to give birth (and multitask) is an additional asset to become a racing driver, and that is the thing I’m somewhat struggling with: you present their extra hurdle as an extra asset..

          • I present it as an extra asset, because I think it is. When it comes to mentally focusing on something, women beat us into the middle of next week.
            They have bodily ‘problems’ that we men thankfully don’t have (we’d be staging the ‘dying swan’ once every month). Yet they manage to do the same job as their male counterparts in almost all areas of life.
            Many people, who think that women are too inferior to men for certain jobs completely ignore that except for F1, the ladies already are everywhere.

          • Well, i appreciate you starting to use the words ‘I think’! All of us that are on this site for a longer time are here to learn from each other or to get a different perspective on things, we are all more than sufficiently F1-knowledgable to be able to preach wisdow if we wanted to, but we are all well beyond that point and history will tell you that the few people that have been trying to do simply that haven’t lasted long here, TJ will refer to them as our lost friends…

            That being said, I ‘think’ that you can find your explanation for why there aren’t (m)any woman in F1 by looking at the relative female representation in other jobs that put your physical integrity in potential danger, but then again, that’s just my humble opinion…:-)

          • I do not know the reasons Ferrari doesn’t take on any women in their Academy, but it may have something to do with the fact that Ferrari doesn’t operate like other teams do.
            They had Perez in their system and yet declared that he wasn’t ready for the main team. They operate in the same manner with engineer recruitment.
            Whether you believe it right or wrong, they use the power of their brand to sign up established engineers.

            Since Villeneuve was signed in the latter part of the 1977 season, Ferrari have never employed a rookie driver. In fact, the only driver that drove for them for at least a season with minimal experience was Alesi. I don’t include Larini or Morbidelli as they were test drivers standing in.

            If you want to state RBR as an example, bear in mind that Buemi and Algersuari had 2 seasons with the Toro Rosso outfit before being dropped. Ricciardo and Vergne are in a similar high pressure enviroment.
            Red Bull also function in a very different way because ultimately it’s about advertising to a select group, they are not in the sport for the love of it.

            Even Bernie’s comments of needing a German, black guy and woman was said because of the money that would bring in to the sport.
            He’s a contemporary of Moss, but understands the dollar better than most.

            As to the examples you made of different athletes, the top 10 times in history for the mens marathons go from 2h03.38 to 2h4.40, whereas the female runners have recorded 2h15.25 to 2h19.36

            In weight lifting, the lowest class for men is 56kgs and the record for snatch is 137kgs, and the clean and jerk is 168kgs.
            The only true comparison with these disciplines is found at the 69kgs class.
            Men: S is 165kgs and C&J is 196kgs.
            Women: S is 128kgs and C&J is 158kgs.

            In golf they use different tees to the men. Tennis? Would you even imagine a Williams sister getting close to a Federer, a Dojkovic or a Murray? Look at their serving speeds.
            100 metres? Men is 9.58 whereas the women is 10.49. So Usain Bolt is a freak of nature? But the next 9 fastest men of all time are under 10 seconds.

            I do not doubt that women could compete in F1, but I don’t believe it’s as clear cut as just opportunity.

          • I believe opportunity is better than ever. Find a sponsor who wants to appeal to a female market, and a female driver will be in an F1 seat, regardless of absolute performance compared to other similar or better wannabe F1 male drivers.

          • You make some good points. The examples I gave weren’t constructed to draw a comparison between men and women. Yes, women lift less than men and they run a bit slower, but they have the stamina to run a marathon and they have the power to lift more than twice their own body weight.
            The ladies have been relatively successful in Indycars. That are cars, that in comparison to F1’s have no power steering and generate more G when blasting through a corner in an oval at full pelt. The also run 3 hour races at Indy as opposed to the 1.5 hour F1 races. In my opinion F1 isn’t a rather less demanding activity these days. I think Fernando Alonso in Malaysia 2003 was the last time we’ve seen a driver getting out of the cockpit exhausted. This year they all climb out and look as if they came straight out of a shampoo ad.

      • “listening to an Italian talking about women? That is laughable at best. In European comparison their machismo is off the scale”

        Really Danilo? Generalization on your to do list?
        Sorry man, i’m not a fan of the pedantic tone in your posts, you might have been a moderator on another site, you’re not one here, so get of your high horse.
        But i get the feeling there’s no love lost between us, and that’s just fine with me.

        • I don’t think I’m on a high horse enzo. And please don’t take this as nationalism. When it comes to humour, I wouldn’t ask a German for advice. If it comes to cooking, ask the Italian, not the Brit. And if you need a good wine, buy it in France, not in Portugal. It’s a few stereotypes that people have made for themselves in Europe and surprisingly often they even prove to be true, but that doesn’t mean they are universal.There are funny Germans and there are very brilliant cooks in Blighty, but still most Germans are as funny as a cramp in the leg and most of British cuisine is, well, different. Hope you understand what I mean 😉

          • Nope, i’m not buying it.
            No problem Danilo, i can still enjoy this site without reading or commenting on your posts.

          • If that little quip really hurt you so much, please accept my apology. I’ve got several friends in Italy. I thought the times when people would get offended by joking stereotypes were over. 🙁
            I don’t know if you read Jeremy Clarckson’s columns in The Times. He makes fun of his own people and he loves getting digs in at the Germans, French the Italians and especially the Spaniards. I was labouring under the impression that the days of getting offended by some satirical references were over.

          • @CTP,

            If i remember correctly, you’ve made this comment after Hero_was_Senna and I said something about Alonso’s qualities.

            OMG, two of the three Ferrari fanbois think Alonso is super! Wake me up when you have something interesting to say… Cavallinorampamye is late to your little Circle jerk today, huh?
            CTP said this on May 22, 2013 at 15:42

            So please gentleman, let it rest.

          • Clarkson makes fun of everybody – that doesn’t mean everybody finds him funny… 😉

        • “I thought the times when people would get offended by joking stereotypes were over.”

          Rumour has it, some of the female drivers competing in the Indy 500 had built-in navigation on board to find their way around the track.”
          enzomaiorca said this on June 1, 2013 at 14:09

          Quite frankly, that’s not funny…
          Danilo Schöneberg said this on June 1, 2013 at 17:23

          Right…..just let it rest.

      • I met Nigel Mansell at Silverstone test days on a number of occasions. He always had his wife and 2 young sons there too, one born in 1985 and the other 1987. It didn’t slow “Il Leone” down any..

        By the way Danilo, it’s Stirling, not Sterling.

        As to the “machismo” of my brothers, I won’t even go down that route. It’s obviously amusing to taint a whole race with a brush-stroke, but I remember people telling jokes at school about Italians in war.
        “How many gears does an Italian tank have? 6…. 1 forward and 5 reverse!”
        The laughter soon stopped when I reminded them of the Romans.

        • +1

          Hey my English brothers queue and take their turn happily – for everything….

          Listen, let’s remember TJ13 is no respecter of nationality, driver or team.

          We give all our F1 heroes grief when they are being ridiculous. We use stereotypes for fun, but no offence is intended.

          Like I said previously, let use rhetoric like , ‘it appears that’, maybe it is the case…”, “could it be”…

          Phrases like “Everyone knows..”, “I think…” and “Italians are all studs and steal our English girls” really are just daft and not clever.

          By the way, I stole a couple of Italian girls back in the day from their local village studs with my international panache and style (or maybe they were bored with life’s routine) … but that’s another tale.. actually in a book already published 🙂

          I love Italy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

          BTW. Hint, JA to RB – sightings…..

          • I was one of those studs TJ!!
            I came to England to conquer like my Roman ancestors. As to my secret, they all love the Italian tongue 😉

          • Indeed. I agree. My experience is that my Italians friends are most verbose…. talk a lot of Red Bull, but are most engaging in the process 😀

        • Luca B. is really only talking about female drivers and their ‘maternity instinct limitation’, he is not suggesting that something similar applies to male drivers with newborns or growing-up children. In the interview you can see that PW is somewhat shocked by Baldisserri’s comments which are of course somewhat sexist but definitely not intended to be offensive. As a matter of fact, PW’s reaction was a great memotechnique to remember Baldisserri’s pov on female drivers 🙂

  2. May I submit a counter argument Danilo. I have no doubt that women can drive Formula1 cars. How competitively I dont know though.

    My argument is this, have Formula1 become so watered down from what it used to be? A battle to beat death at its own game while taming an untameable beast?

    Formula1 cars of nowadays are so refined and even though you are exposed to massive G-forces when cornering or braking I would put a wager on that they are much easier to drive than the cars of the past.

    Technology does go forward and cars do become better but are we not taking away from Formula1 exactly what we all want to see from it… the best and strongest fighting for the win? (minus the tyres)

    • That’s debatable. I think one of the scariest times in F1 were the 70s, when aerodynamics were still witchcraft, but that didn’t stop teams from putting huge beer trays on their cars. Incidentally that’s the only time in F1 history that a woman managed a point scoring finish in F1.
      Today it is all about precision. Miss the apex by a few inches and your lap is shot. Car’s don’t require a weapon’s permit anymore, but the mental strain on drivers is much higher as you need to keep up maximum concentration for a long time. And that’s where the lady folk easily beat us into the middle of next week.

      • Speaking as someone who has raced cycles competitively at a fairly high level, and as someone who has worked professionally in a career that is entirely performance based,my own experience is that I have seen women succeed and fail at all levels, just as men do. The last time this debate hotted up, I took a picture of a magazine cover that I felt laid the whole debate to rest. I don’t know if I can post the image in comments, but if you’d like it for your article just reply and I will email it to you.

        In the meantime a little history for those who are convinced the “maternal instinct” or ny other such nonsense would prevent women from racing a car at ten tenths.


    • Wow. TJ13 been very busy for 24 hours and the court has gone crazy…

      Better to ask questions like ‘is it’, OR ‘could it be’ rather than use dogmatic rhetoric people….

      On women in F1, my opinion is not sexist at all, because driving in F1 is not about merit anyway for the new entrants.

      He/She who has the cash gets the drive and this should facilitate a female driver ahead of worthy males with less moula.

      However, re: sexism, Mrs. Judge is more than adept at many things in a mans world and better than most blokes I know in business, yet she still looks best in heels…

      Square the circle….

      • I hear you judge, especially when those heels are fixed to leather boots I find.
        As to the cape and mortar board, well that is for after the watershed!

  3. A good article DS, although perhaps too much info on biology! Not sure that this is a place for discussion about menstruation.
    But nonetheless a good report into the”hurdles” for women in racing F1.
    I just hope there aren’t any ladies reading – they would be appalled by the sexism and crude remarks – ” bodily problems ” !!

    In the past there’s been a reluctance for women to race because of the dangers. I liken it to the front line in a war – not many chicks there. Now that F1 is safer with better technologies and track design features, there should be no hurdles in sending our women folk off to battle….!

    • DomVeto, the ‘bodily problem’ line isn’t mine. It came straight from a girl’s mouth. I don’t think my wording is in any way crude or sexist. If you think that is crude, you’d faint when hearing how girls themselves refer to the fact.

      • The point for debate isn’t whether you think you are crude and sexist but whether you are able to acknowledge that others might find you so. Maybe the girls of your acquaintance are equally crude and sexist… which hardly justifies your self-righteousness…

        • Sorry BJF, but self-righteousness isn’t an insinuation that I’m willing to let stand. I wouldn’t have spent the effort of writing a three-part article in favour of women in motorsport if I was sexist. Did you even understand what I’m trying to say in the first place.
          I don’t subscribe to the political correctness hysteria. I’m not a vertically challenged person. I don’t think my article was in any way crude or sexist. I handed it to three women for reading before I even sent it none of them had any objection and the women of my acquaintance aren’t particularly butch, so, sorry I don’t buy that argument. It looks like taking offense for the sake of being offended to me.

          • I wasn’t in any way personally offended…
            I rest my case…

    • Totally understand your point, but it could also be argued the opposite way; that Stirling’s (presumably) close knowledge and understanding of his remarkable sister and her abilities and achievements in rally cars gives him special insight which informs his opinions far greater than any of us.

      Then again, maybe he’s just talking about a, happily, bygone era in F1 where death truly did lurk at each corner…

  4. More importantly, who was the champion karting girl that trounced Buemi?

    There’s quite a few good female drivers about currently, so things are looking good in the long run.

  5. Pingback: Ex Umbra In Solem – Women in Motorsports – Part III | thejudge13·

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