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.
When 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.
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.
What 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.
Women 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?
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.
Thirteen 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.
There’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