With toy cars and racecar beds advertised only to young boys for decades, it’s no wonder that many people think the professional sport of racing is only for men. Though the sport is open to both men and women, it is rare to find a woman behind the wheel or behind the scenes in the world of racing.
Formula One, a class of auto racing, has been known as a man’s sport for years, according to The New York Times. Though there are women involved in the sport, there are not very many of them. The last time a woman even participated in a grand prix race was 40 years ago, and she was one out of just six girls to ever do so.
According to The New York Times, “Racing is a numbers game. Thousands of children around the world take up karting each year, and as the boys and girls climb the career ladder, there are only 20 drivers at the top of the international single-seater racing pyramid in Formula One, making success difficult for either sex.”
Surprisingly, when racing first became recognized as a sport, it was much less rare to see women competing in Formula One.
Back then, female racers participated in advertisements for cars and racing-related companies so often that people could easily associate the sport with both genders. “Motor racing as a pastime for the upper classes led to a small coterie of successful female racers in the 1920s and 1930s,” states The New York Times. Today, however, since people, including potential future female racecar drivers, do not see as many female racers, they do not think about women in the field.
Michèle Mouton, a former World Rally Championship driver and president of the International Automobile Federation’s Women in Motorsport Commission, says, “We need to promote more in all areas, then we’ll have more women involved in all areas of motorsport, including competition.”
Of course, because there are so few women participating in Formula One, it can be difficult to find promoters. Fortunately, “The sport has its eyes on Colombia’s Tatiana Calderón, 24, who is … a development driver for the Sauber Formula One team; and Marta Garcia, 16, now in her first season of single-seater racing with MP Motorsport in the Spanish Formula 4 national championship.”
There are also other women who make Formula One and grand prix racing possible, such as Monisha Kaltenborn, Claire Williams, Ruth Buscombe, Bernadette Collins, and Marga Torres Diez, for instance. If people knew of all the work these women do to further the sport, they would know for a fact that Formula One is not just for men.
Susie Wolff, racing driver and founder of Dare to Be Different, an organization which aims to halt such damaging preconceptions and inspire girls to be different from their assumed roles in society, agrees that it is important for the sport to inform young girls that racing is not just for boys.
“It’s about opening up the different disciplines, so that these young girls understand that this preconception that motorsport is just for boys is wrong. There are many successful women [in racing],” Wolff says.
Hopefully, with these inspirational role models made more available to them, girls who begin to show an interest in karting at a young age will stick with their hobby and maybe even choose to make careers out of it. Who knows, one of those girls might even go on to break the 40-year-old absence of women in the grand prix races.
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