B Baker examines the role of women in the male-dominated world of motorsport
In the past decade, there has been a surge of women participating in motorsports, pushing boundaries and challenging stereotypes. While women’s involvement in motorsports dates back to as early as 1903 with Camille du Gast becoming the first woman to consistently compete in motor races, the number of women participating in motorsports was extremely low. However, with more women breaking the barriers and proving their mettle, it is evident that women are truly making their presence felt in the sport.
One woman who has made her mark on motorsports is Danica Patrick, who was the first woman to win a major-league open-wheel race (she won in the Indy Japan 300 in 2008) against a male field. Throughout her career, Danica not only proved that women could compete with men on the track, but also inspired a new generation of female drivers to follow their dreams.
"Women are truly making their presence felt in motorsport"
Another notable woman in motorsports is Katherine Legge, who has been involved in a range of motorsports including rallying, single seater formula cars, and endurance racing. In 2018, Legge became the first full-time female race driver in a factory IMSA GT Daytona program. Her inclusion not only highlighted the need for diversity within the sport but also provided an opportunity to showcase her talents.
Similarly, Simona de Silvestro, who has competed in the IndyCar Series and the Australian Supercars championship, has demonstrated her potential and helped break down barriers in motorsport. In 2019, she became the first full-time female driver in the Supercars Championship in over 30 years.
"Role model, Hannah Schmitz is head strategist at Oracle Red Bull Racing"
But, of course, driving isn’t the only career in motorsport. In fact, the driver is just one cog in a much larger machine, every single highly skilled team member plays a crucial part in the team. Roles range from the deeply technical, such as engineering and software development, to the business-focused, such as marketing, finance and legal. An example of a distinguished woman in this side of motorsport is role model Hannah Schmitz, she is currently the head strategist at one of the foremost teams in the sport, Oracle Red Bull Racing. Her decisions are so meticulous they prevail over others, and many say she is one of the best if not the best strategist on the grid.
These women and many others have continued to break barriers and fuel the conversation about increasing diversity in motorsports. Despite the progress made, there is still a long way to go in making the sport more inclusive, especially for women.
"Many talented female drivers often struggle to gain sponsorship"
One of the main obstacles that women face in the motorsport industry is a lack of funding and sponsors. Many talented female drivers often struggle to secure funding and backing, limiting their chances of making it to the top. In addition, the male-dominated environment of the sport can also make it challenging for women to break through and be taken seriously.
So, where do women race? Extreme E’s unique sporting format has a 50-50 gender split between men and women, while W Series, with its all-female grid, provides 18 full time seats. However, there are also women that race in the Formula series, specifically Formula 2 and Formula 3. In recent history there have been very few women who have entered a Formula 1 race weekend, for example Susie Wolff became the first woman to compete in a Formula 1 race weekend for 22 years by participating in practice at the British Grand Prix (Silverstone) in 2014, but in spite of that there has yet to be another women that has participated in a Formula 1 race weekend since.
The participation of women in the motorsport industry has evolved over the years, and we are now in a position to celebrate the contributions of these incredible women. With more women breaking the barriers and entering the sport, it is a sure sign that things are moving in the right direction. Nonetheless, there is still a need for greater representation and opportunities for women, both on the track and in leadership roles, to continue making strides towards increased diversity and equality in the sport.
Main picture: British Superbike