OPINION: A Look At The Status of Women in Motorsport

In a male dominated world and a male dominated industry, ATRL’s María Fernanda Noceda highlights how despite the progress, there is still a long way to go for women to be comfortable and accepted in motorsports.

Written by María Fernanda Noceda

March 8, 2024

Despite there being no country on Earth where women are not allowed to drive, it is still difficult to find women competing in top levels of motorsports. More Than Equal’s research into this gender gap identified significant factors contributing to this, including lack of track time, lack of funding and sponsorships, lack of training specific to female drivers, and prejudice against their abilities. That’s why programs like Girls On Track and series like F1 Academy are important – and often face backlash from the motorsports community.

 

Last month, F1 Academy announced they were partnering with makeup brand Charlotte Tilbury for the 2024 season, founded on a closely shared purpose to empower, inspire confidence, and encourage young women to chase their dreams. The brand would be designing a car livery and be listed as an Official Partner of the series, similar to Tommy Hilfiger. But the general public had a lot to say on the matter.

F1 Academy Managing Director Susie Wolff and Charlotte Tilbury announcing the Official Partnership (Photo via @F1Academy on Instagram)

As Noelle Faulkner wrote about the public’s comments for Harper’s Bazaar, “…all you need to know is that they called it stupid, unserious, they said women shouldn’t wear or celebrate makeup, it’s slutty (??), makeup has no place in motorsport (this one’s hilarious when you start to dig into F1’s shady sponsors), and, well, you can imagine the rest.” It’s important to note the announcement of Tommy Hilfiger also being an Official Partner and designing a livery did not face the same response.

 

While this backlash is in the digital world, the hostility many in motorsport still show against women often becomes an issue in the real world. Over the past few years all the harassment female motorsport fans have been suffering over the Grand Prix weekends on track has been amplified, and the sport has failed to give a clear solution to the issue despite the active threat paying fans face for watching a sport live as a result of their inaction. 

 

Further in the paddock, at the end of last month we learnt that Red Bull Racing Team Principal, Christian Horner, was being investigated for inappropriate behavior towards an employee. After a series of investigations and an unverified public release of the evidence against Horner (including inappropriate images), the charges against him were dismissed. Furthermore, on March 7th, it was announced that the female employee who accused Horner of alleged “inappropriate behavior” has been suspended by Red Bull. 

Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner in Bahrain (Photo via motorsport.com)

The response from the Formula 1 community regarding the way this investigation has been handled has highlighted an environment with lack of support for women who might face similar situations. Many key individuals and top drivers around the F1 paddock are refusing to comment on the situation, calling it “noise and distraction“, and even going as far as to crack jokes about the situation with statements like “I just like driving cars” and “if people read those things, then it’s a good thing for the media, right?”. The FIA president was primarily concerned about the “damage” this investigation will do to F1’s image. The media is continuing to report on this situation without empathy and tact, asking questions like “Can the deteriorating atmosphere at Red Bull be beneficial for you?” as if we weren’t talking about someone’s life and livelihood.

 

Many others have repeatedly called for transparency into the investigation, including seven-time world champion Sir Lewis Hamilton, team principles Mercedes Toto Wolff and Williams James Vowles and McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown. ⁣Hamilton went on to say, “It’s a really, really important time for the sport to show and stick to its values, hold ourselves accountable for our actions, and it’s a really, really pivotal moment for the sport in terms of what we project to the world and how it’s handled.”

As a female fan, it’s really disappointing to see how leaders in this sport claim to support women but continue to show hostility and indifference to the treatment of the women around them, especially when women represent a huge part of its following and each team has many women employees.

 

We need to make this sport more accepting, supporting and, above all, safe for everyone. That’s why we are highlighting International Women’s Day, which has been, and still is, a day to commemorate the fight that women have done to have the rights that we have today. We are taking this day to show how women keep on fighting to be seen as individuals, to highlight and speak up about these issues in a sport that belongs to all – not just men.

 

Women are part of the sport. We are women working on track, in the garage, in the media, in leadership positions, on the grandstands and online. We are part of the conversation and we cannot be silenced. It’s important for us to let our voices be heard because as Lewis Hamilton says, “All it takes is all of us”.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

F1 has always been part of Mar’s life, but she got interested in motorsports more seriously over the last few years. Her favorite series are Formula E, Indy and Formula 1, but can also be found watching endurance and the feeder series. When not watching any motorsports she enjoys watching other sports, going to concerts or travelling.

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