Tuesday 7 September 2010

Why the lack of real grid girls?

I spent last weekend at Brands Hatch doing my marshal thing at the DTM. Had a jolly good time thanks for asking.

One of DTM's distinguishing features (kind of) is that there are two female drivers on the grid, in the shape of Susie Stoddart and Katherine Legge. This reminded me of the question that is often asked of me (and others) by the uninitiated: why there are no female drivers in F1.

I have to say it's a good question. Historically there have been very few, only five in the history of the World Championship, and only two who have started a race.

Busting some myths

For one thing, I believe we can relatively quickly dismiss the Vitantonio Liuzzi claim that women aren't psychologically or physically equipped to take part in F1. The psychological claim can be dismissed out of hand, and I'm not convinced by the physical argument either. There are many female fighter pilots, astronauts etc etc operating at the top level of their professions. Hell, there are even female weightlifters in the Olympics. Further, there is evidence that women with their lower centre of gravity etc are actually better equipped in general to deal with extreme G-forces. So I can see no reason why women can't develop the physical fitness required to operate in F1.

Supply and demand

In many debates in professions in which women are underrepresented, such as in politics, there is discussion about whether the shortfall of women is down to supply (i.e. women aren't putting themselves forward to participate in the same numbers as men) or demand (i.e. the profession itself is making it disproportionately difficult for women to participate and to 'get on'). The supply point is probably worthy of more investigation in F1 and in motor sport more generally. Part of any supply problem is cyclical in that there being so few female drivers will likely mean that many other females won't see race driving as an option for them.

Interestingly though, I also recall a conversation with a fellow marshal not so long ago, where they claimed that there are many promising young female drivers who drop out of the sport around about the age of 16-17, seemingly because they decide at that (difficult) age that the pursuit of race driving is somehow 'un-feminine'.

But it's also probable the there are demand-side barriers as well, in that female drivers no doubt have to work harder to be taken seriously. Both supply and demand needs to be addressed.

Why we should care

You may also ask why this matters. Well for me it matters for two reasons. One is, society is increasingly demanding the principle of equality, from F1 as much as anything else, and F1 as with everything does not operate in a vacuum. But the main reason is from a 'good of F1' perspective. I want to see the best drivers in the world drive in F1, and the better the standard of drivers the better for the sport. I refuse to believe the world's best drivers come exclusively from 50% of the world's population. It's time for some grid girls who aren't there to prop up numbered boards.

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