On 4th November, Susie Wolff announced that she will retire from motorsport after the conclusion of the Race of Champions later this month. Last year she was the first woman in 22 years to participate in a race weekend, following her Friday practice outing at the British GP. Wolff explained the main reason for her retirement was that her Formula 1 debut was just not “going to happen”.
Once again, female presence in motorsport has taken a blow. Out of five female Grand Prix entries in F1’s 65-year history, only one woman, Lella Lombardi, has been able to score points at an event in the 1975 Spanish GP. These dreary statistics have been justified by some, including former F1 driver Sir Stirling Moss, who believes it is due to women “lacking the mental aptitude” to race at the highest level.
However, history disagrees with this statement. The clearest example is Michèle Mouton: the Frenchwoman won four World Championship rallies for Audi in the Group B era of the 1980s and finished runner-up in the 1982 World Championship, as well as setting a record time when winning the 1985 Pikes Peak Hill Climb. In 2008, Danica Patrick became the first woman to win an IndyCar race, having previously been Rookie of the year and holding the record for most consecutive race finishes.
Let’s not forget that motorsport is one of the few sporting activities where it can be assured that women and men are competing in equal conditions. Women have claimed victory at some of the sport’s toughest events, such as the Dakar rally or the 24 Hours of Nürburgring, which takes place at the Nordschleife, one of the longest and most demanding tracks.
However, despite this, only 8% of registered license holders overall are female, according to the UK’s Motorsport Association. Additionally, the other eight F1 teams have male principals. So why is there not a larger female presence in motorsport? It might be a vicious circle: with women being vastly unrepresented there are very few women to look up to.
A Women & Motor Sport Commission was established by the Federation Internationale de l’ Automobile in 2009. Wolff herself has stated she will work towards a higher female involvement in motorsport, although she has admitted a strong female presence on the world’s most competitive starting grids will still be quite unlikely for a few years to come.
It seems the solution lies in the few women that have managed to reach their sport’s pinnacle encouraging young girls to follow in their footsteps, creating new role models for the next generations to follow. But it is also up to us, as the audience, to fight for and celebrate a higher gender equality on and off the track.