Stalled on the grid: Why are there no female drivers at the pinnacle of motorsport

Stalled on the grid: Why aren't there any female drivers at the pinnacle of motorsport

"There were times when I really needed to bare my knuckles and do things that a woman probably wouldn't normally do. To be respected, I had to struggle. ".

Michelle Gatting is waiting to start a hot sports car race in Portugal as she sits in the class she will win.

The Dane is considering why she didn't receive the same level of recognition in the beginning of her career in motorsport and why that was.

She also means it literally when she uses the word "fight.".

She remembers an encounter with a Swedish driver who kept pushing her off the go-karting track, saying, "My dad taught me you need to pay them back.".

"I had to track this guy down in the end. Since then, he realized. But I reasoned, "I can't keep doing this.". She's crazy for fighting these people, according to the chatter in the paddock. '.

"I was probably one of the most feared drivers in the paddock because people were afraid of me, but they didn't push me off course. I essentially earned the respect in this way. ".

Gatting, 29, is speaking about the discrimination she faced as a woman trying to break into the motorsports industry in the late 2000s. She frequently defeated racers of Kevin Magnussen's caliber, who is currently driving for Haas in Formula 1.

Gatting competes in a male-dominated sport that doesn't seem to have fully adjusted to the increasing number of female spectators at circuits around the world.

She explains, "We recently had an incident at a race in Barcelona. Fighting for 30 minutes on the track. We do not belong to the same category. a motorist who had nothing to lose from letting me pass.

When they notice our sister car in back of them, they let the guys go. They start to argue as soon as they see my pink car again. It was purely egotistical.

Finally, I drive away after passing. His ego was wounded. It was screaming, coming from his helmet.

Nevertheless, it rarely occurs. Walking around the paddock, we are well-respected as Iron Dames, which shows how far we've come with the project. ".

Iron Dames
Sports car racing team Iron Dames is all female.

the difficulties that female drivers face.

Gatting is a member of the all-female Iron Dames team, which has made a significant contribution to the sport since 2018 by competing in the World Endurance Championship, which includes the renowned Le Mans 24 Hours race. .

The following day, Gatting, alongside Sarah Bovy of Belgium and Doriane Pin, a 19-year-old French sensation, won the 4 Hours of Portimao in their Ferrari 488 GT.

Pin took the car out of the pits in a risky wet-dry race on slick tires and completed a flawless stint, maintaining pace even as the rain came and went. To the team's delight, the knowledgeable Gatting drove the car home.

The Dames, an all-female driver line-up that was developed from the Italian Iron Lynx project, have achieved pole positions and class victories with the help of joint boss Deborah Mayer's investment.

Things seem to be improving for female participation in motorsport as a result of that and Britain's Jamie Chadwick earning a drive in the United States this year after winning the female-only W Series for a third time.

However, it has been close to 50 years since Lella Lombardi last competed in a Formula 1 grand prix, and there are still no female drivers competing at the highest levels of the sport.

The absence of women in the environmentally conscious Formula E or older, more prestigious championships like the World Rally Championship and the top division of endurance racing, the hypercars, which compete at Le Mans, may be even more surprising.

Following the founding of the Iron Dames, Mayer took the issue a step further by assuming the presidency of the Commission for Women in Motorsport, which is overseen by the FIA, the governing body for the sport worldwide.

We need to develop the careers of the younger generation, according to Mayer, who believes that the first step is to broaden the pyramid's base.

Whether it's single-seaters or hypercars, I'm confident that more women will enter the top categories in motorsport. To accomplish this, however, we must build the framework that will enable them to flourish and expand.

"I think the flow will come naturally. What's important is to show women that there are opportunities in motorsport.

It's a lengthy procedure. Though it will take some time, it will happen. " .

Jamie Chadwick
The physical problem in lower formulae, according to Jamie Chadwick, needs to be resolved.

Exists a physical problem?

Speaking in London, Mayer was part of a campaign to raise awareness of women's involvement in motorsport and motorcycle riding.

Similar to horse racing and sailing, motorsport is one of the few sports where men and women can compete on an even playing field.

The existence of physical barriers is a topic of debate within the motorsports community, as recent statements from top executives in Formula 1 have shown.

According to Chadwick, it's something that needs to be investigated. The 24-year-old is getting ready to compete in the American Indy NXT series, which is a feeder series for IndyCars. She will face off against men driving vehicles that are faster than the W Series and do not have power steering, despite the fact that F1 vehicles do.

"It's definitely a physically demanding sport, and in Formula One, a lot of the car is completely adapted to the driver," she says. The driver, whether a man or a woman, was the center of attention in the power-steering consideration.

Everything else in a series with a standard specification, like the F2 or F3, was created with the typical male driver in mind and does not have power steering.

"I think women can compete in any championship, but getting there requires a lot of physical strength. I don't understand how you can be expected to be on the same physical level as some of the younger guys if you're a 16 or 17-year-old girl who is still developing later than her male peers.

"With that, it can be thought about to see if we can make it less physical, for instance in F2 or F3. We can try to make it better if, when examining a pyramid, the top level is less physically demanding than the steps below it.

"Even the challenge I face in Indy NXT will be fairly significant. As a 24-year-old woman later in my development, I feel confident I can become strong enough, but there is no way I would have been strong enough three or four years ago. ".

Even though Mayer has only been in her current position for a year, which she views as a true "passion project," she acknowledges that some issues need to be examined.

There are many fields that could be addressed or modified, she says. The process will take time.

"When you try to introduce modification and changes, it cannot happen instantly; it is a process that must be carried out gradually. ".

Deborah Mayer
In addition to being the head of the FIA's Commission for Women in Motorsport, Mayer is the owner of the Iron Dames team.

The Mayer element.

The FIA is aware of the issue with diversity, in part because Lewis Hamilton, a seven-time F1 world champion, frequently discusses it.

Ferrari has accepted women from their driver development programs as a result of the governing body's Girls on Track and Rising Stars campaigns.

Female "development driver" positions have also been added by F1 teams, but Gatting views these as more of a showpiece.

"F1 specifically needs to open up about the idea that they can have a female there competing on a good level, because they have tried getting girls in F1 as marketing tools and as a "test driver," but at the end of the day it didn't do much," she says. However, having a woman standing next to two F1 drivers was good for photos. ".

Chadwick defends the positions, claiming that hers at Williams has taught her priceless lessons and given her the necessary visibility to boost her profile.

There will be a female-only "F1 Academy" starting in the spring, and F1 as a whole claims to be "improving the system" to support equality. This will feature competition in 21 rounds between 15 drivers from five teams, with F1 contributing £2 million annually to the series. .

And one of those significant "steps" was Mayer's appointment as the FIA's president, which she made in conjunction with her investment in a team that is lowering barriers for female participation in the sport.

She has the authority to make significant changes both administratively and practically, as her Iron Lynx project will field a Lamborghini in the elite hypercar class of endurance racing in 2024 during the World Endurance Championship season, which includes the illustrious Le Mans 24 Hours race, just as several of the biggest automakers in the world make a comeback.

Gatting has found that as she is treated with more respect, things have gotten easier for her in the sport she enjoys.

Nevertheless, things might go down in history.

It would be difficult for Mayer to choose not to field female drivers who have had such an impact on motorsport in a brand-new top-tier car in 2024. Will Gatting finally get her big chance to shine here?

She responds, "I certainly hope so. "There have been barriers, such as sponsors who couldn't understand why I was driving a car, and they still exist, but they're getting smaller. There are some females who are capable of competing at the F1 level.

"Four years ago, if you had asked, I might not have realized how far we had come in so little time. More young girls should participate in sport, and we want to inspire and try to encourage them.

"As athletes in the Iron Dames, we have all experienced highs and lows. Arriving here is not simple.

. "

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