If you sat down to watch a Formula 1 race for the first time today, you might assume for some reason female drivers weren't allowed. You might think that Formula 1, like many other sports, is segregated by the sexes, however that is simply not the case.
In Formula 1 and most other motorsports, any physical differences there may be between male and female drivers, plays an insignificant role in their ability to drive fast. Although, if you saw the line-up of 20 male drivers this year, you’d be forgiven for asking the question “when will we see the first female F1 driver?” but you would be wrong. The next woman to race in Formula 1, will not be the first.
Maria Teresa de Fillippis, 1958, was the first woman to race in F1. She was apparently denied entry into the 1958 French Grand Prix, after being told by the race director that "the only helmet a woman should wear is the one at the hairdressers". Lella Lomardi, 1975, was the first woman to score points in a Grand Prix. Unfortunately, she wad also the last woman to start an F1 race.
📸: WSeries - Maria Teresa de Fillippis
📸: F1 - Lella Lombardi
In total, there have been five female drivers entered into Formula 1 races. But so far, only De Fillippis and Lombardi have actually started a race. And while it's not exactly a statistic for the sport to be proud of, it would be wrong to simply overlook what these women achieved.
It would also be wrong to pretend that Formula 1 is the be all and end all of motorsports. There are a number of women who have been successful outside of the F1 bubble. Michèle Mouton, the runner up in the 1982 World Rally Championship. Sabine Schmitz, also known as the "Queen of Nurburgring". Danica Patrick, the first woman to win a race in an Indy Car series. Christina Nielsen, the first woman to win a full season professional sports car championship. And that's just to name a few.
A small number of people who get into motorsports, male or female, actually make it to the highest level. Firstly, there aren't that many seats, F1 for example only has 20. Secondly, racing is an expensive hobby. Those who get far are usually supported by sponsors or can afford to. And on top of that, many women are consistently made to feel as if the sport is not for then. Whether it's on social media, or in real life, people have always had an opinion. There are women in motorsports. Behind the scenes and driving the cars. Female driers regularly compete on level footing with men. Once they've got their helmet on, nothing else matters.
But in truth, there aren't enough women in motorsports. Historically, not many get into karting at a young age. And consequently, there aren't that many female drivers in comparison to male drivers. This is why when there are women climbing up the ranks, personally I like to give them my support. Not simply because they are a woman, but because to remain in a sport where you are in the minority and to continue progress, isn't for the faint hearted.
The W Series is an all-female single seater championship, which began in 2019. Their aim is to "change the face" of motorsports, in the hope that it won't be another 40 years before we see the next female F1 driver. Critics argue that there is no difference between men and women once they get in the car, then what is the point of an all-female series? But the W Series claims that to be a catalyst for change. They want to give female driver she experience and qualifications they need to race at the highest level. And after an inaugural season that was widely regarded as a success, this year, the W Series will be partnering with F1. All eight of their races will take place on F1 weekends.
So when will we see the next female F1 driver?
Well change is already taking place. At karting level, there has been a growth in the number of female license holders. And further in their careers we have the likes of Jamie Chadwick, W Series champion, who at the age of 22 has a growing list of accolades to her name and is currently a developing driver in the Williams driver academy.
Of course it will still likely take a while before the women working their way towards an F1 seat get the change, but I would be surprised if we didn't see it within the next few years. Times have changed since De Fillippis and Lombardi's.
- Ivy Samuel
Thanks for reading 💚
Follow Sporting Her on social media, links below: