Written by Laura Lees
Lining up on the startup grid, the lights flash across the screen.
“Lights out, and away we go!” David Croft uses his catchphrase as the cars begin their race, Verstappen leading the pack with Bottas and Hamilton in tow as they go flying towards turn one.
I have watched motorsports, F1 particularly, since I was a child. As a parent to two girls, my father, an avid lover of cars, always encouraged my sister and I to help him service the family Vauxhall and – when we were older – maintain our own vehicles. He used to joke that we were his ‘pit crew’, passing him tools and peeking over his shoulder as he changed oil and filters, soldering circuits for a new radio he bought as he talked us through what he was doing. We would help him with his projects for most of Saturday morning and then go inside to watch the qualifying.
He never knew how to answer me when I asked why there were no female racers.
The lack of diversity never properly struck me until I was around thirteen, when I began to play a ‘game’ of my own – spotting women in the pit crew. The numbers were small and disheartening.
Diversity is clearly something missing throughout the sport, not just in F1 but across the motorsport spectrum. This is not only diversity in race, but economic background and particularly in gender too. Dominated by men, racing and karting has often been deemed a ‘boys sport’ by parents who attribute speed to danger in the cases of their daughters. It is also an expensive sport to pick up, excluding lower income families from partaking.
Diversity in the pits is also severely lacking – F1’s Mercedes Petronas has the most advertised examples of women in their team, with Lewis Hamilton championing for accessibility and diversity in the sport. However this is an outlier in a very white, very male sport. Although I was incredibly happy to see so many women in one team, it served to highlight how few there were in other teams and how far we still have to go.
Lewis Hamilton has been incredibly vocal in his passion for change within the sport, as well as various other world issues. This season (2020), he has become ever more vocal around political issues, championing his causes publicly on the podiums and in post-race interviews (with mostly white, male presenters). His actions show his dedication to change within the sport, such as leading the Black Lives Matter kneel before the race, and advocating for a video beforehand featuring the drivers stating their commitment for ending racism and promoting diversity in a sport they all love.
F1 has released a Diversity and Inclusion statement, and begun the #WeRaceAsOne campaign, reinforcing their commitment to diversifying their sport–however this may not be enough to change decades of exclusion. They’ve promised to inspire change from classroom-based workshops to encourage people into STEM subjects, and programmes to diversity drivers in F2/F3/E-Sports.
There has been a distinct lack of female presence in the sport for decades – the last Englishwoman to participate in the F1 Grand Prix was Divina Galicia in 1978, with a previous entry in 1976. Leila Lombardi, the Italian racing driver, had the most entries with 17, and the most starts in F1 by a woman at 12. Susie Wolff was the most recent woman to compete in a race weekend after participating in the free practice beforehand in Silverstone 2014, and is now a William’s test driver. However, such consistently low numbers and a very lengthy gap since there was a female driver in F1 may daunt many women from trying to participate in, what has become such a typically male and somewhat elitist sport.
It was only earlier this year that Trackside Fluid Engineer Stephanie Travers became the first black woman to stand on the F1 podium in Styria.
In a lengthy instagram post, Hamilton paid tribute to her: “Steph said she wants to inspire young black children, and children of colour to believe that they can do it too”.
Hamilton also announced that he is launching a new research partnership, The Hamilton Commission, which aims to make motorsport “as diverse as the complex and multicultural world we live in.”
The new focus of championing for change gives me hope that one day in the near future, there will be more female racing drivers and pit crew staff within the sport, and a greater focus on making it accessible to all.
Laura is a final year BA English student and resident of South Leicester. She enjoys poetry, local news and reading.
Image by Tim Carey, from Unsplash.