F1 MAKES A LAME BID TO REVERSE DISCRIMINATION
That sexism still exists in sports is without doubt. On the other hand, the fact that the sportI — I’m hoping I can also say we — love, Formula One, is a particularly vehement bastion of systematic sexism hasn’t garnered all that much attention.In the modern era of Formula One, only two women — Maria Teresa de Filippis and Lella Lombardi — have ever raced in a Grand Prix. And lest we congratulate ourselves on how much we’ve recently become enlightened, let me remind you that their accomplishments were way back in 1958 and 1975. More recently, Susie Wolff and Tatania Calderon have served as test drivers, but as for actually making it to an F1 grid, there has not been a sniff.Now, for those Neanderthals thinking that the lack of female participation is a sign — or the result — of some form of genetic inferiority, let me give you a couple of examples of how truly horrific sexism has pervaded four-wheeled motorsports. The earliest, perhaps saddest, example of outright — hell, overt — sexism has to be Helle Nice.Never heard of her, right? There’s a reason for that.A wealthy French socialite cum cancan dancer who literally tore up the track before the Second World War, Nice was initially sponsored by no less than Ettore Bugatti. No dainty demoiselle, she ruffled feathers by being the jitterbug equivalent of the licentious James Hunt, her “appetite” reputedly as enormous of any of Formula One’s famed playboys. After the war, one of the racers she chose not to bless with her, um, favours — a racer, by the way, whom she regularly beat — denounced her as a Nazi collaborator. That was the end of her career.More recently — in 1983, to be specific — Taru Rinne won the Finnish karting championship. Why is that significant, you ask? Succeeding in little two-stroke karts is hardly proof, in and of itself, of Formula One-like talent. But it is when the man you beat to the top of the box is Mika Häkkinen. Yes, that Mika Häkkinen, who went on to win two F1 titles. According to reports of the day, so incensed were motorsports’ mandarins by having their anointed one beaten by a woman that they manufactured an infraction, revoked her championship and then banned her from racing.So Rinne took up motorcycle racing, where despite her late start, she went on to have a fairly successful career at the sport’s top echelon before — on an even weaker pretext — Bernie Ecclestone once again banned her, this time from motorcycle racing.So, that motorsports has been — oh, let’s be polite — a little unfair to those of double XX chromosomes cannot be denied. Considering that fully 38 per cent of Formula One’s fan base is now female, how do we promote young women looking to join the ranks of Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton?Well, at the risk of destroying what #metoo bona fides I just spent the last several paragraphs establishing, it’s certainly not by creating the W Series.The W Series will be an allfemale racing series that, in the words of CNN, will act as a “potential F1 pathway” for women. The motorsports industry is supposedly so committed to this “pathway” that there will be $1.5 million in prize money up for grabs. The series’ public relations mavens say this is the path to parity.Compared with the money bandied about it F1, it’s a pittance. For another, it reeks of the worst kind of tokenism, the stuff invented by men imaging what women want.How will one woman beating 19 other women — who motorsports’ mandarins have already proven they don’t respect — suddenly give rise to the bona fides that will suddenly see a female behind the wheel of a McLaren or a Ferrari?Tearing up the Negro League didn’t help the immortal Satchel Paige break into the majors and women’s tennis got a lot more attention from Billie Jean King beating Bobby Riggs than it ever did from Margaret Court’s 24 Grand Slams on the women’s circuit. Besides, just last month Ana Carrasco put paid to female motorcycle racers being lesser by being the first woman to win an international racing title in a sport, I’ll remind you, that is much more physically demanding than Formula One.Formula One’s sole defence is that it is unfair to, well, pretty much everyone. The unfortunate reality of modern F1 is that many drivers — some estimate as many as half the field — have literally bought their rides.Things are so bad that Lawrence Stroll bought Force India so that his son, Lance, would have a ride next year. You didn’t think he got to the big show on talent, did you?In other words, if we really want to promote female F1 pilots, maybe we should be asking Tamara Ecclestone or Belinda Stronach if they have any interest in racing.
Susie Wolff of Great Britain is one of the female development drivers yet to receive an F1 ride.
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