While the long-established gender gaps in professional sports have been addressed lately—-think soccer, basketball, even football—the challenges to put girls and women in the drivers’ seats of Formula 1 racers are still formidable.
And it still looks like a long road ahead for females to break through that macho F1 wall.
The issue is taken up in a recent essay published in The Los Angeles Times entitled, “Will a woman ever race in F1 again? Female drivers are challenging racing’s status quo.”
There’s a big chunk of history here, with author Kevin Baxter tracing back to women who raced in the 1900s, those who participated in 1930 in an all-woman team that placed seventh in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and how women have fared in current racing series such as IndyCar and, more to the point, in the pinnacle of motor sports, Formula 1.
Baxter points out that there’s steps—baby steps, perhaps—toward that goal. To build his case, he focuses much of his story on two contenders who’ve already made names for themselves in motor sports, Bianca Bustamante and Jamie Chadwick.
Those ladies—British-born Chadwick is 25, Bustamante from the Philippines is 18—“remain unicorns since fewer than one percent of the drivers at the top level of Formula 1 have been women and only 10 females have raced in the Indianapolis 500,” the story says.
“Five times as many women have orbited Earth than have driven in an Indy or F1 race, and that’s something both series would like to change,” says the story. “No female driver has started an F1 race in 48 years, which is a problem for a series whose fans are 40 percent female.”
To help to rectify that situation, organizers have created the “F1 Academy,” an all-female series established in 2022, subsidized by F1 and made up of 15 cars on the grid for a 21-race season split across seven rounds. It’s intended to recruit “young talent currently in go-karting or other junior categories” in the hope that they can later graduate to Formula Three as a next step, and eventually compete in F1. (The W Series, another racing event for women, closed down this past summer.)
Yet there are some hopeful signs for the women’s racing movement, according to the LAT story, which says that in addition to Chadwick, Lindsay Brewer will compete in the 14-race Indy NXT series this year, “making the 26-year-old the first American woman to run a full season on that circuit.”
There’s also a compilation of compelling quotes from Chadwick and Bustamante that fills out the essay. A sampling:
Bustamante: “There’s always that one comment where they’re just like, ‘Girls can’t drive. You crash way too much.’ Or you should go back to the kitchen and cook something. Those comments, I’m not even affected by it anymore. At this point, that’s funny.”
And this, also from the teenager: “My dad always told me I was born to be a driver. For Christmas, girls picked up Barbies and guys picked up guns. I went straight down the racing section and I got myself a battery-powered car.”
Said Chadwick, who has nearly 750,000 followers on social media: “I grew up racing, from a young age, just against men. It never felt different.”
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