The Role of Women in Motorsports

Women’s World Car of the Year celebrates International Women Drivers’ Day on June 24th by drawing attention to the role of women in motorsports. According to a recent survey, a total of 17.9% of those interviewed do not know any female drivers and 28.5% approve of separate categories based on gender.

June 2023 – Women’s World Car of the Year celebrates June 24th, International Women Drivers’ Day, by drawing attention to the role of women in motorsports. A survey led by Belgian analyst Candice Bouzendorff revealed that 17.9% of respondents don’t know any female motorsports drivers, while 28.5% approve of separate categories based on gender. The study also found that 29.6% of those interviewed don’t even know if women work in motorsports.

A motorsports fan, Bouzendorff wondered why women were not more involved in Formula 1 and why some races were split according to gender, like the W Series. According to the study, 71.2% believe that differentiating by gender helps female drivers gain easier access to events like F1.

When asked why men and women should race separately, respondents gave a variety of answers with varying opinions on the abilities of women to even compete in motorsports. One respondent said, “Except on rare occasions, a woman is no good as a driver,” while another stated, “There is a lack of interest from women in this sport.” Other answers included the need to separate genders because “bodies are different” or that “it’s a question of virility” and “F1 requires incredible strength, and women and men cannot have the same physical level at 100%.”

Emilio de Villota, a former Formula 1 driver, is convinced women have a place in the sport saying, “It won’t be long before we see a female driver in F1. He explained that nowadays a professional driver has to be an elite athlete. It is no longer enough to be slim and exercise regularly. Today, motor racing is very demanding physically, nutritionally, and psychologically. During a Grand Prix there is a lot of wear and tear. A driver can lose up to three kilos in weight.”

The participation of women in motorsport is increasing with numerous women already making a name for themselves. There’s Teresa de Filippis (1926-2016), the first woman to race in Formula 1; Lella Lombardi (1941-1992), the most successful woman in the history of the premier class; Desiré Wilson (1953- ), remembered for being the first to stand on the top of the F1 podium; Michelle Mouton (1951- ), with four victories and nine podiums in the World Rally Championship; and Jutta Kleinschmidt, winner of the Dakar.

There’s also María de Villota (1979-2013), who died in a tragic accident. Bernie Ecclestone was skeptical when she asked him for a test in 2011. The F1 boss’s response was “I don’t think you’ll be able to cope with a 300 km test in a Formula 1 car and achieve times that measure up.” She replied, “The stopwatch is the one that dictates judgment.” Maria took the test, passed, and soon joined the Marussia team.

Additional survey results included 82.1% of participants favoring women having their own championships. Some stated that it would increase their chances of moving up to the promotion categories and allow them to participate in more competitions. Respondents also stated that it would improve their media visibility and help to better highlight their skills.

There were also those who believed that men and women should compete together in the same races. Reasons included that there was no reason for men to outperform women, or vice versa, and that talent has no gender. They stated that a woman is as capable as a man and that a single competition would legitimize the presence of women in motorsport. One respondent said, “The cars and conditions are the same and women can drive as well as men.”

With this study, the Women’s World Car of the Year aims to promote the participation of female drivers in motorsports. International Women Drivers’ Day, a day that vindicates mobility as an inalienable right that contributes to the freedom, dignity, and personal and professional development of women, is the perfect moment to highlight this survey. Driving opens the door to independence for millions of women around the world to seek a better future, to achieve fairer living conditions, and to pursue their passion for motorsports.

International Women Drivers’ Day also commemorates the day in 2019 that the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia was lifted. On that day, women gained mobility and personal freedom by discovering the joy of the automobile. They became more visible and made society aware of the potential of more than 50% of the population formerly not allowed to drive. 

Today, women influence more than 80% of car purchases in advanced countries. This number will continue or grow in the coming years. “The percentage of young women university students is already higher in developed countries. Salary parity is beginning to be an achievable goal, Boards of Directors are no longer exclusively male, and in the lists of the richest people in the world it is not unusual to see more and more women’s names,” says Marta García, executive president of WWCOTY.

International Women Drivers Day also celebrates amplifying the importance of women expressing their opinions and experiences about cars on social networks. The number of women globally on Instagram is 48.4%, Facebook 43.7%, Linkedin 43.7% and TikTok 57%. For women, it’s not just about performance and safety, but also about saving the planet through environmental awareness without losing the right to the freedom to come and go where and when you want.

International Women Drivers’ Day is cause for reflection. Many women still feel scrutinized by their partners when they drive, use only the second family car, or feel little support in the world of motorsports. That’s why the celebration of International Women Drivers’ Day, an initiative promoted by Women’s World Car of the Year, is more important than ever. A future of sustainable mobility and equality is only possible with the contribution of women.

Rianne Bergman. Photo by Sebastiaan Doyer

#WWCOTY #InternationalWomenDriversDay

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