Pole Position: Why Formula One is a man's world

While there are plenty of girls in cadet karting, numbers thin out dramatically as you progress through the ranks.

The last woman to compete in a Formula One race was Italian "Lella" Lombardi. She is the only female driver to ever score world championship points when she had a top six finish in the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix.

But her last F1 race was 35 years ago and that raises the question: will we see another female driver in the sport?

Of the five women that have entered a grand prix, only two ever qualified and started a race. Yet there are successful female racing drivers out there - just in different fields.

While there are plenty of girls in cadet karting, numbers thin out dramatically as you progress through the ranks.

English racer Katherine Legge came up through the traditional karting and junior single-seater route of Formula Ford, Formula Renault (breaking Kimi Raikkonen's lap record in 2001) and Formula 3. She has earned her living as a professional driver in Champ Car, with Audi in DTM (the popular international touring car series) and now in IndyCar.

Scottish driver Suzie Stoddart, who won a 24-hour Middle East kart race, took a similar route to Legge and now races for Mercedes-Benz in DTM.

There are dozens of top-level professional woman drivers around the world, including Danica Patrick, who currently races in IndyCar, Simona de Silvestro, who has had five top-10 finishes in IndyCar over the last two years, and the now-retired American racer Sarah Fisher. The British Women Racing Drivers Club has a register of about 40 active female racing drivers. So why are there no female drivers in F1?

Although there may be some issues around fathers not being prepared to encourage their daughters to race, for me the best explanation is more scientific and can be found in a very interesting book: Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps, by Allan and Barbara Pease.

They highlight biological evidence that indicates quite convincingly that our hormones and brain-wiring are responsible for our attitudes, preferences and behaviour. They discuss a number of interesting differences between the sexes. For example, how women have great peripheral vision and men have tunnel vision. But it is proven differences in the way the left and right brain hemispheres work in men and women that influence spatial ability, which allows us to calculate speed, movement, trajectory, dimensions, coordinates and seeing things from a three-dimensional perspective - all absolutely essential qualities in F1 racing.

Essentially, this allows us to work out the movement of a target and know how to hit it. Apparently, only about 10 per cent of women have spatial abilities that are as dynamic as those of most men.

So perhaps it's not just father's fault. Maybe it's just that much harder for a woman to reach the top in motor racing - the equivalent of what in commerce and industry is known as the glass ceiling. But one day things are bound to change and we may yet see a lady win a grand prix.

Pole Position appears every week in Motoring. Barry Hope is a director of GulfSport Racing, which is hoping to find an Arab F1 driver through the FG1000 race series. Join the UAE racing community online at www.gulf-sport.com or on Facebook at GulfSportRacing.


This article has been altered to reflect that Danika Patrick is not currently competing in the Nascar series, as originally published.

Published: September 9, 2011 04:00 AM


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