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Women and elite motor sport

Last night as I retired to bed – shortly after 9.30pm I think it was, though I wasn’t taking note of the time – I turned on Radio Five Live and, as I began drifting away, caught a ten minute segment of a discussion feature upon the issues facing young female motor racing drivers which was actually quite interesting. By using that phrase I do not mean to damn the discourse or indeed programme with faint praise – it was genuinely addressing the subject head-on.

As I came to it, the guest participants (both female) were the head of the new across-the-world “W” motor racing series (“W” denoting for women only), which appeared to have been set up to give young females a chance to demonstrate their ability in the cockpit, and a young driver who was attempting to carve out a career in what for present purposes let me describe as the ‘male world’ of top class motor sport.

The common ground between them was that funding was a major issue for any young driver with elite aspirations.

It wasn’t enough that someone might be exceptionally talented, they needed to have serious cash behind them – even the youthful Lewis Hamilton, for example, had benefited from the fact that Formula One luminary Ron Dennis had come across and then nurtured him from his early teens.

It is the reason that many young drivers on the up, making their way via Formula Three or whatever – en route hopefully one day to Formula One – tend to be either the offspring of millionaires or even billionaires (i.e. “Daddy’s boys” whose parents who can indulge their sporting ambitions).

Which, given the image of motor sport – dripping in oil, mechanics, fast cars and macho bravura – makes it doubly or even triply hard for young girls who might be no less gifted.

And so which way to promote the cause of females intent upon trying to capitalise upon their talent?

The “W” series was one attempted solution and, by the account being given by its head honcho-ess, was growing swiftly in popularity.

However, interestingly, the young driver-participant in the discussion was not personally in favour of it. Her line was that ‘gender specific’ competition was a cop-out.

She was intent on nothing less that going as far as her talent would allow (yes, right up to Formula One) by taking part exclusively in ‘open’ – mainstream – motor racing and proving herself to be as good as or potentially even better than any of the males attempting similar.

She held that there was no reason at all – provided a talented enough individual could get the opportunities – why in a modern racing car a female could not be as fast and competitive as any male and indeed – when it came to e.g. size and weight – it was quite possible that females could even have physical advantages.

I could see the complexities of the problem. Getting ahead in top motor sport, whether you are male or female, is a very tough proposition. The funding issue is a major one: the chances of a poor working class kid making it right through to Formula One must be infinitesimal or worse.

How to create opportunities – or even a pathway – for talented but non-rich-background young drivers is a key (these days one might suggest essential) ‘nice to have’ for the future of the motor sport world. And for the reasons outlined above, by definition and culture, it must be harder for females than males.


Quite by chance overnight I also spotted this lengthy piece on the fast-growing motor racing division of Formula E – the electric-powered version of Formula One – by Samuel Lovett that appears today upon the website of – THE INDEPENDENT









About Tom Hollingworth

Tom Hollingsworth is a former deputy sports editor of the Daily Express. For many years he worked in a sports agency, representing mainly football players and motor racing drivers. Tom holds a private pilot’s licence and flying is his principal recreation. More Posts