Has Sir Stirling Moss forgotten that he competed against the first ever female F1 driver?

Sometimes a public figure will say something that makes you want to check your hearing just in case you didn’t hear it right the first time.

“I think women have the [physical] strength,” former Grand Prix winner Sir Stirling Moss said to BBC Radio 5 Live, of female F1 drivers.

“…but I don’t know if they’ve got the mental aptitude to race hard, wheel-to-wheel.”

He goes on: “The mental stress I think would be pretty difficult for a lady to deal with in a practical fashion. We’ve got some very strong and robust ladies, but, when your life is at risk, I think the strain of that in a competitive situation will tell when you’re trying to win. I just don’t think they have aptitude to win a Formula 1 race.”

Well, well, well…

To be honest, my first reaction was a very diva-like “Oh no, he didn’t!”, with the side-to-side head movement to boot!

On further thought, however, there unfortunately is a little more to it than just that, as it has clearly started a conversation on the prospects of women competing alongside men on the F1 grid.

Firstly, we have to remember what era Moss hails from. The 1950s and ’60s, during which he raced and probably formed his opinions on such matters, weren’t exactly the most egalitarian.

When you put it in context, given the fact that women were only really allowed to vote only thirty or so years before, that attitude (unfortunately) makes a little more sense.

At that time, women weren’t even allowed to run in the Boston Marathon! The first lady to do so only officially competed in 1967.  Check out the video of what happened when she ran:

Fast forward a few decades, and the first female fighter pilot in the US Airforce was only accepted in 1993.  Two decades ago only…?!

There have always traditionally been ‘male domains’ and ‘women’s domains’, and it is only really in the last few decades is that starting to change.  It’s slow going though…and traditionally technical areas, like my field of engineering, still have less than 10% (9.6% in Australia!) female representation.

It is true though that Formula 1, and motorsport in general is one of the few sports where men and women compete head to head and not in separate series. That in itself, is a strange type of egalitarianism, but that isn’t enough.

There is no question of whether women can be Formula 1 drivers – they have already proven they can.  The first woman competed in the 1958 Monaco GP, Maria Teresa De Filippis, in Moss’ era (has he forgotten being snapped with her, pictured above?): 

While she never achieved a points finish in F1, Maria Teresa de Filippis’ very presence on the grid in 1958 was a victory for women’s participation in motorsport.

The last woman to compete was Giovanna Amati, in 1992, although she failed to qualify on each of her three outings in a Brabham. 

Sure, females only have half a point combined between all five of them, but that is beside the point. Clearly, women do have the capacity to compete in the sport, whether Moss likes it or not.  

Outside F1, there are a heap of awesome women who race and they are all inspiring.

Danica Patrick in undoubtedly the most high-profile. She became the only woman (to-date) to win an IndyCar Series race in 2008 before making a full-time switch to NASCAR racing last year.

Finally given a competitive engine and team in which to race, Simona de Silvestro has proven herself to be a frontrunner in the IndyCar Series.

Take the case of Venezuelan Milka Duno, the former IndyCar racer who has shown excellent pace in the Daytona endurance scene. She’s more than just a racer, however. Duno is a qualified naval engineer with four master’s degrees and has published a book for young children on the impact of an education.

That’s what I’m talking about. 

Maria Teresa de Filippis Lella Lombardi Divina Galica Desire Wilson Giovanna Amati
F1’s Famous 5 Females (L-R): De Filippis, Lombardi, Galica, Wilson and Amati

But the true issue underpinning Moss’ comments is that this highlights the strongly held belief one of the most respected men in Formula 1, and ‘kind-of, sort-of’ backed by Bernie Ecclestone himself, who said he could not see a woman racing for a top team in the near future.

“There’s no reason why a woman shouldn’t be able to compete with a man,” he said recently, when asked about women’s roles in F1 in the wake of Danica Patrick claiming a historic pole position in the season-opening NASCAR race.

Desire Wilson, 1980
South Africa’s Desire Wilson is the only woman to win in Formula 1, albeit in the Aurora F1 Series.

“Unfortunately, the way things are, I don’t imagine a lady will ever get the chance to drive a Red Bull or a Ferrari.”

If the top men in the sport (a sport where support is paramount to success) can’t even fathom women competing on the same level, how is it ever going to happen? 

“Regretfully, the problem is that many ladies who could compete probably as well as the guys won’t get chance.” Ecclestone added.

Why won’t they get the chance? Is it because the movers and shakers won’t give them a chance? 

The problem with comments like this is that they back up sexist views that do nothing to help women that do want to get involved in motorsport and are interested in racing, engineering and all manner of technical things.

If the guys at the very top aren’t even giving the idea a chance, no matter how archaic or old school they are, people subconsciously take it in.  It isn’t about affirmative action or making allowances, it is about being open to the idea. 

Is it fear of change? Possibly.

Is change going to happen anyway? Probably.

There was once a time when men didn’t think women could run, and that it was bad for their health. 

There was also once a time when men didn’t think women could compete in Formula 1…and win.

I can’t wait until the day we can joke about the ludicrousness of such a statement!

Youth Without Borders

Yassmin Abdel-Magied
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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.