Formula 1 is not a sport typically associated with women. The world of motorsport seems to be one that continues to be dominated by men, and women’s alleged inferiority on the road seems to be so universally accepted that it pervades popular culture and is the subject of countless YouTube compilations.
Rampant sexism aside, and despite what the Formula 1 greats (hello, Stirling Moss!) think, women have played significant and influential roles in the sport and continue to do so today.
As we approach the beginning of the season and celebrate International Women’s Day, we have taken the liberty to highlight a few of the most powerful women to grace the grids/pits/design labs over the years, shattering stereotypes and busting balls, all in a day’s work.
Spanish racer Carmen Jordá was just announced as Lotus F1’s new development driver; all eyes will be on this Spanish driver’s performance in 2015.
Born in Alcoy, Spain, the daughter of former driver Jose Miguel Jordá has been a professional driver for over a decade and her presence doubles the number of female drivers in the paddock in 2015.
On joining the team, she recognised the challenges: “I know this is just the beginning and the biggest challenge is yet to come but already being part of a team with such a history is a real honour. This is a great achievement, but an even greater opportunity which will lead to bigger and better things.
“I’ve been racing since I was 10 years old so it was my dream to drive a Formula 1 car since I was very young,” she said to the Daily Mail.
Having completed three GP3 seasons without taking home any points, it will be interesting to see how and if she progresses with Lotus. She took out 16th place in 2010 in the Firestone Indy Lights racing for Andersen Racing, and her highest ever final position was back in 2007 when she placed fourth in Spanish Formula 3. We wish her the best of luck with Lotus!
10. Kate Walker, Journalist
You may not have read the name before, but you’ve probably read her work. Kate Walker has earned her stripes as one of the sports most prolific and influential journalists in the press room and her work has graced the pages and screens of Motorsport.com, ESPN F1, GP Week, Crash.net, the magazine Formula, the Financial Times and so much more.
Covering Formula 1 from the road and a member of the circus since 2010, Kate’s unique voice brings a left field and incredibly interesting perspective to the world of motorsport journalism.
Her no-holds-barred approach to investigating stories, her fabulous curls and gut wrenching heels make their unapologetic presence known at every race and inspire countless other young women (including yours truly!) who are interested in F1 journalism to get involved and realise it’s more than okay to be fabulous, feminine and damn good at Formula 1.
9. Antonia Terzi, Aerodynamicist
One of the few female engineers in the sport (although that number is growing), Terzi is an Italian aerodynamicist who worked for both Ferrari and BMW-Williams.
After spending three years with Ferrari, Antonia hired was the chief aerodynamicist for BMW-Williams from 2001 to 2004. Responsible for the controversial ‘walrus’ front wing on the FW26, the concept was not a success and she was replaced by Frenchman Loïc Bigois and disappeared from the grid.
Antonia remains invested in motorsport however, now involved with the ‘Superbus‘. The brainchild of the first Dutch astronaut Professor Wubbo Ockels, is it a carbon fibre bus powered by Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries and is designed to run at 250km/hr. The concept is pitched as an ‘innovative alternative for today’s personal mobility’.
8. Suzi Perry, Journalist
Suzi Perry is the first woman to have taken a full-time main anchor role in Formula One on British television, replacing Jake Humphrey in 2013 to headline the BBC‘s coverage.
Suzi pipped another female journalist being considered for the role, Lee McKenzie, who is currently the network’s pit lane reporter. The former model says her worst decision was probably turning down the opportunity to work with Top Gear when it was going through the rebrand.
“I sat down and talked to Andy Wilman, the series producer, about joining them. I remember thinking, ‘I might be out of my depth and it might not be a good idea’, instead of grabbing the opportunity. Looking back, I may have made a large error, but it’s not like I didn’t work for the next 15 years. I don’t regret it – but it was probably a bad decision,” she said in an interview with The Telegraph.
7. Ann Bradshaw, Press Officer
One of the most influential and well known Press Officers, Ann Bradshaw has been around and seen a lot. The former Williams and Arrows Press Officer, she worked closely with many of the sport’s greats, but also racked up connections with up-and-coming names in music in the 1970s, marrying the guitarist of a band called Thin Lizzy, as well as working with The Police, Dire Straits and The Who.
Closer to home, however, her foray into motorsport started when she was headhunted by Benetton, later moving to Jordan. Her ‘few years in F1’ led to a long and established career in the sport. Nigel Mansell (pictured above), Ayrton Senna and Damon Hill were a few of the many she looked after, and she is spoken of highly throughout the paddock.
Read an interview with Ann and Joe Saward here.
6. María de Villota, F1 Test Driver
The late Spanish driver and daughter of former F1 driver Emilio de Villota had her Formula 1 dream realised when she was appointed as a test driver for the Marussia team in 2012.
She competed in Spanish F3, Daytona, and a variety of categories including the World Touring Car Championship and the Spanish GT series’. Her big break came as the first female racing driver to compete in the Superleague Formula in 2009. Tough competition in the league lead to few results, although she did claim fourth place at the Nürburgring in 2010.
Her Formula 1 career started with Lotus Renault GP in 2011 after she debuted in the R29 in a private test at Paul Ricard. That led to the role with Marussia, but it came to a tragic premature ending in her first F1 test for the team in July 2012 at the Duxford Aerodome in England. She ploughed into the back of a team truck, and suffered horrific injuries which included the loss of her right eye.
Incredibly, she survived the accident, although her racing career was finished. She subsequently served as an Ambassador for FIA’s Women In Motorsport Commission before her sudden death in 2013.
5. Susie Wolff, F1 Test Driver
One of the more prominent and well known names in the sport today, Susie Wolff is William F1’s Development Driver. The Scottish driver was the first female in 22 years to take part in a Formula 1 weekend in 2014 after she joined the grid for the opening practice sessions at the British and German Grands Prix. Car problems cut the program short at Silverstone, but she was able to put in a good performance at the next opportunity during the German Grand Prix, finishing a few-hundredths of a second behind team mate Felipe Massa.
Much has been written about Susie and she is often one of the first examples of women in the sport when the subject crops up. She is an ardent supporter of women in the sport but often argues there is no difference in being male or female behind the wheel – it is performance on which all drivers should be judged.
Susie is married to Toto Wolff, the executive director of the Mercedes F1 Team.
4. Lella Lombardi, Former Grand Prix driver
On a trip down memory lane, we reach Lella Lombardi, the only woman to register on the Formula 1 scoreboard in the sport’s history.
The Italian driver raced in 17 Grands Prix in the mid 1970s, taking a top-six finish at the red-flagged 1975 Spanish GP. Only half a point was recorded for this race as it was a shortened distance, but until this day she remains the sole female with that accomplishment.
Lombardi raced for a full season and had a one off drive with Williams, but her career ended after an unsuccessful partnership with RAM. She went on to race in sports cars; four times in Le Mans (best result being 9th) and winning the 6 hours of Pergusa and Vallelunga. In 1992, she succumbed to cancer in Milan, aged 50.
3. Maria Teresa de Filippis, Former Grand Prix driver
Coming into the sport as a result of bet with her brothers, Maria Teresa de Filippis was the first female to ever race in Formula 1. The Italian debuted on the grid on 18 May, 1958 and although her career in Formula 1 was largely unsuccessful, she remains a pioneer in the sport.
De Filippis was hired by Maserati as a works driver in 1954 after she finished second in the Italian sportscar championship. She failed to qualify on her debut in Monaco (as did Bernie Ecclestone!) but made it on the grid in Belgium, placing tenth. She drove the Maserati 250F, the same machine helmed by Juan Manual Fangio for his fifth world title in 1957.
Unfortunately, 1958 was a deadly year for racing and with the death of several drivers, de Filippis hung up her helmet in early 1959 and left motor racing. Another woman would not grace the grid for a further 15 years.
2. Claire Williams, F1 Deputy Team Principal
The Deputy Team Principal of Williams Formula 1 and the daughter of F1 great, Frank Williams, Claire is a well respected figure in the sport. Starting off as a press officer for Silverstone, she later joined Williams F1 as a communications officer and worked her way up the communications ladder within the team. Appointed to the Board in 2012, she was promoted to Deputy Team Principal in 2013, responsible for marketing, communications and the commercial aspects of the business.
As one of the most senior women in the sport, Claire’s gender is often the subject of interest, but she is also optimistic about females in the sport and encourages women getting involved.
“Traditionally roles in F1 have been regarded as quite ‘male’. A lot of industries are regarded as male-dominated – jobs for the boys – but as society has developed and progressed, women think they can do jobs that men can do and quite rightly so. We at Williams have a skills shortage so if girls are coming up to the right level why on earth wouldn’t we recruit from the pool where 50% of society is female?” she said to The Telegraph in an interview shortly after her appointment to the role of deputy.
1. Monisha Kaltenborn, F1 Team Principal
Here is a figure who cuts through all the stereotypes. The first female team principal in Formula One, Monica Kaltenborn is an Indian born, Viennese educated lawyer running Sauber.
One-third owner of the team, she was appointed CEO of Sauber Motorsport AG in 2012 and in October 2012, she became Team Principal following team founder Peter Sauber’s transfer of ownership.
Originally employed to take charge of the team’s legal affairs, Kaltenborn’s non-motorsport background offers her an interesting perspective from which to run the outfit. Although 2014 was an incredibly tough season for the team, she has always remained positive about the team’s work and is a strong supporter and agitator for change within the sport itself.
There you have it! Women who have made waves in the sport. Although they are still few and far between, it is clear that more and more are coming through, particularly on the design and engineering side. The positive is also there is significant support for women who are interested in making it, particularly those whose performance speaks for itself.
Next step: getting young girls interested in the awesome world of F1!
Images via Carlos Catella, ESPN F1, Laberezina, Passionea 300, Sport-Magazine, XPB Images