By Bridget Schuil | If I ran Formula 1, I’d design for the 99%. Every design and ergonomics textbook says that unless we’re creating a custom product for a single person, we should design for the 99%. The door handle on the fire exit should be positioned within reach of 99% of the adult population. The trains should be tall enough to fit 99% of the adult population. Obviously, a sport can’t target 99% of the human population, but it needs to be designed for 99% of its fans. What would Formula 1 look like in that case?
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Firstly, there would be bathrooms at circuits. Adequate, permanent bathrooms with running water, not portable toilets. If circuit owners want to save money by not constructing women’s bathrooms, I’d be happy with a unisex arrangement, with a toilet, urinal, and sink inside each stall. To save water – and money replacing the seals that perish from idleness between events – we can come up with a composting toilet system, using coffee grounds, tealeaves, and wood chips from alien plant species that are causing problems in the local ecosystem.
On the subject of bathrooms, I’d take the gender segregation down a notch. Or several. The more I read about the biology of what we consider to be “gender”, the less I think we need to make such a big deal about it. I do appreciate the irony of this, coming from someone who ran an organisation with a specific gender focus. The same goes for race, sexual orientation, and ability status. This is the part where it gets tricky, but stay with me, I’ll bring it around to something that works for everyone.
I would keep grid kids, and do away with promo models entirely. I understand that grid girls and promo models love their jobs, are good at them, and that it is real work. My problem with grid girls is not actually with grid girls; it’s the wider context of what they represent.
They represent women gaining power through the suggestion of sex. This isn’t a new phenomenon; ambitious, beautiful women have been allying with powerful men in order to gain more power for at least seven millennia. I think it’s condescending to assume that these women aren’t savvy enough to make money and/or gain social status in this supposedly meritocratic world using their smarts, not their bodies. The problem is that we have biases that play out as women, especially black/brown and/or queer women, not being taken seriously in the boardroom.
These are structural changes, and they would generate a lot of angry tweets if done too quickly or with too little honesty and ownership of where we all went wrong.
From what I can tell from the social media data and academic lit, women who do promotional work see it as their chance for upward social mobility. It worked for Jordan/Katie Price, why can’t it work for them? I’ll leave Everyday Feminism to explain the pitfalls of this ideology. Suffice it to say, in the eighties and nineties, this theme came into advertising, dressed as “girl power”, the script writers telling us we should buy their products “because you’re worth it”.
Good for those ad execs, making a fat profit for their clients in the boom years of the eighties and nineties. The world is no longer experiencing boom years. Upward financial mobility is, in many ways, harder now than ever. Designing Formula 1 for the 99% includes considering the people affected by Millennial and Gen Z poverty, what their priorities are, and what’s the most ethical way to structure the business. And here’s where we get to talking about class, that most uncomfortable of topics, because designing for the 99% isn’t designing the system for rich people, which the world currently is.
Racing has traditionally been a sport that rich people did, and poor people watched. It hasn’t changed. The biggest challenge facing young drivers of all demographics – marginalised demographics more than straight, white men, but they’re represented in the group of people who quit for financial reasons – is finding the money to race.
In Formula 1 now, backers with a healthy bank balance can sway teams to choose one driver over another. That’s not to say that pay drivers aren’t skilled; there are some great drivers who got there by making enough disposable income to hire coaches, put in practice hours, and get good. But notice that I don’t have a recent example of a woman who did that, and the historic examples of “good pay drivers who were women” are from family money. People with enough family money to race are usually in the 1% bracket.
Thus, if I ran Formula 1, I would abandon the current broadcast model, and embrace the internet. Most people under thirty-five with an internet connection get their video content from YouTube and Patreon, not subscription TV channels. A growing number of Millennials and Gen Z’s have an online business to keep themselves in the black financially. Even Gary Vaynerchuk goes garage saleing on weekends to show his followers how the immigrant hustle is done. The online market doesn’t care about demography: if the product is good, it’ll sell.
We do still need to talk about installing fibre networks in the developing world, improving non-English language resources, developing sustainable product fulfilment infrastructure outside the US, Europe, and China, and making a way for civilians and small businesses to legally, easily, and quickly transact with similar entities in countries experiencing wars and sanctions. If that happened, the internet would be accessible to 99%. Those hurdles overcome, the internet is run fairly democratically.
These are structural changes, and they would generate a lot of angry tweets if done too quickly or with too little honesty and ownership of where we all went wrong. However, if Formula 1 wants to stay relevant, it needs to abandon 1% thinking and move with the times. Speaking of, I would put electric engines in the race cars, and have a support race of locally housed classic cars to give the petrol-bloods their turbocharged noise fix.
Bridget Schuil is the founder of MotorsportSisterhood, an organisation aiming to increase participation of professional women in motorsport. She also works as a Business Development consultant and venture capitalist in Zimbabwe.