Change history – is it possible? Formula 1 has got more than 50 years of existence. However, the female presence in motorsport is somehow scarce, at least behind the wheel.
Nevertheless, nowadays Formula 1 seems to be more open regarding women’s presence in the sport: Claire Williams, Deputy Team Principal of Williams; Sussie Wolff, former team development driver or Carmen Jorda, Lotus F1 Team Development Driver. There is, still, a lot of work to do in terms of having a woman competing one-to-one on the track. The last time a female driver participated in a Grand Prix was in 1992. Let’s review the only women who have raced in Formula 1.
Click here to subscribe to our print edition!
Lella Lombardi: 17 Grands Prix
The Italian driver is one of the greatest names in the female history of Formula 1. At the age of 31, Lella joined the Brabham team. In 1975, she competed for March Team the whole season. Being the first woman to finish a race and scored a point, Lombardi stayed in Formula 1 for three years in a row, completing a total of 17 races.
Maria Teresa de Filipis: 5 races
The first woman to take part in a Formula 1 Grand Prix was also Italian – Maria Teresa. In 1958, racing for Maserati, she made her debut at Monaco Grand Prix. It was Bernie Ecclestone’s first race too! She was unfortunate in the following races, albeit she managed to finish the Belgian Grand Prix; she could not participate in the French Grand Prix, since the organisation decided a woman was not prepared to take part in a race. In 1959, De Filipis joined Porsche, but the results were not the expected ones. Eventually, she would retire from the competition in 1959, devastated by the loss of several mates in Formula 1. Despite her performance was not exactly brilliant, she was a pioneer in a sport dominated by men.
Divina Galica: 3 races
The English driver made her debut in Formula in 1976, when the Whiting team gave her a chance to take part in the British Grand Prix, however, Galica did not qualify. In the 1978 season, Divina shifted teams and signed with Hesketh Racing. Again, luck was not on her side and she left the competition.
With the examples set by Claire Williams or Monisha Kaltenborn, raising the number of women in the category seems more a reality rather than a dream.
Giovanna Amati: 3 Grands Prix
The Italian former driver made her debut in the Formula 1 Championship in 1992, when she had to replace the Japanese driver Akihiko Nakaya. Amati’s performance in the competition was short and quiet. The Italian woman could not complete any of the qualify sessions she took part in. As a result, her team, Brabham, fired her after the race in Brazil, where she was unable to qualify. Her performance did not help the team in terms of results, but did so in terms of publicity, since the announcement of her recruitment puts the British manufacturer in the spotlight.
Désire Wilson: 1 race
The South African driver had her official Formula 1 start in 1980. That year Wilson participated in The British Grand Prix with a Williams car. Her achievements were quite discreet yet she made herself a name in the history for being the first South African woman to be part of the sport.
I want to believe that we will see women racing in Formula 1 soon. Nonetheless, there is a lot of work that needs to be done if the sport wants to harness the benefits of having more females racing.
A great initiative would be developing female driver programmes so they could have the same opportunities as their male counterparts. Programmes such as Red Bull Junior Team have proved to be a success since they nurture drivers from very young age, and teams could get the same outcome from young girls. One of the hurdles women face in motorsport is the late age they start racing. Hence the importance of fostering programmes and initiatives that would give women more presence in the motorsport world while they acquire the needed skills to fight for a seat in Formula 1.
Beyond that, it is FIA’s duty to ensure that women can race in this sport, or at least, get the chance to strive on a level playing field as their male colleagues. The interest in Formula 1 would be tremendous among young girls if state programmes would be fostered. And not only in racing but also in other areas such as engineering, business or marketing.
As a matter of fact, Sussie Wolff, the former Williams test driver, has created an organisation to aspire girls to work in the motorsport business. With the examples set by Claire Williams or Monisha Kaltenborn, raising the number of women in the category seems more a reality rather than a dream.
I strongly believe Formula 1 could make room for women in all possible areas, from driving to higher positions. Moreover, with the decreasing Formula 1’s popularity, boosting the female presence would attract new sponsors to the sport; not to mention more women would engage in racing and Formula 1 would eventually become a more diverse field.