Knocking on the door of F1

Women are constantly moving forward in motorsports, and we are constantly coming back to this interesting topic. This time we sit down for a business talk with two impressive personalities – Elena Chatzikonstantinou, founder and CEO of THE CODE 20, and Carmen Jorda, Lotus F1 Team Development Driver.

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So what’s the situation of women in Formula 1 today?

Elena: It’s no secret that Formula 1 is predominately a male playground. That said, we have seen in the last few years, a truthful effort in getting women involved and interested in F1, everywhere from fans to marketing and engineering executives and even drivers. In 2009, FIA created the ‘Women in Motorsports Commission’ (under the presidency of Jean Todt) to encourage the inclusion of women into the industry and since then significant steps have been made towards this mission. Such as, for example, Susie Wolff, the first female that raced during an F1 weekend at the British GP since 1992 and Monisha Kaltenborn, the only current female Formula 1 Team Principal.

Carmen: We can clearly see that it is not the IF but WHEN women are going to fully open the door to Formula 1. The last women to drive a Formula 1 car in an official F1 test was 22 years ago and, suddenly, this year we have two women Formula 1 test drivers and me as a GP3 racing driver. That’s a lot! 

If more people in charge were women, the fan base of Formula 1 would widen up and more unconventional sponsors would get attracted.

How about other series of motorsport?

Elena: With the exception of Danica Patrick and Vanina Ickx at Le Mans, there are a few other women that have gained worldwide recognition as drivers in the motorsport industry. It’s a rather tough barrier for women to overcome right from the very start. To achieve this, you have to perform and deliver, but more so, be provided with the right opportunity and support from all parties. Sponsors will rarely invest in a non-established name, while parents would consider it ‘safer’ to send their daughters to university in a more conventional programme.

Carmen: Again, you can see women arriving at all different support series. I believe almost all series have their women now – GP3, WSR, Auto GP, Formula E. We are present. I also see a lot of girls participating in Go-karting, which also is a very promising market for prospective female drivers. I want to give them a reason to believe they should pursue their dream.

Just how hard is it for a woman to race in Formula 1?

Elena: To become a Formula 1 driver, male or a female, you clearly need to start at a very young age and obtain substantial financial support from family or sponsors. Being a Formula 1 driver is not a 9-5 job by far, I don’t see it even being described as a ‘job’. The drivers are top athletes, obviously, like Olympic champions. Thus, your life has to be completely devoted to the passion for racing, and women often have family obligations. So I would say it’s more difficult for the ladies than the gents. Also, you have to have suitable circumstances around you to get in, and since it’s a male playground so far, it’s pretty hard for the women.

Carmen: Physically, the other racing series actually impact us more than Formula 1. In GP3, for example, cars have a lot more downforce this year and are much harder to drive. I understand the organisers, they are trying to make a better show with more overtaking, but on the other side, they make it harder for women because of the physical aptitude. How do you think Maria Sharapova would do in a men’s tennis tournament? Probably she would not win a single match because of the physical difference. The psychological aspect is hard too – if something has never been done before, it makes it much more difficult to believe in your own abilities to do it.

Where do you see big potential for women racers?

Elena: A big potential for women racers can only be seen if the proper support is provided from an early stage. Current members of the Formula 1 community should take the leap and encourage such initiatives. I am not referring to nepotism but rather to giving the chance and the trust to prove their potential. A great example is Simona De Silvestro, affiliate driver of Sauber F1 Team, who started her career at IZOD IndyCar Series and she has now been given the chance to race with Sauber F1 in 2015.

Carmen: I see big potential for women racing everywhere. If this sport is going to be truly global it simply cannot ignore half of the population.

What women in the motorsport business would you pick as most progressive today?

Elena: In the overall picture of the motorsport business, there are a lot of noteworthy women and I am not referring just to racers, but to entrepreneurs as well. The list is long but for those working in the paddock, they know how true this statement is. Bright examples are Martine Cohen-Kindt, CEO of Bell Racing, manufacturers of racing helmets, Oksana Kossatchenko, ex-manager of Vitaly Petrov and Elizabetta Randazzo, owner of Staff and Services at the Paddock Club.

Elena, was it difficult for you to get established in the business of motorsports?

Elena: I had to prove myself at numerous occasions through my work before getting THE CODE 20 brand established. Now it is associated with the most exclusive and avant-garde Formula 1 after parties. It involved a lot of sleepless nights, travelling, constant research and the creation of exceptional concepts. F1 people have attended a tremendous amount of good events so I had to bring something unique to the table, such as special performances from around the world and production of unique shows. But recognition always comes when you are at the top of your game and you deliver what you promise.

Would motorsports as an industry change if there were more women in charge?

Carmen: Well, just have a look at other industries – more and more women are in charge. And it’s not always because they are better, it’s because they are as good as men in those positions and their ideas are different, new, variant. I think Formula 1 as a sport is so male-driven that it would benefit insanely from having a different approach. From my experience, men tend to make quick business decisions better and women can react to stress and handle long-term activities more professionally. The secret always is a good mix of men and women in power.

Elena: I completely agree. Of course, the fan base would widen up and more unconventional sponsors would get attracted.

What are your personal hopes for the near future?

Elena: I believe that for women to feel empowered, the general public has to praise their Formula 1 achievements more; and younger female generations should definitely enter all aspects of the sport, not just the racing and the business. I would personally like to see a female driver in a Formula 1 team competing equally with her rivals on a Sunday race. Time to get them to the podium!

Carmen: As for myself, I want to drive a McLaren Formula 1 car one day – I really like their style and their professional approach. They have always inspired me. Ron Dennis has built an incredible winning machine and I would like to inspire young girls to achieve their goals by being a great example. If I can also play a role later in the business sector of motorsports – why not, I have a business school degree and I could certainly show a lot of passion in that area. But as for everything, the time has to be right.

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