The W Series, with its all-female starting grid, offers 18 full-time spots, while Extreme E’s unique sports format features a 50-50 gender split between men and women. Further support will come in 2023 with the introduction of the F1 Academy, a new grassroots series which aims to help women enter the single-seater pyramid.
However, if you look into the top echelons of some of the most popular motorsports, you will find that there are no women behind the wheel. Why are women stuck on the starting grid? For a variety of reasons, one could say, from a potential lack of physical strength to speed, from not having the right professional and financial support to not being suited to a predominantly male sport.
The answer doesn’t lie on one spectrum than others, but it’s more multifaceted and makes it harder to find the right path to inspire a generation of girls.
The More Than Equal Global Attitude Survey, powered by Motorsport Network, hopes to understand answers to questions about potential barriers and obstacles, as well as explore fans’ perceptions of the rise of a female star in the future. The survey asks questions about fans’ belief in their physical and spatial abilities, their determination to ride fast and hard, and whether fans and sponsors support the rise of a female star. Have you completed the survey yet?
Extreme E racer Catie Munnings knows all too well what it’s like to take on the challenges women face. The 25-year-old, who drives for Genesys Andretti United in the all-electric off-road series, started racing at 14. She competed in the European Rally Championship, before moving up to Extreme E for its inaugural season in 2021. She has been active in encouraging girls to take the wheel – quite literally – but points out that the dearth of winning female role models in championships is an obstacle, for which young girls cannot find the path to emulate.
Speaking to Autosport, Munnings said: “I remember when I first started getting involved with different organisations, I was an ambassador for Susie Wolff’s Dare To Be Different campaign. I remember we would go to different events and there were young girls coming to the events and We often said, ‘raise your hand if you want to be a Formula 1 driver.’ And basically the whole room was saying, ‘Well, you can’t be a Formula 1 driver if you’re a girl’, because they didn’t see that representation, so they thought really that it was a regulation”.
Catie Munnings, Timmy Hansen, Genesys Andretti United Extreme E
Photo by: Colin McMaster / Motorsport Images
And if enough people know the rules of motorsport, they know that anyone can compete, no matter what genre they identify with.
“I think slowly, as more women are introduced at the top level in other leagues, there is awareness that it’s an option,” adds Munnings. “Women’s sport has grown a lot, with women’s football and rugby in recent years, and it would be great if motorsport did the same. Not just Formula 1, but also rallycross, world rally, any other type of racing, I think there is still a numerical disparity on the starting grid”.
Munnings says it is vital for young women considering a career in motorsport to see role models for inspiration and believes perceptions have “definitely changed”, with more women in the paddock working as mechanics, drivers and engineers.
Julia Wall-Clarke, Communications Manager at Extreme E, believes the limits for women still lie in accessibility and singles out “access, aspiration, and being able to achieve it” as the biggest barriers. According to Wall-Clarke, there is an urgent need to remove barriers to entry to get more women into motorsport.
“When it comes to finding drivers who win the championship, there is a needle in a haystack,” adds Kate Beavan, strategy consultant and board member of the >= More than Equal initiative, “which becomes even more difficult when the the search pool for female talent is less than 5% of the entire pool”.
Wall-Clarke agrees that series need to remove barriers to entry, for example by lowering entry costs while simultaneously showcasing the other opportunities available within motorsport, such as in engineering. And she echoes Munnings in saying that young girls need to see more women in strategic positions within motorsport to believe this can be a fair world. “Seeing is believing”, in her words.
“We don’t traditionally have local fans, but we cater to the local Girls on Track STEM groups that we have led or were led by local contacts, especially girls who they invited to visit the paddock and meet the riders. The inside experience it’s what’s left inside you.”
Catie Munnings, Genesys Andretti United Extreme E, Hedda Hosas, Extreme E, and Kevin Hansen, Veloce Racing
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
“I believe that the responsibility lies with everyone, from team owners to marketing managers, from the FIA to the women drivers themselves and the men who support them. I think it is the responsibility of all of us to change this situation.”
There is also the question of the role media plays in perceptions and stereotypes of women in motorsport.
James Allen, president of Motorsport Network, agrees there is a “long way to go” to get more female journalists into the paddocks and to educate male members of the media.
She said: “The More than Equal project is an important initiative as it will take an evidence-based approach and seek to break down the barriers that prevent women from reaching the pinnacle of our sport and stepping in financially and politically to achieve this objective”.
In recent years we have seen more female journalists and content creators enter the sport, which is very good, but there is still a long way to go in this respect and also in terms of educating journalists and male content creators on the challenges female contestants face.”
But if an order of accountability could be established, who would be most responsible for leading the change? You can have your say in the >= More Than Equal Global Attitude Survey on this issue and the question of the role played by fewer models within motorsport.
The survey, hosted by motorsport.com through February 3, is distributed worldwide and is available in 15 languages. It aims to be the most comprehensive study of its kind ever conducted.
To complete the survey, go to: https://more-than-equal-survey-2023.motorsportnetwork.com/
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