Although motorsport is meant to be accessible to both men and women, in the higher categories, including F1, it remains essentially a male driver’s sport.
No woman has come close to driving in F1 since 2015 with Susie Wolff Williams – and only one, Lella Lombardi, has scored a point (half a point to be exact) in the world championship.
Danish endurance specialist Michel Gatting has nothing to be ashamed of with his pedigree: for example, he finished 4th and then 5th in the European Le Mans Series (2019 and 2020) and has four top-10 finishes at the 24 Hours. Le Mans in GTAm. She is also a member of the Iron Dames, a 100% female Iron Lynx endurance crew (with very honorable results, especially in championships such as WEC and IMSA).
Moreover, when he was young, Gatting established himself as one of the hopefuls of Danish motorsport: at the age of 8, he raced (and sometimes beat) a certain Kevin Magnussen in a kart, and in 2011 he finished 3rd in the race. Danish Formula Ford.
So why didn’t Gatting end up like Kevin Magnussen’s career? As a woman, what specifically could have prevented her from moving to a higher level in her career?
As F1 tries to attract more women to the sport through various programmes, Gatting’s statement to the BBC could be enlightening…
“There were times when I had to pull out my fists and do things that women don’t usually do. I had to fight for respect. »
And Gatting says how hard he sometimes applies himself to the boys! A go-kart driver pushed him off the track in Sweden…
“My father taught me that you have to give them back their coins. »
“Finally, I had to find this guy. He understood since then. I was probably one of the most feared riders in the paddock because people were scared of me but they didn’t push me off the track. That’s how I gained respect. »
Gatting recounts another episode of sheer sexism … quite recently, obviously.
“They see our sister’s car behind and let the children pass. As soon as they see my pink car again, they start backing away. It was pure ego. »
“At the end I pass one of these pilots and overtake him. It hurt his ego. You could hear him yelling through his helmet. »
There are still women in reserve or advanced driver positions: for example, W series champion Jamie Chadwick (pictured) at Williams.
But Gatting does not believe that Williams wants to one day make its driver the starting driver, and has criticized the marketing moves played by certain teams.
“Formula 1 should be open to the idea that it can have a woman at a good level of competition because they have tried to attract girls to F1 as marketing tools and ‘test drivers’ but in the end it has not worked. many. But having a woman next to two F1 drivers was good for pictures. »
Single seats that don’t fit?
Jamie Chadwick somewhat shares his fellow Dane’s skepticism, but not for the same reasons.
Indeed for Chadiwck, F2 or F3 are unsuitable for women due to some physical limitations…
“It’s definitely a physical sport and a lot of the cars in F1 are completely tailored to the driver. Especially the power steering. But in the standard series like F2 or F3, everything is designed for ordinary male drivers and there is no steering wheel. »
“I think it is possible for women to compete in any championship, but the physical level required for it is very high. So if you are a 16 or 17 year old girl who develops later than her male counterparts, I don’t see how anyone can expect you to be on the same physical level as some of the younger guys. »
Long-term activity for the FIA
How does Deborah Mayer, president of the FIA Motorsport Women’s Commission and owner of the Iron Dames, take Gatting and Chadwick’s testimony?
Isn’t there still a lot to be done before women finally have the same chance or the same treatment as men to reach the pinnacle of motorsport? How to do this?
“I think the first thing is to expand the base of the pyramid – we need to develop the profession of the youngest. »
“I’m sure more women will enter the top categories of motorsport, whether it’s hypercars or single-seaters. But for that, we need to create a structure that will allow them to shine and grow. »
“I think the flow will be natural – the important thing is to show women that there are opportunities in motorsport. This is a long-term process. It will take time, but it will come. »
Mayer also promises that the FIA will adapt the physics of single-seaters as suggested by Chadwick?
“There are certainly many areas that can be adapted or addressed. This is a long-term process. »
“When you’re trying to introduce amendments and changes, it can’t happen all at once – it’s a step-by-step process. »
A number of initiatives have been launched by the teams and the FIA: notably the ‘Girls on Track’ program supported by Scuderia Ferrari. F1 has also launched an F4-style promotion formula, the F1 Academy, which will be dedicated to women and in which F1 will fund £2m per year.
Ultimately, what gives Gatting so much hope is the momentum that has been set in motion for equality, which seems almost inevitable, he concludes.
“There were barriers, including sponsors not getting used to the idea of a woman driving, and those are still there, but they’re getting smaller. There are women who can go all the way to F1. »
“If you had asked me the question four years ago, I would not have realized how far I have come in such a short time. We want to inspire and encourage more young women to take up this sport. »
“We’ve all had our ups and downs as athletes at Iron Dames. It is not easy to get there. »