Is it time for a dedicated female-only driver development programme?
Motorsport.com columnist David Addison asks whether the real reason there are so few females racing at the top level is because they’re not getting the career support they need to develop in the junior ranks.
I’d never been to the Sachsenring until recently. The ADAC GT Masters, the German domestic series, was the draw – as was the addition of another new venue to my list of tracks visited.
On a damp-but-drying Saturday morning, the cars headed out for a 25-minute qualifying session that was headed by Claudia Hürtgen in her BMW Z4.
Hürtgen, 43, is one of those much over-looked drivers but one who should be highlighted more often when the age-old topic of women racing drivers comes up.
She is clearly one of the best – currently fifth in the drivers’ championship and a proven race winner in a hugely-competitive, high-powered series.
As a result of her fine track record, she drives a frontrunning Team Schubert-run car that helps ensure she stays at the sharp end.
The gender issue
Periodically, the media gets all excited about the fact that there aren’t enough female racers on the grid and whatever you do, say or write about it, you tend to antagonise someone. There is a faction, which believes that there should be more effort put into attracting them, another that believes that if they aren’t good enough, they shouldn’t be racing – male or female.
Occasionally, a sponsor leaps forward and throws money at a female driver or all-girl partnership in a sportscar category and then sits back expecting great PR value.
Oh, and whatever language you use gets you into trouble… are they girls, females, women, ladies, erm… well, they are simply racing drivers aren’t they?
A weekly British magazine recently dedicated ample space to championing women in the sport, drivers and engineers alike, but started its feature with a studio photo-shoot of a racer posing on a car. Like they’d do that for male drivers! Sexism – if that is what it is – is unavoidable.
Carrying that ‘fast lady’ tag
Even on the back of Hürtgen’s pole position came the inevitable ‘Fast Lady’ tag in the press release, but when was the last time you read ‘Fast Man’ headline? Trouble is, it remains tough for the sport to get headlines in the media (specialist and mainstream), so if you can exploit the fact that a female driver is doing well, why wouldn’t you?
Where it becomes a problem is the weight of expectation: many are the cases of a female driver being thrown into a car, class or championship and then struggling. It happens to blokes all the time too but no-one really seems to care. But if a woman race driver isn’t winning, then out come the knives and the comments come that they just can’t hack it and are in some way incapable.
How do we move forward?
Isn’t it about time someone took a long-term view: we have F1 teams with junior driver programmes, but do we have the same with female drivers?
Ideally, you’d take a female driver on a five-year programme and with proper funding and place them in a proper team: give them the tools with which to do the job, let them learn and develop and let them have the funding to have a proper crack at the opposition.
Stick a female racer in a ropey car run by a mediocre team in a tough championship and, guess what, they won’t win just like a male wouldn’t, so let us stop thinking about them as novelty attractions and instead allow them to thrive as racing drivers.
All racing drivers need the best possible team, car and funding combination – and even with that, not all become winners.
Hürtgen is a great example – she has just got on with driving cars as fast as possible for over 20 years, despite sustaining a serious hand injury in the 1993 Monaco F3 Grand Prix.
She isn’t a publicity junkie, not a poser for the cameras, just a very good racing driver who has won races and championships on the strength of her driving talent.
And that is how it should be.
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