F1: an equal sport?

Reality of female participation and barriers faced by women

F1: an equal sport?
(L-R) F1 Academy drivers Hamda Al Qubaisi, Emely De Hues, Amna Al Qubaisi (Photo Credit: RedBull)
When you put the helmet on, it doesn't matter if you are woman or man … the important thing is your ability, your intelligence and your determination…how strong you are” - Milka Duno, Racing Driver 

Motorsports is a equal ground for both men and women. Performance specialists say that there’re no physical barriers stopping any gender from competing in motorsports. Then the question arises, why haven’t we seen any women in F1 in the last fifty years? 

Reality of female participation in Formula 1

Sophie Kumpen started racing at age 11. In the 1980’s she was a well known name in the racing world, competing and winning against drivers who went on to win F1 titles. In 1995, she won the Andrea Margutti Trophy, a prestigious karting championship. But soon after, she quit racing to take care of her children. Max Verstappen, the three time and current world champion, is her son. 

Karting driver Sophie Kumpen, 1994 (Photo credit: Jacky Foulatier)

On the Formula for Success podcast, former F1 driver and 13-time grand prix winner, David Coulthard discussed women’s participation in racing with former team boss Eddie Jordan. This is what Jordan had to say about Sophie Kumpen -

The only person I think that could have done that in my time is Max’s mum, because I think Max Verstappen’s mother was a serious, absolutely wonderfully quick girl and she could, without any question, have made it in my opinion in Formula 1. But you know, there wasn’t a mechanism there to help her and I’m not sure many of the teams would have gone to support it or whatever it was, which is wrong. And I think that has to change.”

More Than Equal’s report finds that female participation across all levels of motorsport competition is depressingly low - standing overall at only 10%. In Karting, which is the first step in this journey, participation is at 13% and in senior stages of F1 and GT Racing - only 7%. 

There’s a very clear ‘gender participation gap’ in motorsport.

The report also states that the small percentage of drivers that are competing at the moment are not progressing at the same rate as their male counterparts and without significant intervention, the changes of women reaching the top is very small. Karting, which makes up to 40% of all female participation in motorsport, need a vital increase in participation along with performance improvement through training to have a chance for drivers to progress through the ranks and reach Formula 1. 

Watch | 13 time Gran Prix winner and leading member of More than Equal, David Coulthard's interview with Good Morning Britain

Barriers faced by Female drivers in reaching Formula 1

Research also finds that female drivers face significant barriers in progressing through levels of motorsport, over and above those faced by men. Problems the cost of competing, gender biases in funding, stereotypes regarding perception of female drivers, absence of proper training, less track time, absence of female role models and lack of research contribute to the gender participation gap. Motorsports is challenging to all genders but women discriminately face barriers due to societal bias on their gender. 

An average male drivers career lasts over 12 years, while a female driver on average has a career of only 1 to 5 years. Fans of the sport who long to see a woman in F1, are left but to wonder what would have happened if drivers like Sophie had proper support they needed in their career.

Watch | What women say? And who are the rising stars amongst Female drivers? Watch this video by photographer and web journalist, Kym Illman

This article is part of series titled "The long road to seeing a woman drive in Formula 1". Read about the potential of Female only series in getting women the necessary support to progress through the ranks and why they continue to be a point of debate in the next Article -

Are female only series a solution to Gender Participation Gap?
W-series and the origins of F1 academy explained