Sir Stirling Moss has told a BBC 5 Live programme that he does not believe women have the “mental aptitude” to race in Formula 1.
As part of a radio programme called ‘Women in F1, which was meant to be aired last night but was understandably curtailed due to the Boston Marathon explosions, Moss said that “ it’s pretty tiring” and that he was not sure if women have the mental strength to race competitively.
Despite the show not having been aired yet, Moss’ comments are still in the public domain.
Of course F1 drivers need to be mentally and physically fit. But it's not the physical ability Moss doubts. Besides, women have done it before so it's not that they aren't allowed to compete, it just takes someone exceptional.
Also featured on the programme was F1 hopeful Susie Wolff, who is currently a development driver for Williams, saying that she believes it is possible to break into F1 and hopes to do so.
And why shouldn’t it be possible? F1 is a sport which relies on a skilled driver driving a vehicle that matches all the competitors. How is it any different to female jockeys, such as Katie Walsh competing in the Grand National on Seabass, as well as other female jockeys that have competed previously? It is not just about the skill of the jockey, but also the ability of the horse. In the same way, it is not just about the Lewis Hamiltons and the Mark Webbers, it’s about Ferrari, Red Bull, Mclaren and all the other teams.
However, on paper Moss’ comments look to be backed up by history. Lella Lombardi leads the pack as the most prolific female F1 driver, having started 12 races in the 1970s and scoring half a point. She is one of only five women to have raced in a Grand Prix.
So it is possible to break into F1 if you’re a woman , although the very limited success of the previous women competitors suggests that it will take a very rare, talented female to really cause a stir on the F1 scene, as F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone says.
Nevertheless, it is possible and especially in an age where the profile of women’s sport is steadily, albeit slowly, increasing. The England’s Women’s Football team have qualified for Euro 2013 in Sweden in July and England’s netballers have recently enjoyed success in the World Series against Australia and their recent test series in Jamaica. Despite a disappointing display at the recent World Cup, our women’s cricketers are also a force to be reckoned with on the international circuit. Maybe next on the cards we will have the first woman to win a Grand Prix? Who knows.
There is no doubting that F1 is difficult to get into no matter what your sex. After all, there are only 22 places on the grid and with only one chance every few seasons to commission the driver you hope will win you the championship, how many of the big names are going to take what they see as a gamble on a women driver to drive for their team ? Especially as none of the previous five women have set the sport alight.
The real problem is not the lack of opportunity for women, although that is an issue. But the opportunity issue is not just one for women. There are only ever a handful of chances at the end of every season to make it as a driver for a team so there’s a lack of opportunity for anyone trying to get into competing in Grand Prixs. Competition is fierce and teams understandably want the cream of the crop.
I think the real question is ‘Is this something many girls aspire to?’ Maybe their dreams don’t involve travelling the world, racing cars but that’s not necessarily because they don’t have the mental strength.
There should be no reason why those that do have F1 aspirations such as Susie Wolff, rising star Alice Powell and recent Red Bull signing Beitske Visser shouldn’t be able to compete on the same grid as the men, if they’re good enough. Equally, I don’t believe they should be given any special treatment to compete if they are not good enough. ‘Mental aptitude’ is not restricted to one gender and neither should be racing in F1 if there are women out there with the talent.
I look forward to hearing Sir Stirling’s comments in full, and the rest of the show when it is aired.