Monisha Kaltenborn: Meet F1's female powerhouse

Sauber have made the bold move in this blokish sport of appointing a woman as team principal. But do not dare presume that she is off the pace. David Tremayne meets Monisha Kaltenborn

Monisha Kaltenborn's face creases into a tolerant but slightly embarrassed smile at the notion that her new role as team principal of the Sauber Formula One outfit makes her "the most powerful woman in sport".

"I am not that much into titles," says the 41-year-old Indian-born, Austrian-raised former lawyer who joined the team in 1998. "I never even see it from the perspective that I am a woman. That's a fact for me. It's good if the world sees it that way, because it would be worse if they thought you weren't feminine. But it's just part of what you get from me being a woman, though I also like to behave like a woman, whatever that means to people. Sometimes I can be difficult, as I am told by some people. Which is also part of being a woman."

Nobody would ask any of the 11 male team principals in F1 if they were going to run their team like a man, but Kaltenborn rides the whole gender/power thing easily. "For me there is no power to it; I'm doing the same thing I was before, and I have enough challenges to sort out. It's not power which will help me. It's being smart and making the right decisions. I don't need power to solve my problems, I need other things.

"And these titles… if they would ask am I proud of being the first woman, I would say that to be proud you have to achieve a lot, and I am just starting now. Hopefully, in a long time to come I can achieve certain things and say that together with the team I am proud. By myself, I can do nothing."

When it was announced in Korea last week that she would take over from the team's founder, Peter Sauber, who turned 69 this weekend, she revealed how she came to love the team and her role in 2009 when Sauber were forced by BMW's shock withdrawal to buy it back. "For myself that was where I realised, 'I do want to fight for this team'. That's where, without really knowing where this road was going to lead you, you just said this is about the existence of the team. It sounds very dramatic and it was. You fight for this cause, just to keep it alive. And that's when you get so passionate about it."

The planned promotion followed closely on Kaltenborn's appointment by the FIA's president, Jean Todt, as one of the governing body's ambassadors for Women in Motorsport.

"It's a lot of responsibility," she says enthusiastically. "I'm really passionate about my job and if I can give other people the courage to simply do what they believe in, I think that is a very nice feeling. I'm not telling them I'm great. It's not about me. It's about transferring this feeling to them, and that courage. No matter what you want to do, and maybe you want to be much higher, good for you. But go for it."

Kaltenborn has already achieved a lot, but is one of those players who are too modest to push their own cause. She is a successful woman, already in a good position within her sport before the promotion, with credibility and a reputation for knowing what she's talking about.

"We always want to achieve more," she adds. "I worked hard for whatever has been there. But it's never been any path which I have decided for myself and planned out. Sometimes it just happens, and you have to take a decision and know which direction you are going."

Speed of decision-making, Sauber himself says, is one of her strengths. "I always have to be careful not to take [decisions] too quickly," she confesses. "I've learned to listen more to people and sometimes not straight away to get too emotional. I have a very strong reaction, so it comes out, then I calm down again and look at it all and listen and then come to a decision. Everyone knows that a decision will be taken, and no time will be wasted."

Motor racing, of course, has always had an image as one of the last bastions of global sexism. Kaltenborn doesn't agree with that because she is on the inside and knows better, but she is astute enough to appreciate that image's marketing potential.

"I think there's an aspect to the overall image which we all create and all support of F1, where you do see women like the grid girls or a lot of lovely young women fascinated by the personalities of the drivers, and we're all fine with that because we know what F1 is really about. That's what we portray to the outside world, which is perfectly fine." She breaks into a laugh. "But I don't like the idea of men wearing those kind of things and standing out there. I wouldn't like that, believe me!

"But if that image which we are portraying sells well, why not? Because you know you are not treated that way. I was reading in a newspaper that banks were saying there are so many governors and not one is a woman. They all have to have these discussions. With us it's just happened so naturally. That makes us very progressive."

Indeed so. Back in 1993 Sauber were the first F1 team to have a female team manager, Carmen Ziegler.

Kaltenborn has never directly experienced sexism or racism in racing, and says: "I don't see any of that. It's more about who are the stronger teams and the weaker teams, and there it doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman."

She passionately believes that there will be another female F1 driver and is part of an FIA initiative to seek one, but acknowledges it will take time.

There is a poignancy to that, given her friendship with fellow FIA ambassador Maria de Villota, the Spanish driver who lost an eye when she crashed a Marussia F1 car into a transporter in July. "I think she is very, very strong," Kaltenborn says of somebody she cares about through spiritual kinship rather than any sense of sisterhood. "You cannot imagine how much she has gone through, and she is still smiling. She wants to do something for motorsport, not driving but something for safety.

"She is so amazing, a lovely girl, and I was so, so upset. Not even 10 days before the accident we were together in Paris when we were elected as ambassadors and she was happy like a little kid – 'I'm going to be in the car'. It was cruel beyond belief what happened.

"As women in motorsport it's all about giving people the belief to be what they want to be, and I think she would be excellent at that. I admire her for all her courage."

What Kaltenborn doesn't seem to appreciate is that there are young people who will, for different reasons, be equally inspired by her.

Korean GP final qualifying: Webber steals pole from team-mate Vettel

Just when it seemed that Sebastian Vettel again had pole position all locked up, his Red Bull team-mate, Mark Webber, slipped in a brilliant lap of 1min 37.242sec on his second run to take his first pukka pole of the season yesterday. Vettel's attempt to go faster was frustrated slightly by Felipe Massa's Ferrari, and he was unable to improve. Red Bull nevertheless annexed the front row of the grid for the second consecutive race.

"It was very tight today but I'm very happy to get the job done," Webber said. "It was a reasonable lap, and we're in a good position to get a good result."

"Overall we can be very happy," Vettel said. "I was quite quick in the first and second qualifying sessions, but I don't want to blame Felipe for the last run. I should have figured it out better."

Third place was a relief for Lewis Hamilton, who only just got through the first session after being 17th fastest. "That was a scare," he admitted. "But we managed to put ourselves in as good a position as we could. We're not far off."

David Tremayne

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our Client has been the leader ...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project