The Last Word: Only another woman would have the balls to hire a female driver

It would be nice if promotion of Claire Williams loosened F1’s macho bolts

On the Turf, they suggest one of the twin spectres: slow horses and fast women. A still less enlightened view, however, infects men who deal with another kind of horsepower. In Formula One, a woman's most obvious purpose is decoration. "Grid girls" strut ritually on hookers' heels through the quivering air, unchaste vestals to all the priapic vainglory of the cockpit. While Katie Walsh, third last year, returns to the Grand National next Saturday as rider of the second favourite, no such breakthrough seems remotely imminent in a Grand Prix.

It would be nice to think, then, that the anointment of Claire Williams as ultimate successor to her father, Sir Frank – at 36, she was this week promoted to deputy team principal – will help loosen the bolts infamously rammed by Bernie Ecclestone, when Danica Patrick first emerged on the Indy500 scene: "Women should be dressed in white – like all the other domestic appliances."

True, one of the things holding women back may be a heightened sense of dignity. Never mind all the braggadocio and machismo commended in F1 drivers. Perhaps only a man would typically endure the din, stench, artifice and tedium of a sport so incensed by Sebastian Vettel's outrageous, underhand ruse of driving faster than his team-mate in Malaysia last week.

But that, in turn, would simply be another stereotype. Just as some women, given the chance, are perfectly capable of starting wars, so many plainly discover puerile satisfaction in the fast and furious transports of a petrolhead. And there have, of course, already been isolated cases of women driving in F1 – albeit just five have ever entered a race, against over 800 men.

Of these, two qualified to start: the pioneering Maria Teresa de Filippis, and Lella Lombardi, whose half-point in the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix (the race was stopped early) for now remains the sole foothold for a glass slipper in the testosterone void. But a tradition of drivers rejecting or exploiting obtuse male expectations extends over a century to Dorothy Levitt, holder of speed records on land and water; via the exotic, doomed Hellé Nice; Davina Galica, also an Olympic skier; Janet Guthrie, an aerospace engineer welcomed to Charlotte Motor Speedway by chants of "no tits in the pits"; Michele Mouton, runner-up in a world rally drivers' championship; and many others besides.

F1 is far too big a business to reject 50 per cent of the world's available brains. Sure enough, Claire Williams would not be the first woman to make team principal, Monisha Kaltenborn having taken over Sauber as a mother of two. But if Williams has enjoyed a degree of positive discrimination, as her father's daughter, then perhaps some such redress might yet be extended to the tarmac. After all, if it takes nepotism to beat sexism – and by all accounts, her genes have conferred upon Williams far more pertinent assets than a surname – then perhaps F1 will ultimately embrace a female driver simply by dint of its reliable pursuit of profit.

Ecclestone himself seems to have repented, recently suggesting that Patrick would now be a good fit for F1. But it is not hard to fill the thought bubble of a man who once suggested, as the driver to break F1's glass ceiling, "a black girl with super looks, preferably Jewish or Muslim, who speaks Spanish".

As an 18-year-old, Patrick actually tried to get started in England but found the motorsport culture over here too misogynistic. It is instructive – and alarming – that she should ultimately find a more congenial sanctuary in stock car racing, despite its highly conservative heritage in the bootlegging South.

Auspiciously, the Williams team already has a female development driver, Susie Wolff. And let's not forget that driver access to F1 is always commercially loaded. Some day soon, paradoxically, a woman could turn that to her advantage.

The McLaren boss, Martin Whitmarsh, has explicitly complained that some "pay drivers" with heavy financial backing are "fundamentally not good enough to be in Formula One." But nowadays you have to bring something to the table other than a basic competence to exploit advantages secured by the mechanics.

One of the Williams drivers, Pastor Maldonado, has been bringing in tens of millions in sponsorship from a state-run oil company in Venezuela. Though Maldonado had the talent to win in Spain last year, the death of Hugo Chávez has evidently made his future uncertain – many compatriots having been baffled that Chávez could invest so much, in so brazenly capitalist a sport, in the name of patriotic or even socialist evangelism.

It's a vicious circle. During qualifying in Melbourne, Maldonado pronounced his car "undriveable". There are only a couple of dozen drivers' seats, some behind hopelessly outmatched engines. Without the dough, there can be no upgrades.

Access to the fast set is exorbitant for talented men, as well as women, and one sex plainly provides many more aspirants than the other. But there could be corresponding commercial dividends for the woman who conquered bull-headed misapprehensions about the need for a bull neck; for the woman who could absorb the technical deficiencies of her vehicle, and the ethical ones of her environment. The stakes are so high, in fact, that perhaps only another woman will ever have the balls to hire one.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform