Former racing driver Sir Stirling Moss believes women lack the “mental aptitude” to race in Formula One.
"I think they have the strength, but I don't know if they've got the mental aptitude to race hard, wheel-to-wheel," the 16-time Grand Prix winner told a BBC Radio 5 Live special that will air tonight.
"The trouble is, when you're racing, it's pretty tiring,” said the 83-year-old. “We had three-hour races in those days. You needed tremendous concentration. Now races are only one hour and 10 minutes.
"We've got some very strong and robust ladies, but, when your life is at risk, I think the strain of that in a competitive situation will tell when you're trying to win.
"The mental stress I think would be pretty difficult for a lady to deal with in a practical fashion. I just don't think they have aptitude to win a Formula One race."
Williams development driver Susie Wolff, the woman currently closest to a race seat in Formula One offered a strong disagreement: "I completely disagree with him. It makes me cringe hearing that," she said. "I've got a lot of respect for Sir Stirling and what he achieved, but I think we're in a different generation."
Moss’ comments come in what has been a successful year for women in motorsport. Arguably the highest profile woman, Danica Patrick, took pole position in the Daytona 500 NASCAR race and continues to race well in that series. Wolff believes the time is right for women to make the step up to Formula One: "For Moss, it's unbelievable that a female would drive a Formula One car, which is fair enough. In the days they were racing, every time they stepped into a car, they were putting their life on the line. But F1 is much more technologically advanced, it's much safer than it was."
Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone told the same program that he believes circumstances rather than gender are to blame for the lack of women in motorsport.
"There's no reason why a woman shouldn't be able to compete with a man," Ecclestone said. "Unfortunately, the way things are, I don't imagine a lady will ever get the chance to drive a Red Bull or a Ferrari.
"The only chance is with a lesser team – and they only take someone if they come with a good sponsor. Regretfully, the problem is that many ladies who could compete probably as well as the guys won't get chance."
Wolff concurred with Ecclestone’s views: "I agree with him. Ferrari and Red Bull take [the] best drivers on the market at the time to go out and win world championships.
"I'm in a position where I'm just trying to get into F1, but I do believe that it's possible for a woman to get in, otherwise I wouldn't be doing this."
The last woman to race in Formula One was Italian Giovanna Amati, however she failed to qualify for three races at the start of the 1992 season. Fellow Italian Lella Lombardi was perhaps the most prolific female driver in F1, starting 12 races in the 1970s and scoring half a point.