Yes, the world of F1 is hugely sexist. Is there a problem with that?

Of course Formula One is a macho environment and has attitudes to match. But, Jane Nottage argues, women can still survive - and thrive - in it

Eddie Irvine's 75-foot luxury motorboat was moored off Portofino, a small piece of paradise situated on the coast of northern Italy. Splayed across the expansive sofa in the main reception room, flicking through the TV channels, its owner did not bother asking about my journey.

"Have you got them?" Irvine demanded

"Yes," I replied.

The goods in questions were 10 packets of chocolate Jaffa Cakes and five new pairs of Tommy Hilfiger men's underpants (grand prix drivers don't bother washing their underwear, it seems, they just get new ones). It was my currency to enter the inner world of a Formula One driver.

I was there to write Irvine's autobiography and had just spent two hours waiting to be picked up at the airport. "I suppose if I was blonde, 24, with endless legs, I wouldn't have had to wait," I muttered.

"Probably not," he chuckled, munching a Jaffa Cake.

Irvine's remarks might strike many women - and, indeed, some men - as unbearably sexist, but to me they were not a problem. I'd worked in the testosterone-fuelled world of Formula One for a long time, and it was water off a duck's back.

Beverley Turner would no doubt disagree. In yesterday's Independent she wrote scathingly about what she saw as the sport's appalling sexism.

Well, blow me down with a duster. Macho men, driving cars at high speeds, make overtly sexist comments to the members of the opposite sex - and the whole world is up in arms about it. They'll be quoting the Human Rights Act next.

Is Formula One sexist? Well yes, in some ways, and certainly there are no women drivers, no women team bosses.

Is it, in Janet Street-Porter's words (also in yesterday's Independent), a "cesspit of chauvinism"? No it isn't.

Irvine used to say outrageous things just to wind people up. But, come on, girls, have we spent the last 50 years or so fighting for equal rights only to cower in a corner when the heat is turned up? The best way to deal with sexism is to fight back.

Two days into the book writing, Irvine described to me in meticulous detail how he lost his virginity in a car outside his grandmother's house. "I could just go on for ever in those days," he told me, obviously looking for a response. "We were at it for ages and eventually she said, 'You'd better get on with it or your grandmother will find us'."

"Oh, so she must have been really lost in the moment then!" I shot back.

He looked at me for a minute and then laughed. That was the good thing about Irvine, he'd shout his mouth off, and make outrageous comments, but if you gave back as good as you got, then he always took it in good humour.

One of my press colleagues once commented on the size of my backside. "Your bum's looking big today," he said brazenly. "Not as big as your waistline." I replied, and he shut up.

Some may see it as sexism. I prefer to see it as banter.

Turner suggests Formula One uses women like decorations - to be enjoyed, used and then thrown away. Well, yes, some suffer that fate, but a lot of the women hanging around Formula One are hardly vestal virgins. I have seen women behave in a way that makes the drivers look chivalrous.

At the Silverstone Ball one very well-known glamour model disappeared into the bushes halfway through the event to "service" a high-profile team employee. Girls have arrived at team hotels intent on sleeping their way through an entire team, or at the very least, claiming the prize of the team superstar driver.

Photographer Pete Fox, once told me about a photo-session. "I was making good headway with one of the girls and about to ask her out for a drink, when Irvine suddenly appeared in his driver's suit," he said. "Within five minutes she'd gone off with him. Those driver suits are the best pulling tools."

It works both ways. Act like a cheap tart and you'll be treated like one. And no don't bother to send angry letters saying that attitude went out with the ark. It didn't and it hasn't. No one's saying it's morally wrong to sleep around. Do what you like - but take the consequences.

And it's not just male-dominated environments that can be hugely sexist. When I was 23 I had a job as supervisor for Boots cosmetics, working almost exclusively with women. It was the most demeaning, confidence-sapping job I have ever had. It was a mortal sin to wear the same shade of eye shadow two days in a row. Every part of one's attire was relentlessly scrutinised.

After that I decided I'd stick with the boys and, sexism or not, Formula One is a dream world compared to the bitchy environment of cosmetics.

Not that every alpha male in Formula One is a die-hard sexist. There are plenty of true gentlemen, notably Michael Schumacher, who has a woman, Sabine Kehm, as his media manager, someone he clearly respects enormously. In the world of Formula One, as in most areas of life, you have to earn respect not demand it.

Jane Nottage is Formula One correspondent for Octane magazine, and has covered the sport for 10 years.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
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

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf