The Past, Present & Future of Women in Formula One

Susie Wolff
Since Danica Patrick became the 1st woman to win pole position for NASCAR’s Daytona 500, there has been renewed interest in women driving in Formula One.  F1’s head, Bernie Ecclestone has expressed a desire to have a women driver on the grid but mainly for her potential marketing value.  Also with Danica Patrick’s success, Susie Wolff has also been put in the spotlight as a development driver for Williams. Even as she aspires to obtain an FIA Super License, it is doubtful she deserved her position at Williams after a lengthy period in DTM with uninspiring results.  Wolff’s apparent lack of ability makes it doubtful that she will be granted a Super License even under the FIA's clause for extraordinary circumstances. Also, she has not achieved any of the competition requirements for a Super License.  If Susie Wolff is able to become a Free Practice driver, it wouldn't be the 1st time that a woman had participated in a Grand Prix weekend.

A Past Pioneer

Hellé Nice
The most fabled female to ever drive in a Grand Prix was Hellé Nice.  The Frenchwoman drove in Grands Prix during the 1920’s and 1930’s before Formula One’s 1st season in 1950.  Originally a successful dancer and model, she took up an interest in racing after a knee injury ended her dancing career.  She won an all-female Grand Prix in 1929 at Autodrome de Montlhéry, also setting the land speed record for women in the process. After touring the United States in 1930, she began racing against men in 1931 for Bugatti.  She was a very competitive driver able to go wheel-to-wheel with the great names of the day but never won a Grand Prix.  In 1936,  She was involved in a freak accident at over 100 mph while running second during a Grand Prix in São Paulo, Brazil.  She slammed onto a bale of straw, which somehow ended up on track.  Her car somersaulted through the air and crashed into a grandstand.  Four spectators were killed including a solder, who was killed when Nice landed on him after being thrown from her car.  Nice survived because of that soldier but was in a coma for the next three days.  She attempted to return to racing the next year but she couldn't get the necessary financial backing to compete.  She mainly competed in rallying with the hopes of returning to Bugatti but the outbreak of the Second World War ended racing in Europe.  In 1949, Nice continue her efforts to return to the Grand Prix circuit after the war by competing at the first Rally Monte Carlo since the war's end.  There at a party to celebrate racing's return, she was accused of being a Gestapo agent during the war by Louis Chiron, the legendary Monegasque driver.  Hellé Nice was dropped by her sponsors and never raced again.  She live out the rest of her life in a squalid apartment in Nice, France under a false name to hide her shame.  Abandoned and ostracized by everyone she knew, Nice died in 1984.  There is no record of Nice ever being a spy for the Nazis to back Chiron's accusations.

After Nice's downfall, only two women (both Italian) have ever qualified and started in a Grand Prix in Formula One.  Maria Teresa de Filippis qualified for 3 races and finished once in 1958.  She qualified last in all 3 races.  Lella Lombardi qualified for 12 races and finished 9 times over the 1975 and 1976 seasons.  Lombardi also scored half a point after finishing 6th in the rain-shortened 1975 Spanish Grand Prix.

Present & Future Hopes

It is clearly long overdue that a woman have the chance to earn a race seat in Formula One.  The issue isn't that they there are capable women being purposely excluded from F1 but that there are no women in a position to be promoted to the pinnacle of racing.  More may be expected from female drivers compared to their male counterparts so that there wouldn't be a woman persistently on the back of the grid.  No driver should be given an advantage or be disadvantaged on the basis of gender but be judged by their on-track performances.  In today’s single-seater climate, this is difficult as sponsorship and financial backing plays just as large of a role as on-track performances in whether or not a driver ascends the career ladder.  It is hard to argue that Susie Wolff had assistance in reaching Williams but at 30 years old the window is closing on her F1 career.  

Tatiana Calderón
The most promising female F1 prospect would have to be Tatiana Calderón.  The 20-year old Colombian will be driving in the FIA European Formula Three Championship this season for Double R Racing after spending last season in the European F3 Open Championship.  There she finished 9th in the championship with her best result being a 4th place at the Hungaroring.  Before last season, she spent her first 2 years of her open-wheel career in the American-based Star Mazda Championship.  In 2011, she finished 6th and had 2 podium finishes, to-date the only woman ever stand on the podium in Star Mazda (now Pro Mazda).
As with any other driver hoping to get to F1, Her rookie season in the FIA European Formula Three Championship will be an important part of her progress up the single-seater career ladder. I would not be surprised if she finished about half of her races in points or even finish on the podium 2 or 3 times. But, that will not be an easy task to accomplish by any means with such stiff competition.

Davina vs. Goliath
With the absorption of the Formula 3 Euro Series and the tragic truncation of British Formula 3, this will be a landmark season for the FIA European Formula Three Championship.  This will be the premier Formula 3 championship by a country mile with a perfect storm of participating teams.  The F3 Euro Series had been dominated by two teams, French ART Grand Prix & Italian Prema Power Team.  ART left Formula 3 after the 2010 season but Carlin Motorsport will participate in the European championship as their primary competition at the Formula Three level in 2013 instead of British F3.  Over the 10 seasons of the Euro Series, ART & Prema won 121 (78, 43) out of 209 races.  They won 57.9% of All F3 Euro Series races and all but one of the Drivers' and Teams' championships.  Carlin won 126 out of 246 races (51.2% of All British F3 races) and all of the Teams' Championships in the past 10 seasons with 7 Drivers' Championships.  Prema & Carlin are undoubtedly the clear favorites to win both Drivers' & Teams' in 2013.  To put an emphasis on the dominance of those 3 "single-seater academies" , they have had 20 drivers graduate from their Formula Three ranks to Formula One (11, 2, 7). Tatiana Calderón faces a rough road ahead but the first step up the ladder is just showing that she belongs on the same track as Europe's elite.     f

La muger que se determina á ser honrada entre un ejército de soldados lo puede ser.
(The woman who is resolved to be respected can make herself so even amidst an army of soldiers)
-Miguel de Cervantes, La Gitanilla

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