The women who power Formula One

This article is part of ESPN’s coverage of Women’s History Month.

Twelve years ago Chloe Targett-Adams joined Formula One as a corporate lawyer and now she is a director of Global Racing. When she entered the office, there were more women present than anywhere else, and she was the first female boss, Sasha Woodward Hill, to join Formula One as general counsel in 1996.

That was at a time when it was well known that there were no women in F1, Targett-Adams told ESPN. Even then, perceptions were mixed.

We know that there have been female drivers in the past, but unfortunately not for very many years. Women or not, there aren’t many of us in public office, if any. I think it’s still one of the most interesting things about Formula 1 for me.

No matter how busy we were, there was a real base of women, and that’s what’s really important to remember. There are all these incredible women who have led the way for us, whether it’s on the commercial side, the marketing and PR side, the legal side or the business side, and even a little bit on the technical side and a little bit on the driver’s side, so it shows me that Formula One doesn’t necessarily discriminate against women.

We just haven’t done enough to open it up and show women in sports, which has always been there, that it’s actually a great place for women to work and have a career.

However, an ESPN poll may reveal the extent of the lack of women in sports. While 38% of the 569 executives in F1 are women, the teams’ data is much lower.

In terms of community relations (discount girls whose role in sports has been reconsidered in 2018), there have been few women in the 70-year history of sports. The last time a woman raced in a Grand Prix was almost half a century ago. In the past eight years, three women have been involved as development pilots, but none of them have progressed beyond the first training session.

Outside of racers, there are only two women on teams, and neither is involved in the sport yet.

ESPN asked the 10 Formula One teams how many women hold leadership positions on the team, as well as the percentage of women on the race team, the main performance group participating in Grand Prix races:

  • Mercedes has the largest number of employees, about 1,000. 117 of them are women, and 31% of them hold managerial positions. Mercedes’ main race team employs 65 people – four of whom are women – and of the 20 people working in the factory race team, four are women (20%).
  • Haas, the smallest team on the grid – a fraction of the size of Mercedes – has 167 employees, including 15 women (9%).
  • McLaren has 66 employees who travel regularly for the race team, including five women, and one woman in an executive position.
  • Alfa Romeo stated that, as with all teams, the size of the race team varies, but that on average 51 people regularly participate in races, including five women (9.8%). There are 13 women in management positions in Formula One.
  • Red Bull, Ferrari and Williams did not respond to the ESPN survey. Aston Martin and Alpine said they could not provide the information requested, and Alpha Tauri said: While we have a high percentage of women in leadership roles here at the factory, we don’t have any women on the race team.

Women work as engineers, managers, in marketing and in hospitality at Formula 1 teams and companies. Their number is small, but they play an important role.

At Alfa Romeo, Ruth Bascombe, senior strategy engineer, sits on the pit wall. She says that although she was inspired by legendary Formula One engineers Paddy Lowe and James Ellison, the female engineer lacked a role model.

Ruth Bascombe is a senior strategy engineer at Alfa Romeo. When she realized she could combine her love of math and sports into a career, she says it was the coolest thing ever. Alfa Romeo

I think that’s what I really missed – although there were women in Formula One that you couldn’t see, and it’s very hard to be something you can’t see, Buscombe told ESPN.

I wanted to be a princess and now a Formula One engineer, there was no middle ground. I always liked math in school and I liked solving problems. When I realized you could do math in sports and competition, it was the coolest thing in the world for me. Then I focused on the problems of people who got into Formula One.

I was fortunate that when I went to secondary school at 11, my maths teacher’s daughter was studying engineering at Cambridge, and she was my hero – I thought if she could do it, so could I. She became a pilot and a brilliant woman. She may not be as famous as James Ellison, but Emily Todd was my inspiration.

1 Connected

Dr Catherine Richards, a wind tunnel engineer at Mercedes, told ESPN about her early days in science and technology and then F1, which began when her aunt flew to the airport. She was sold and her father took her to Silverstone in 1986 to see the Grand Prix. The seed had germinated and she studied aerospace engineering and earned a PhD in vehicle aerodynamics.

I was a big Michael Schumacher fan at the time, Richards says. I wanted to go to the Benetton factory and see the wind tunnels. I wrote a letter which was picked up by one Willem Toeth (Australian Formula 1 aerodynamicist and now Alfa Romeo sales manager) and he wrote back and said yes, come and bring a guest.

As Richards approaches his 16th birthday. As she approaches her 50th anniversary with Mercedes (it was previously BAR-Honda when she joined), she says Toyota’s support when she started as a student was key to her success: If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am now.

Women at work

Alfa Romeo Ruth Buscombe (pictured with Mick Schumacher) is one of the most prominent female figures in F1. Clive Mason – Formula One via Getty Images

The responses of women in the NSS to the question of how regularly they are aware of gender bias are mixed.

Steph Carlin, business manager of the Carlin Formula 2 team, told ESPN that one comment was enough to remind her of the disparity.

I don’t consider myself a woman in a male-dominated industry. I just feel like I usually do my best, she said.

We have 15 drivers at Carlin, and it’s different every year, and different driver managers, and then all of a sudden you wake up with a little push when someone would rather talk to Trevor [Carlin, the founder of the team] than talk to me. It doesn’t happen often, and usually I don’t even think about the fact that I’m in a male-dominated environment, but once, maybe once a year, there’s someone who wants to talk to Trevor because he feels he needs to talk to that person, and usually Trevor talks : No Stephanie can handle that.

You just have to make these calls and look around at how many other women are in leadership positions to see that it’s still pretty rare.

The fact that Richards is the only woman in her department and the only wind tunnel technician in the sport doesn’t hurt her. Mercedes has several aerodynamicists who are women for the company. However, she has encouraged more women to study STEM subjects and has hosted women for internships and work experience in the hope that others will do the same.

In fact, I’m used to it now, it doesn’t bother me anymore, she says. When I was in college, there were only women in my class, so I was used to it from a young age and adopted it immediately. I’ve never had a problem, I get along with the boys, I’m almost one of the boys and I act like them sometimes, but I don’t have a problem.

I was able to gain experience with several young women. One of them wants to become a driver, the other a mechanic. In that sense, it has changed some people’s career paths.

Bascombe says it depends on who you’re with. Of course, with Alpha [Romeo], that’s absolutely not a factor. When I was hired, the team leader was a woman [Monisha Kalternborn, who left in 2017], so you can really see the environment there. They only want the best.

I think there are [unconscious biases]. I think if you asked everyone in F1 and the results were anonymous, they’d probably say that their upbringing forced them to question their own beliefs and their own idea of what makes an engineer.

We all need to make sure we don’t walk into a room with an unconscious bias and form an opinion about someone based on their appearance, skin color, beliefs or taste, and this is a unanimous problem in all sports and businesses. Things only get better when everyone sets aside their privileges and strives to be aware of biases, and being aware of biases gives you the opportunity to challenge them.

How important is a woman driver?

W series champion Jamie Chadwick is a Formula One development driver for Williams. Photo: Dan Eastiten/Getty Images

How important is it to have a model in the public eye, B. a driver? Target Adams said: I think it’s really important, because the more visible women are in F1, the clearer it is for a young girl to show that it’s possible, regardless of your background: Oh, it’s for other people. And it’s about inspiring the next generation, right? But it’s also about creating those opportunities.

Formula One marketing director Ellie Norman told ESPN: The most visible role is that of the driver and the principles of the team, but there are so many other roles, whether in engineering or marketing, there are many strong female role models in F1 who lead and manage a lot of things.

We are now seeing more and more talented women in all positions in the paddock. And the W Series is coming up in 2021, so they’re at eight events this year. The role that the W Series can play in bringing women into this racing triangle, because one of the brilliant things about Formula 1, in which it differs from other sports, is the lack of a women’s team, so women have always been able to compete with men in terms of competition, and it comes down to this: How good are you?

What is your skill level, but also how much money do you have? Formula 1 is an exclusive sport that requires a lot of money to participate in.

This in itself is a major hurdle for people from all walks of life. A scholarship system for all talent, says Carlin.

There’s nothing wrong with transparency and honesty, says Targett-Adams. No one is trying to hide from anything. That’s where we are and where we want to go, so that’s a good start. Let’s not be happy about it [the lack of diversity] because it can always be better, but let’s acknowledge it.

Diversity of voices leads to better problem solving



Jamie Chadwick explains why the W Series is so important in promoting the careers of women in motorsport.

Diversity is as much about representation as it is about the exchange of ideas. When people of different ages, genders, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds come together, many more bring a wider range of skills and experiences to the discussion than might have been expected beforehand.

It allows for innovation and more problem solving, says Targett-Adams: Of course, there are a huge number of engineers in F1, so the best solution to a problem will always be the right one. From a business point of view, you can obviously generate more growth this way, so for me it’s a win-win situation.

In his 10th. Since the start of the season, the talent landscape in Formula 1 has changed dramatically, according to Buscombe. There were no women on the pit wall when she started. Today there are a few, but she will not stop fighting for equality until there are at least 50 percent.

The cars will be faster, the races will be more exciting and the championship will be more technically brilliant and entertaining if we have the best people in all positions, from engineering to media, from mechanics to drivers, even if it’s not a quick fix, she said. It’s a very important process to level the playing field, invite people and get the best candidates, whoever they are.

This should not become an exercise in ticking off figures, because strategy is about statistics – I can say that with some expertise. It is statistically impossible for all the best candidates to come from the lowest strata of society. So we get better drivers, better engineers and a better sport if we get the information from everywhere.

I hope that in 20 years, or even sooner, we will be saying similar things about non-European women and people who do not have this opportunity, from the bottom up.

Some players in the sport would also like to see a change. In June, Formula 1 launched the We Race as One project to raise awareness of inequality. In 2020, Mercedes went for the black and launched Accelerate 25, a program aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion, requiring at least 25% of new hires to come from underrepresented populations. There are other programs as well: FIA Girls on Track, which recently opened its doors for a place at the Ferrari Driving School, and Formula Student, which encourages high school girls to study STEM subjects.

Norman highlights a specific example of an unforeseen gender issue where the governing body (FIA) can help level the playing field. I remember Tatiana [Calderon, who drove a BWT Arden in Formula 2] telling me about the brake pedal in F2 cars. Her foot was smaller than that of many of her male competitors, which meant that when she pressed the brake pedal, only her toes were on the pedal and not her soles. This reduces the pressure on the pedal. The team, in conjunction with the FIA, has been able to demonstrate that there is a physical difference here that is having a detrimental effect on his abilities.

Claire Williams told ESPN that before she left, progress was being made on education and the goal was to eliminate unconscious bias and provide the support that underrepresented groups might need.

I think it’s important to be represented in all aspects of your team or in all areas of your life, she says. You do it because it’s the right thing to do, and that was so important to me. It is important to have these women in all divisions because they are role models and they send a message to the next generation of young girls who are looking at F1 as a potential job, and if they see women in the sport they will feel it is right for them to get into the sport.

Many say that being at the top in motorsports is about finding the best person for the job, not about meeting quotas. The problem is that there is only a small pool of talent with certain skills among underrepresented groups and it is too early to see progress on these initiatives. To increase the interest and popularity of the sport, changes must be made from the top of the sport, at the owner and director level, to the grassroots. The women in today’s positions have led the way and are an inspiration to the next generation.

The number of women training to be mechanics is very low compared to the number of men, Carlin said. As for the average female candidate, we very rarely get them, and I think that’s because the problem is that high school students decide what path they want to follow.

It really starts in school, and fewer girls than boys make these decisions and choices. And similarly, the assimilation of women into university courses is so low compared to men on that score – that’s where the real problem lies, and why I see so few female applicants when you come on our stage.

Carlin added that one of the positives is that in 2021, people will be having conversations about diversity that didn’t exist before. We can do more than just put stickers on race cars, for example. B. Research and investment, and perhaps women could be encouraged to become Formula One princesses and engineers.

Additional reporting by Lawrence Edmondson.

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