Sir Stirling Moss’s statement about the unsuitability of women for Formula 1 grated on us at CT HQ. So, with his comments ringing in our ears, today is as good a time as any to remind ourselves of the world’s top women drivers – past, present and future.
Sabine has quite literally grown up on the Nürburgring. Born in the village of Adenau in the shadow of the world’s deadliest circuit, she’s driven round it more times in reality than any gamer has managed – reckoning on over 20,000 laps – in her day job as driver of the Ring Taxi and as a professional racing driver for Porsche and BMW. She’s even won the Nürburgring 24 Hour race there in 1996 and 1997 – a much harder prospect than the piddly 3 hour F1 races Sir Stirling was used to.
However fast you think you can drive, Sabine can go faster. In fact she can “do sat time in a fan” – dumping on Jeremy Clarkson’s joy at getting a sub 10 minute lap in a Jaguar S-Type by piloting a Ford Transit to within 8 seconds. She’s also part of the GT Academy set-up, mentoring the racing drivers of the future who are already deemed too fast to be fair…
It’s a little odd that Sir Stirling forgot about Pat Moss in his swinging statement about the abiity of women to cope with the stress of competitive racing, because she was his sister.
Pat was one of the most successful female rally drivers of all time, being the first woman to win an international rally – she won three in total, as many as über-legend Henri Toivonen – and being crowned European Ladies’ Rally Champion five times. Moreover, it was Pat who achieved the first ever international rally win for the now-legendary Mini Cooper.
She married and drove with Swedish rally ace Erik Carlsson at Saab, before she moved over to Lancia for more success in the excellent Fulvia V4. Try driving that for 3 days straight in 50°C heat and tell us about the strain of competition, Sir Stirling…
Probably Britain’s best chance of having a female F1 driver. Alice, you see, is “quite talented”. Aged just 18 she won the Formula Renault BARC championship and in 2012 became the first female to score points in GP3 – one of the established routes up to F1.
Still only 20, Alice has moved sideways to the F3 Cup for 2013 and opted to thrash the competition in the opening round. Netting both pole positions and both wins at Oulton Park, she ruthlessly showed the rest of the grid a clean pair of heels. As engaging off the track as she is devastating on it, Alice’s name is one to watch for in the next 5 years.
Aside from Sabine, “VBH” is probably the best known female face in the motoring world – even lending her voice (but, alas, not her squeal) to Gran Turismo games. Currently found being that girl who can drive on Fifth Gear, Vicki started off her racing life up against future F1 stars in karting. Since then you name it and Vicki’s raced it, from single seaters down to 2CVs – in which she competed in a 24 hour race at Snetterton.
With a spell presenting old Top Gear just before it became new Top Gear with Clarkson, Quentin Willson and Tiff Needell, Vicki quickly gained a reputation as fastest woman on TV – particularly when spanking Jeremy round a track. She’s also been an instructor at Silverstone and holds a powerboat licence – when it comes to mental aptitude and physical stress, Vicki’s not found wanting.
Maria Teresa de Filippis
Italian racer Maria Teresa de Filippis represents another a memory hole for Sir Stirling. Not only was she the first woman to ever compete in F1 – when she failed to qualify for the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix – but she was a direct peer of the Brit.
Maria entered five Grand Prix in her career in 1958 and 1959, qualified for three and achieved a finish in just one, becoming the first woman to ever do any of these things. It’s also worth noting that in those three events, she was classified ahead of Sir Stirling twice – finishing 10th at Spa-Francorchamps in a Maserati when Sir Stirling retired, and classified ahead when both failed to finish at the 1958 Italian Grand Prix.
A bit like Anna Kournikova, Danica seems better known for her modelling skills than her track ability, but hold that thought.
Danica’s no talent vacuum. She’s popped up with decent finishes in circuit racing on both sides of the Atlantic in the last decade and won the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi in 2009. Switching to NASCAR Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup, she put herself on pole position for the Daytona 500 this year – finishing that gruelling race, more than twice the distance of any F1 race and at an average speed 50% higher, in 8th place.
Okay, so IndyCar and NASCAR might be a bit agricultural for us sophisticated Europeans, but there is simply no other form of motorsport where cars are so close together for so long and with winning margins being so close – Danica’s 8th at Daytona was 0.6s off the winner. To drive 500 miles at an average on-track speed of 195mph no more than 6 inches from another car in any direction requires such mind-blowing concentration that to even suggest that’s a quality Danica lacks is horrifyingly naive.
Anyone who could tame Group B monsters are automatically heroes – and tame them Michèle Mouton did.
After a few years campaigning Renault/Alpine, Citroën and FIAT cars at various WRC events – taking time off to win her class at the 1975 24 Heures du Mans in an all female team – Michèle was a shock signing for Audi to drive their new 4WD Quattro alongside the legendary Hannu Mikkola. It was even more of a shock when she beat Mikkola and an entire field of legends like Ari Vatanen, Stig Blomqvist, Henri Toivonen, Pentti Airikkala and Markku Alén to the finish line in the car’s official debut season at the Rally Sanremo.
In 1982 she went one step further, winning three rallies outright and coming second in the drivers’ championship only to all-time great Walter Rohrl.
Like Pat Moss before her, Michèle Mouton drove thousands of miles on rutted roads a world removed from die-flat F1 circuits for days at a time – and Michèle had to contest with 300-450hp crazymobiles. Oh and she won the Pike’s Peak International Hillclimb in 1985, an event you have to be batcrap crazy to even think about competing in. No aptitude to deal with the mental stress? My arse.
It’s likely you’ve not heard of Dutch girl Beitske, but in a few years you’ll be saying “I read about her on CarThrottle…”. Why? Well, Red Bull – who we know likes to dabble in motorsport – has just signed her up to be part of their young driver programme.
If you’re not familiar with the Red Bull young driver programme, it’s a scheme they’ve been running since 2001 to identify future F1 stars. And identify them it does – 13 Red Bull Juniors have gone on to race in F1, three of whom are still there. One has managed to win a race or twenty and picked up three World Champion titles in the process.
The normally reserved Helmut Marko has said that Danica Patrick isn’t quick enough for him and that he operates on results alone – so Beitske has quite the weight of expectation on her. She’ll be racing in a Red Bull team in the German Formula ADAC Formel Masters series in 2013, trying to better the 8th place with 2 race wins she managed last season.
Like Maria Theresa de Fillipis, Desiré Wilson is one of the very few women to compete in Formula 1. Technically entering two races, she failed to qualify for the first and retired from the other, which was excluded from the championship in any case, due to the political infighting of the time.
However, she’s also won an F1 race. For bizarre and complex reasons, there was a domestic British Formula 1 series in the early 1980s, using year old manufacturer cars. Desiré piloted her Wolf-Cosworth to a win at Brands Hatch – along with podium finishes at Thruxton and Mallory Park, proving that even 30 years ago women had what it takes to compete in F1. Amongst her competitors were Guy Edwards, one of the men responsible for saving Niki Lauda’s life, and Emilio de Villota whose daughter, Maria, is currently an F1 test driver for Marussia despite losing an eye in an horrific crash last year.
As a result of Desiré’s win, she has a grandstand at Brands Hatch named after her. And, like many other women on this list, competed at the 24 Heures du Mans, finishing in 7th in 1983.
And that’s without even mentioning Williams’ test driver Susie Wolff, Marussia’s Maria de Villota or F1′s first female points scorer Lella Lombardi.
Your move, Sir Stirling.
Written by Andrew Evans & Daniel Puddicombe