Bernie Ecclestone suggested that the answer to not enough women in Formula One would be to have a separate F1 championship for female drivers only. Yeah! Because "separate but equal" totally worked out the first time, right? </sarcasm>
To be fair, Bernie's comment appears to be rooted in a genuine, not actually sexist at all concern. "For some reason, women are not coming through - and not because we don't want them," Ecclestone told the Telegraph. "Of course we do, because they would attract a lot of attention and publicity and probably a lot of sponsors."
So, why not have a separate F1 just for the ladies? "I thought it would be a good idea to give them a showcase," Ecclestone said to the Telegraph. His idea is to have a special women-only race before the main show on Sundays.
In theory, it sounds a lot like any other women's sporting competition. Problem is, women's soccer, basketball and other similar sports are necessary because of the physical differences between men and women. Sure, there are a few standouts where the gender differences come less in play. Someone like Brittney Griner could probably dunk on a men's team all day long. For the average athlete, though, we need our own place to play when it comes to non-motored-sports.
When everyone's in a race car, though, physical differences matter a lot less. So much of it depends on the car that gender shouldn't even play into it. I don't drive with my boobs. You don't drive with your dong. It's all hands, feet, sight and coordination, which both sexes have.
In reality, much of the problem with this idea lies in the fact that F1 is still the main show in Bernie's idea. Sweet! Let's be a sideshow, ladies. </more sarcasm>
There's an unfortunate reality that women's competitions get a lot less attention than the "main" men's ones. Yes, women have a better chance of attracting some sponsors because there's so few competing in motorsport. Put us all in a women's-only competition and much of that attention goes away. See also: the amount of attention paid to a women's championship over that of a men's sport. Bernie's sponsorship argument doesn't work.
Ask yourself this: would the cars in a female-only competition be prepared to the same level as the regular F1 cars? Would the top ladies' teams ultimately end up competing on the same level as the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes' main F1 efforts? Probably not.
Enough about ball sports. Let's look at a motorsport-specific example: ladies' classes. They're outdated, plain and simple.
Many autocross groups still run a ladies' class, yet the serious competitors tend to compete in the main/open classes, anyway. The ladies' class is effectively an also-ran. It's viewed as an easy place to pick up a trophy, or a place for less serious competitors to dabble. Most women who get hooked on motorsport nowadays don't fall into the category of "less serious competition." I'm slow and I suck, but I at least want to get beaten by the best competition out there. How else am I supposed to learn from who I'm competing with?
Williams F1 reserve driver Susie Wolff laughed off the idea of a female-only competition in comments made to Motorsport.com:
Why would I ever look for a race where I was only competing against women? I can hand on heart say it would not interest me at all to win such a race. I would rather not be in the race because what am I winning? A race where they've just looked for any girl to make a grid up.
Grids based on gender instead of talent just don't work.
Back in the day, L-classes probably made some sense. Let's give the wives and girlfriends a place to play so they're not just sitting around bored. Let's show our daughters that they can do this, too. Give them a common playing ground where the competition isn't as fierce—an easy way in, where they won't immediately get discouraged by being curb-stomped by more experienced drivers.
Thing is, many of the same groups run a class that serves the same purpose of being an easy introduction to motorsport among similarly inexperienced drivers: Novice class. Best of all, tossing an N on your car lacks the outdated implication that women are unable to compete with the boys.
"Ladies' class" is a concept that needs to go away. It's the last thing we need to replicate in Formula One.
Bernie makes bizarre, outdated, and inflammatory comments, enough so that I think we may need a separate Formula One just for Bernie Ecclestone. Have at it with track sprinklers, no Internet race coverage, and pretty-people-only grid walks.
Thing is, I don't quite think he needs to be run over the coals for this idea. Yes, we should be encouraging more women to get into motorsport! Problem is, he's suggesting that we go about it the wrong way, probably because he's of the era when things like ladies' classes made sense.
Much of why there are so few ladies in the top tiers of motorsport is generational. Many of us have been raised to care more about hair, clothes, kids, or pink-hued-whatever. Cars are dirty, smelly, noisy "boy toys." That, too, is outdated and wrong. We've got women competing (well!) now who are making it totally okay for more girls to go play with cars. There's a natural progression towards encouraging kids to do what they like happening that would only be set back by a female-only competition.
Following a passion isn't a male or female thing, particularly when cars are involved.
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