The iconic harbours of Monaco and the ‘maggots and beckets’ of Silverstone have long been associated with the history and glamour of motorsport.
For many, previous generations of motorsport have been dominated by the male drivers of the past and the present, with no acknowledgement of the progress made by women in the sport.
With such a huge focus on the ‘A-list’ stars of motorsport throughout history, it is easy to miss what has been progressing in the background.
Especially in the last year, a new light has been shone on women in motorsport, regardless of whether that be in the paddocks or out on the track.
But why has it taken this long for women’s participation in motorsport to be recognised?
Motorsport writer Jim Kimberley believes that despite facing the same challenges as all junior racers experience, they also need to overcome an outdated stigma.
He said: “Women face the same restrictions as everyone else with the spiralling costs of karting, Formula 4, and every other junior series. Unless they have significant financial backing from their family, they will struggle, the same as male drivers.
“However, the wider issue facing them is discrimination and a prevailing mindset that motorsport is a man’s sport. Ironically, motorsport is one of the only sports where both genders can compete equally. The car doesn’t behave any differently whether there’s a male or female driver.
Kimberley feels that this attitude towards women drivers need to change in order for any significant progress to be made.
He explained: “The mindset and perception may be changing for younger people, but sadly, that’s not necessarily too helpful for any prospective female racers.
“The drivers are facing the problem of seeking financial backing from an age group where many still have old-school views of gender and motorsport, thus limiting the pool of possible sponsors.”
Furthermore, in May Sky Sports announced their multi- year deal of coverage of the W-Series which may seem as a step in the right direction, but this also could be a hindrance for current young women drivers.
Sky stated that they are “committed to the marketing and promotion of W Series coverage through its network of channels, as well as joint initiatives to promote women in motorsport.”
Kimberley explains: “It’s great for the perception of W Series. The championship has to find sponsorship to run as it doesn’t take entry money from its drivers. However, I worry that taking live coverage off free-to-air television is a backward step.
“To have more girls want to take up karting, they need to have role models to show that it’s possible. Far more young people will channel hop and accidentally come across W Series when it’s on Channel 4 compared to Sky Sports from the wider availability of the channel.”
As well as ensuring that the W-Series reaches a wide enough audience to inspire the next generation of young women drivers, we must continue to see change in attitudes.
All it takes is to watch one weekend of motorsport coverage and it is clear to see the male dominance on and off the track.
But there have been exceptions who have broken the mould such as Natalie Pinkham and Naomi Schiff, especially in broadcasting.
Kimberley emphasises this: “It’s going to take generations, not a few years. But it has to start, and we can be thankful the change has begun and is ongoing.
“The industry professionals are intelligent and open-minded enough to accept anyone, regardless of gender or race.
“Having a good head on your shoulders is a prerequisite for entry. Intellect “usually” goes hand in hand with tolerance, and as such, I feel motorsports is a more-tolerant industry than others may be.”
The next logical step for many is to see evidence of male and female drivers competing against each other on the track, which is happening in the junior competitions as we speak.
There have only been five female drivers enter an F1 race across history, the latest coming in 1992 where Giovanna Amati drove for just three races.
However, in terms of witnessing this on the biggest stages of Formula 1, Kimberley feels that this possibility is still unlikely at the moment.
He said: “I want to highlight that getting a woman to F1 will be a massive step. But the fundamental equality goal is having a grid that is relatively evenly split across gender to the point where the gender of who is racing isn’t even worthy of conversation.
“It’ll take a while before we get another female racing in F1 again. Jamie Chadwick is tied to Williams, has won W Series twice and is still no closer to F1 than she was in 2019.
“Cost is a massive issue there – even with the prize money from W Series, racing in a half-decent Formula 3 team is expensive. And then it’s €2million a year you have to pay for a good Formula 2 team. W Series prize money can’t pay for that; a rich family or sponsors can.”
The shift in perception and attitude is changing of women in motorsport but it is evident that many believe that the ball has only just started rolling.