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Motorsport: Sexist formula is a blight on F1

Bernie Ecclestone
Bernie Ecclestone

Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone was wrong this week when he observed: "I don't know whether a woman would physically be able to drive an F1 car quickly, and they wouldn't be taken seriously".

When did he last look at the roads? Women hoon everywhere. The per capita gender breakdown of the country's speeding fines would surely make intriguing reading? My mother exhibited enough road rage and accelerator aggression to make Fangio blush. She would have been comfortable on an F1 starting grid (and not standing there holding a sun umbrella).

This writer also recalls the day when he was going to show his future wife a thing or two about racing on the Rotorua luge. The reality? Daylight was second and your correspondent was third.

While only anecdotal evidence, there is no logical reason women cannot handle vehicles as well as men.

At 85, Ecclestone's become the awkward uncle delivering cringeworthy gags around the Christmas dinner table. Such statements could be wrapped up and dumped in a bin labelled 'Darwinist refuse'. He's worthy of a Duke of Edinburgh award for clanger quotes.

Once, when asked a similar question about women drivers by Autosport magazine, Ecclestone said, "What I would really like to see happen is to find the right girl, perhaps a black girl with super looks, preferably Jewish or Muslim, who speaks Spanish".

When asked by Britain's Daily Mail about his daughter's wedding he (presumably) quipped: "I had to do something at the time that upset me. I had to give her away. I'd rather have sold her".

In fairness, he suggested women might still scrub up all right in F1 executive roles, saying they "are more competent" and "don't have massive egos".

Nonetheless, Ecclestone's clout remains undiluted. That's how he gets away with it. Forbes magazine estimated his fortune at US$4.2 billion in 2011. He rules the global F1 paddock even if, on this occasion, he appears to be applying a blind misogyny to the world around him.

Look at top women drivers through the years. The sample is limited. Five have attempted to qualify for a Grand Prix, and two have competed. That suggests it is like piercing through a bulletproof glass ceiling.

Italian Maria Teresa de Filippis was the pioneer but had to endure one race director saying "the only helmet a woman should use is the hairdresser". Countrywoman Lella Lombardi is the only female to earn Grand Prix points at the Spanish event in 1975.

Perhaps it simply comes down to marketing and nurturing the old boys' network. It wouldn't matter if an F1 driving contender " regardless of gender - drove like Knight Rider, they need lucrative backing. Men presumably have greater leverage for recouping that investment. It seems only blokes will get to spray the winning champagne over each other for a while yet.

- Herald on Sunday

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