It’s A Girl’s Game Too.
Some say that motorsport is still predominantly
composed of men. While that might have been true two decades
ago, the world of racing is now gradually shrugging off its masculine image. Motorsport
is now one of the few physical
occupations in which male and female competitors are battling alongside on
equal footing.︎︎︎STIJN OOM / SOCIETY
Helena Hicks, owner of ‘Females in Motorsport’,
PR-manager and journalist in the world of racing, has kindly accepted
my invitation to be interviewed. She will be answering my questions about women
in motorsport and the facts and feelings
that are entwined with this charged topic.
How did you get into motorsports?‘I was introduced to Formula 1 at a young age. I remember going into my parents’ bedroom on an early Sunday morning, watching the Australian Grand-Prix I’d sit and watch with them, but it was never really something that I paid attention to. This started to change around 2012, when I fully started to follow a season from start to finish. I probably would have never explored it myself if it wasn’t for those early Sunday mornings at my childhood home.’
‘Yes, I immediately thought: Wow! That is cool. The speed and sound really caught my attention. Once you realise
there is strategy involved and that they aren’t just going in
Is the passion for motorsports something you’ve developed yourself?
circles, it becomes so much more interesting. Especially when you understand the ethos behind it and get familiar with the racing drivers and their personalities.’
Have you always thought of getting a job in racing?‘I think I quickly became aware that the only women in the paddock were the ‘media people’ interviewing the drivers before and after the race. They were wearing all the team kit, with a Dictaphone in their hand, guiding the drivers around. At the age of 13 I asked myself what this job entailed. I did some research and found out it - obviously - was the role of a press officer. I did more research into the profession and realised that it excited me. I’m quite good at English and especially writing. I realised you don’t have to be an engineer or mechanic to work in racing. Obviously if you like sports,
this helps. I discovered a job that I could potentially pursue, in a world that I loved.’
Your teachers told you not to focus on motorsports, how come?‘My 6th form that I went to was an all-girls grammar school. The A-levels that I did were very traditional, and my teachers were very geared towards me going into university. Then I came along saying: “I want to work in racing!”. Obviously, this was something so unique and out-there that they didn’t really know how to react. They must have thought that I would fail. It’s a very small industry compared to a safer and
more traditional option.’
Did their reaction emanate from existing gender roles?‘No, it wasn’t gender related. The school pursued us girls to focus on careers in science and maths, originally male-dominated careers. I think it was more because of the competitiveness: “You’re just a girl from a small town, you’re not going to make it”.’
Have you faced any difficulties while trying to pursue your career goals?‘I always ask my interviewees this same question, and you get different responses. For me, when I was blogging away, you’d get the odd comment: “Who is this bitch and what is she on about”. The sexism is something that is now there in a quieter form.
Most shocking now is the way males will behave around women in the paddock. You get advances from them, asking if you’d like to sleep with them in exchange for an
interview. Women are objectified in that sense. That is also why they banned grid girls, which is a positive thing. Racing drivers can be’ ...(ugh) - ‘It’s a different culture. Women are there to be objectified in that sense. Luckily, I have grown a thick skin. It’s all about dealing with it in a positive way.’
“Luckily, I’ve grown thick skin. It’s all about dealing with it in a positive way”
Have motorsports opened up because of social media?Yes, especially since Liberty Media overtook F1 from Bernie. Under Bernie it was a billionaire boys club. Now, it’s slowly becoming more diverse and open. You sometimes still have the good ‘ol journalist in there, who thinks he can call out girls on their writing and then proceeds to call anyone who comments on him either a moron or a snowflake. Attitudes are changing, however: If I share a story on twitter about a female being harassed, others will stand up and call out theperson responsible’
Is there a financial difference between men and women?‘Taking in women is a bigger risk for sponsors. It can be quite cool to have a woman flying the flag, but there sadly aren’t many successful female drivers in the higher ranks. You hear a lot about women hitting the glass ceiling. Girls start off karting, but when they wantto step up their game, you’re looking at about 250.000 GBP. It then is about the old-age question: ‘can your parents afford it’? Parents of young women in racing often encourage their daughters to go horse-riding or dancing, because it’s so much more economically sound. Another financial difference would be prize money. Jamie Chadwick, who is the W series winner, didn’t receive enough prize money in order to progress. I’m a firm believer there needs to be more programs at grass roots and a female only driver academy. It’s about gender images changing – which doesn’t happen overnight.’
Are norms, values and gender images detaining young female drivers from progressing?‘Yes, there is an interesting story about Max and Victoria Verstappen. Victoria was just as quick as Max, if not quicker. At a certain point, their father Jos had to decide between Max and Victoria. Since he knew that a future in motorsports would be very difficult for Victoria, he decided to invest all his funds to Max. Victoria’s career then stopped and now she’s a social media influencer, while Max is one of the quickest formula 1 drivers out there. It’s all about what could have been.’
What is your opinion on the W-series?‘When I first heard about a Woman’s only series, I asked myself if this was all for show. My initial opinion was quite negative, and then – as soon as the first race hit – I saw all
the names on the race list and all the people involved. This changed my scepticism. Flying around the world, racing in different countries and the races being shown on live television just helps everyone to further their career. It’s heart-warming to see the number of little girls going up their favourite drivers and asking for a picture. As a female W-series driver, you are inspiring the next generation.’
Do you think we’ll see a woman in F1 in the near future?‘I don’t think that we’ll see a female driver in F1 in the next five years. If we do see a woman, it’ll be at least ten year and that’s just because of how the sport works. No female drivers in today’s W-Series can compete in Formula 1 in my opinion. There are some very strong racers, but they aren’t quick enough. I want a female to be in F1 solely on merit and talent, rather than being a great story for the press or a sponsorship opportunity. I don’t want a woman to be in formula one, running around at the back of the pack – seconds off the pace of other drivers. It would be very damaging for the future of women in our sport.’
Do you think this has to do with physical differences?‘No, I don’t think that’s the case. In racing, the cars are equal to a certain extent. As long as you are fit, you train at the gym and follow all the protocols, there is no reason why men and women can’t compete at an equal level. We go through child labour for f*ck’s sake. Jokes aside, a great example would be Esmee Hawkey. She is one of the fittest people I know and absolutely destroys the boys in the gym.
In 2018, Pippa Mann said: “As a female racer when you have a rough day, suddenly a million morons think you represent every single racer ofyour gender” Why are women more criticised than
‘I would love to know the psychology behind it, but yes – it’s true. If women make a mistake it’s always: “This is why women shouldn’t drive”. It goes back to those outdated views
that people hold on society. Now that the next generation is
men in motorsports?
coming through, it’s only just beginning to change.’
You’re saying that it’s because of 200.000-year-old gender roles: women stay home, and men will go out hunting?‘Yes, it’s exactly that. People don’t like change. Again, going back to the older generation: they are used to something. When a new generation is introduced to the
sport, they’ll ask: “what are they doing here”. People are always looking for someone to criticize when having a bad day.’
What initiatives counter these gender-related prejudices?‘The FIA has an initiative called ‘Girls on Track’. I really wish it did more. I know it sounds petty, but my ‘Females in Motorsport’ twitter has more followers than they
do. They don’t follow as much news as I would like them to and they don’t promote enough. They’ve got such a good platform; I mean the FIA – ‘the government body
of motorsport’ is behind them. Girls on Track should really be something that the FIA invests in more. You need to have a passion in order to work there, or it won’t have
as much effect on the new generation. Again, that’s why the W-series is such a great initiative. The whole team believes in their job.’