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GIRLZ AND THE HOOD

Baby, you can't drive my car

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GIRLZ AND THE HOOD: Pat Moss (left) and Ann Wisdom, holders of the European Ladies Touring Championship, prepare their Austin A-40 for the Monte Carlo Rally in Jan 1959. A leading woman racer in the 1950-60 s, Pat was Stirling's sister

F1 legend Stirling Moss' recent contention that female drivers don't have it in them to win a race smacks of age-old sexism. Even today, the lack of ladies bathrooms in race paddocks is evidence that little has changed.

If Pat Moss had been alive to hear what her brother Stirling Moss said about women drivers, she might have been tempted to give him a whack on the head. In the good old '60s, Pat was one of the most successful rally drivers of all time and on numerous occasions got the better of many of her male competitors. So maybe that's why Moss didn't cast doubts on a woman's ability to physically compete in Formula One, but his contention that women lack the mental fortitude to win a Grand Prix was baffling, apart from being plain ol' sexist.

"We've got some very strong and robust ladies, but, when your life is at risk, I think the strain of that in a competitive situation will tell when you're trying to win. The mental stress I think would be pretty difficult for a lady to deal with in a practical fashion. I just don't think they have aptitude to win a Formula 1 race, " said Moss, who has been called the greatest driver to have never won a world championship, on a BBC documentary.

One could argue that Moss comes from a different generation and that his comments are to be expected. Sexism in motorsport is nothing new. The belief that women aren't able to handle racing in the top levels of motorsport is as old as the sport itself. Till date there have been five female drivers in F1 and Italian Lella Lombardi was the most prolific female F1 driver, starting 12 races in the 1970s and scoring half a point. The last woman to enter a Grand Prix was Italy's Giovanna Amati, but she failed to qualify for three races at the start of the 1992 season.

The most successful female racer in recent years isn't a part of F1 but races on the other side of the Atlantic. Danica Patrick, of the long black tresses, races in Nascar and took pole at the 2013 Daytona 500. The 31-year-old is a former IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, holds the record for the most consecutive races finished in the series and in 2008 became the first woman to win an IndyCar race. That still hasn't stopped the jokes from flowing. In February earlier this year, actor James Franco sparked a sexism controversy after he tweaked the iconic command to signal the start of Daytona 500 in his role as Grand Marshall. Instead of 'Gentlemen, start your engines, ' the 34-year-old Hollywood star said, 'Drivers. . . and Danica. . . start your engines!'
Simona di Silvestro, referred to as the Iron Maiden, is a Swiss racing driver trying to make it in IndyCar. Though her results haven't been half as impressive as Patrick's, Silvestro has managed to impress the who's who with her pace and mindset.

What Moss' comments should push one to ponder over is the number of women in motorsport. The problem is of insidious exclusion. Sure, the numbers have risen. Today, we have two team principals in F1 who are female, Sauber's Monisha Kaltenborn and Sir Frank Williams' daughter Claire at Williams F1. That is a definite improvement. But the sport is still no closer to unearthing the female version of Fernando Alonso or Michael Schumacher. Because of a historic bias against women in motorsport, the number of women who even attempt to enter the sport at an early enough age to make it professionally reduces the pool of potential drivers with the experience to get into an F1 car. Take a look at the field of FIA Formula III European Championship drivers.

Out of 29 drivers there are two women. Considering that out of a class of 30 you may only have one driver making it to the development driver level (let alone get to race), statistics dictate that it's going to be a male driver.
Stories on female racers treat them as curiosities. Susie Wolff is in her second year of being the development driver for Williams but she's routinely introduced as "Toto Wolff's wife" rather than as Williams' development driver. Wolff herself has spoken of the lack of ladies bathrooms in paddocks, forcing her to run further than other drivers for her pre-race pit-stop. In order to prove Moss wrong, the sport needs to foster an environment where women will be treated as equals, and not as pretty distractions.

In all fairness, motorsport is one of the few areas where men and women can compete on the same levelplaying field, where the two are competing for the same prize, unlike in tennis or golf where the scale and range of competition varies. But as long as skimpily-clad grid girls walk about the paddock, sexism will always be a part of the sport as much as wheels.

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