Sunday, 3 May 2015

Everyday Motorsport Sexism

A while back, I spoke about the decision taken by the WEC to get rid of grid girls. Naturally, this received a mixed response on Twitter - from many people agreeing to some others claiming that grid girls are a huge part of motorsport, it would ruin the event, and that I was just a man-hating feminazi, jealous of the girls. Let me address these latter points: no, grid girls aren't integral to motorsport; if you think removing grid girls will ruin the event maybe you should find another source of entertainment (maybe go to fashion shows instead?); I am not a man-hating feminazi nor am I jealous of grid girls. Anyway, today's post isn't about the grid girls, it's about an instance of objectification I spotted on Twitter this evening.

A certain driver responded to a picture of a female driver (with her back facing the camera) standing alongside her Austin Healey 3000. Rather than comment on the car (which, I think, is maybe the point of motorsport - feel free to correct me though), all the driver had to say was "GREAT ARSE". This particular driver has also in the past made comment about 'Huh, women drivers eh!', so perhaps I should just expect it, but instances like these are making me increasingly disillusioned with the motorsport world.

As I noted in my previous post, there's a huge deficit of women in motorsport. Bernie Ecclestone (the mad old fool) argued that we should have a separate women's championship to encourage women into F1, however as I wrote before this is a ridiculous notion. The lack of women in top-tier motorsport is not due to lack of a female-only championship, but rather because of a lack of women throughout the motorsport world at all levels. Why is this a phenomenon? In my opinion, it's largely a cultural attitude that prevents women from entering professional motorsport in the first place.

Sure, some of this might arise from simple parenting differences between the two genders. Boys generally play with cars and "masculine" toys, while girls get the dolls and "feminine" toys. Maybe because of this, girls are less likely to want to go karting when they're a few years old. However, there are other barriers to face once women progress through the ranks of motorsport. The Twitter driver's comments are an example.

The woman in the picture was obviously a driver. She may have been an excellent driver. She might have been the only woman in the field. All that could be said about her though was "GREAT ARSE". REALLY?! That's all you can say about this woman? That her gluteus maximus is nice-looking? Would you say that about a male driver? I'm a heterosexual female fan of motorsport, but I can move past drivers' physical attributes and appreciate their talent and skill. This is a barrier that sadly a lot of male fans (and apparently drivers) can't move past when they see female drivers, and this is something contributing to women not being taken seriously in the motorsport world - especially as it's accepted (and even expected!) by the majority.

Naturally, I'll get the response of "It's just banter, love". Sure, to you it's banter. To the minority group in the motorsport world (e.g. WOMEN), it's not though. Look at the everyday sexism project for examples of what we have to put up with on a daily basis. These aren't issues that affect you, and you're actively contributing to the problem. Until you recognise this, how can women progress in the mad world of motorsport? I'm not a 'feminazi' - I recognise that men have different problems in life, and these need to be equally addressed if we're to finally achieve true equality and get rid of sexism, but this is beyond the scope of my post. To conclude, I'd urge you all to think about what you post and what unconscious attitudes you may hold towards women in motorsport. Progress is being made, but until this objectification of women in overalls is ditched, there are limits to what we can do. 

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Lotus F1 Filming Day

Last week, it was announced that the Lotus F1 Team would be visiting Brands Hatch for a filming day. They'd be bringing their 2015 car, plus a Lotus 72 E-5, with pit stop practices and laps around the track throughout the day. As Brands Hatch is my local track, somewhere I've been going since I was a very small kid, I was definitely going along to watch. I entered a competition run by the Lotus F1 Team to win a garage tour - in exchange for the tour, I promised cake and wrote a blog post about how much Brands means to me (and, of course, I let them know what a massive nerd I am).

While at work on Friday afternoon, I received a message from the Lotus team simply asking what I was doing on Monday. Naturally, I was thrilled - it was pretty hard not to do a small victory dance while at work! I promptly phoned my Dad and told him that we'd be heading to Brands on Monday.

Over the weekend, I had work to do. I spent some of Saturday working on an essay (about bipolar disorder and the cerebellum, if anyone's interested!), but most of the weekend was spent baking the promised cakes for the Lotus team! I settled on baking half chocolate, half vanilla and raspberry cupcakes, but I needed to make them Lotus themed. I decided to buy black cupcake cases and top the icing with edible gold shimmer spray - I think they turned out rather well!

Once the cupcakes were ready, we headed off to the circuit on Monday morning. When we arrived, the 2015 Lotus was being prepared in the garage, and occasionally came out for the odd lap. The last time we saw a modern F1 car in the flesh was in 2013 at the Silverstone young drivers' test - with the old, loud cars. So, it was pretty cool to see this year's F1 car - especially at Brands Hatch! One thing that did strike me though was the sound. The sound itself was quite different, but still a nice noise, but the car was so quiet! I must say I'm looking forward to the next rule change aimed at increasing the loudness.

After the car had been out for a few laps on its own, the filming car was sent out to capture a few close-ups of the car in action. This was quite interesting - although I was hoping for a short race between the two!

Once the morning's filming was over, we headed off to the car to grab the cakes and waited for 2pm to roll around - the time of our garage tour! We met the other winners (all thoroughly great people!), and then headed down for the tour (walking past the trucks and Pastor Maldonado on the way!). First stop was to watch Pastor's pit stop practices from the pit wall (how many people get to say that?!). Dad managed to speak to an engineer to ask about some technical aspects of the car (side note - everyone at Lotus is incredibly friendly and amazing!), and I watched Pastor head out and through the pits for his stops. The stops were fantastic - Pastor's wheels were spinning before they touched the ground, so these were real racing stops (and my grin was getting bigger all the time).

After the practices were over, we also saw a Lotus road car speeding around the track - and I managed to get a great view from the pit wall.

Once Pastor was wheeled back into the garage, he left the car. He then came over to meet us! I know Pastor gets some bad press for race incidents, but he really is a thoroughly nice guy. We spoke about whether he liked Brands Hatch (yes), and how fast he thought he could go round the circuit (seconds, if the limiters were off). He also signed the only item I could find in our house with a Lotus on it - a vintage ice bucket of all things! We posed for pictures, shook hands, and carried on with our tour.

After meeting Pastor, we had another wander around the pits, past the trucks. We then bumped into Jolyon Palmer - Lotus's third driver. We had a great chat with him, talking about GP2, F1 and testing. He also signed my ice bucket, and I was a very happy fan! On our way out, we had a smile and wave from Romain Grosjean as he headed towards the cars. Overall, the tour was fantastic. Everyone is very friendly and happy to interact with us fans. Not bad, in exchange for 36 cupcakes!

The rest of the day was spent watching the final runs - including the old and new F1 cars running together on the track!

Overall, we had a really fantastic day. Although there wasn't a huge amount of running on the track, there was a great atmosphere, and it was interesting seeing the filming going on at the circuit. Of course, the garage tour was the highlight of the day, and the team were brilliant at welcoming us. So, massive thanks to Lotus F1 team - you've definitely confirmed us as fans for life! Best of luck in Spain, and we hope to see you at Brands again some day!

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Brands Hatch

Exciting news!

So, since I was a very small kid I've been going to Brands Hatch with my Dad. We've seen pretty much everything there - trucks, touring cars, DTM, historic F1... You name it! I have great memories of wandering round in the pouring rain, being somewhat deafened. Now I'm older, not much has changed. I'm a bit taller, and I can cover my own ears to stop being deafened, but we still go pretty often. We've even been in one of the fancy boxes courtesy of a friend of my Dad's! I do love Brands Hatch, and I'll always have a soft spot for the place.

Well, today Lotus F1 team announced that they are heading down to Brands for a filming day! I'm ridiculously excited, and I've already booked the day off to go and see them. Although I've seen historic F1 there, I've not had the chance to see an F1 car from my era charge around there, as Brands hasn't hosted a grand prix since 1986 - I was born 6 years too late!

Lotus are also hosting a competition to get a tour around the garage - which would be amazing! Although they've asked for tweets to enter the competition, I don't think 140 characters are enough to express why they should pick me, hence the blog! So, Lotus, if you lovely people are reading this, here are the reasons why I should be one of the lucky, lucky people who win:

  • I'm a car nerd! 
  • We follow each other on Twitter
  • My Dad (who will be coming with me!) has a Lotus F1 Team cup which I force him to drink out of every F1 weekend
  • I will be giddy with excitement, and thus possibly quite entertaining
  • I will write a blog about the day afterwards (whether I meet you or not!)
  • I bake EXCELLENT cakes
  • It's my birthday on the 8th of May, so I guess this will be a pre-birthday thing?
 I hope you've enjoyed this blog post! I look forward to Monday!

Friday, 3 April 2015

Grid Girls

In  my last post, I spoke about Bernie's ridiculous idea to start an F1 championship for women only. I cited several problems which I feel were hindering women's attempts to be taken seriously within the motorsport world, one of which was the continued use of grid girls throughout different world championships, and the general objectification of women within motorsport. Well, yesterday the World Endurance Championship announced that they will no longer have grid girls at their races. This is, I think, excellent news, and largely this has been received positively. However, there are a number of people who disagree, and feel that grid girls don't cause any problem and are an integral part of motorsport. Without wishing to be sexist myself, most of the people saying this are men, who most likely don't feel the effects of female objectification (although perhaps they might experience this in some way when they look at Lewis Hamilton's - frankly ridiculous - posing on the cover of a recent magazine!). Let me explain why the banning of grid girls is a positive thing, and why it won't end motorsport as we know it.

As I mentioned previously, women are now making strides towards getting into the motorsport world - a world which is largely dominated by men. We now have two F1 team principals, several reserve drivers in F1 and a small number of drivers in other motorsport series who happen to be women. Undoubtedly there are a number of women who wish to become mechanics and have a greater direct involvement in the running of a motorsport team. If we accept that we're moving (slowly) towards gender equality in motorsport, then grid girls have no place in this world. Many promotional shots of female racing drivers ask them to pose sexily - something the men aren't asked to do. This is problematic, as it encourages individuals to think of the female racing drivers in terms of their physical appearance, rather than their abilities in the car. If we think take the view that this is unacceptable, and women should be rated for their skill, talent, and literally anything else beyond physical appearance alone, then why should grid girls be objectified at the same time? Objectification of women in many other areas of society is - rightly - condemned, and motorsport has managed to escape this for many years, proudly accepting this outdated practice.

Now, maybe I'm less qualified to speak on the opinion of the female racing drivers (and other motorsport personnel), as I'm not a racing driver myself. However, I can talk about the effect that grid girls has on female fans of motorsport, as I clearly fall within this demographic. I often attend motorsport events at circuits - I like looking at the cars, watching the racing, and generally getting involved in the atmosphere of it all. When the grid girls come out, there are always a group of men who leer, and grab their waists to take photographs. This is not a nice environment to be in. It sends a message that the women present at the event are just there to be looked at. Do you really think that the people engaged in the leeching are going to ask whether any of these women have any other attribute than looking attractive? Do any of these men even stop to ask the names of the girls?! No. These women are here to look good for the blokes - and that's something that is unacceptable in this day and age.

I can already hear the argument of  "Well, these women choose to be grid girls". Yes, this is true, and they're absolutely free to do so. However, these women also have lives and attributes beyond looking pretty, and these attributes should be celebrated just as much. There's also the issue of the grid girls being pushed on to those who don't actually want to see this side of the world. People can choose to see models at fashion shows, but I don't go to Brands Hatch to look at the girls.

I've also heard the argument that 2grid girls are just as much a part of motorsport as the chequered flag". Erm, no. This is nonsense. The chequered flag exists to mark the end of a race. The chequered flag doesn't objectify 50% of society. The presence of the chequered flag won't offend anyone, or support an attitude making it difficult for individuals to be taken seriously in motorsport. But seriously, the point here is that motorsport has been around for an awfully long time. Maybe when the sport started it was perfectly acceptable to exclude and marginalise great swathes of society, and to see women as either housewives or sex objects. However, this is no longer the case. Indeed, if grid girls are an integral part of motorsport, then I would invite people to name at least half of the girls present in the WEC. Or F1. Or the BTCC. Or MotoGP. I bet you could do so with the drivers, and I'm sure you could name the team principals, engineers, and maybe even some mechanics. The WEC certainly isn't going to end by removing the grid girls, and in fact this may attract a portion of the audience put off by constant objectification.

The world has moved on, and the motorsport world's attitude to women has to move with it. The World Endurance Championship has started the movement, so let's hope the other sports follow suit.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

F1 and Women

F1 returned for its 2015 season last month - and I have to say the first race was troubling. I stopped posting last September, partly because I was too busy, but mostly because I was pretty uninspired. The past few years in F1 have been characterised by the dominance of a single team. For years it was Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel. Now, it's Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton won the 2014 world championship, closely pursued by Nico Rosberg. The dominance of the Mercedes cars was insane. Their engine was clearly fantastic, and the team were usually miles in front of the rest. So much so, that the past nine races (the final eight of 2014 and the first race of 2015) secured 1-2 finishes for Mercedes.

Now, I am a die-hard Vettel fan, and for years I've heard all the excuses in the world - "he's just in the best car!". Well, Red Bull were never as dominant as Mercedes, and largely their success came from finding technical loopholes before anyone else. The Renault engines were never the fastest, but the overall package they had up until the rule changes was enough to secure four world championships. Mercedes are just wickedly fast, and waiting for the others to catch up. I don't agree that the Mercedes cars should be slowed down (indeed, I think F1 should be faster, louder, and more entertaining), but the constant 1-2 finishes made F1 last year a bit of a drag, and many of us were longing for the others to catch up.

However, last weekend's race started to show a glimmer of hope. Sebastian Vettel moved from his beloved Red Bull to Ferrari and everyone was waiting to see whether this was a gamble that would pay off. Ferrari hadn't won a race since Spain 2013, even with Alonso in the car (probably one of the best drivers on the grid), so not many people fancied his chances against the Silver Arrows. However, Malaysia showed that Ferrari was a great move for Vettel after all, and we had our first non-Mercedes win in nine races. Alright, it's early days, strategy and weather may have played its part, but the race overall was superb, with battles all through the field. We can only hope that this entertainment continues throughout the rest of the season.

Now, aside from the races, F1 has had some odd news stories surrounding it lately. Mostly, these have been linked to ideas from Bernie Ecclestone about how to improve the show. The latest madness he's come out with is linked to the idea of a separate F1 championship for female drivers. Looking at the comments on the articles in question (always a terrible idea), this seems to have divided opinion somewhat.

Many people seem to view the matter in the same way as myself; the idea of a separate F1 championship for women is absurd, and women should be given the chance to race in the main championship. Others take the view that the current pool of female racing drivers simply isn't good enough for F1, and that there's nothing stopping women other than their own ineptitude. Alright, I may be exaggerating slightly, but a significant number of comments suggests the age-old argument that women simply can't drive. As a female driver (not in F1 or competition, but someone who just gets behind the wheel on a regular basis), I couldn't disagree more.

In my opinion, there are a number of issues that prevent women from getting into race seats in F1. In recent years we've had several drivers who have made reserve seats and third driver places (Susie Wolff, the late Maria de Villota, Simona de Silvestro, and - controversially - Carmen Jorda), but nobody who has yet made a race seat. One of the biggest problems in my view is the fact that there are so few women at lower levels of single-seater racing. The pool of female single-seater drivers is just too small, and the sport in general is dominated by men. This therefore isn't an F1 only issue. Let's look at the GP2 and GP3 grids over the past few years...

The 2015 grids are still being formed for these feeder series, however, we can have a preliminary glance at the drivers:GP3 has eight teams, each with three drivers. All bar one of the places has been confirmed for 2015 - and all the drivers are men. Even if the final place is taken by a woman, men are clearly overrepresented. GP2 has 13 teams with two drivers each. Again, no women have been confirmed to drive. There are four places left, but again, even if all filled by women drivers, women are woefully underrepresented. In 2014, GP2 featured no women at all, and GP3 featured Carmen Jorda for seven races. The picture isn't much better across previous years either. While other championships do slightly better than GP2 and GP3 in terms of the number of female drivers, overall there are alarmingly few women across the motorsport championships.

F1 is currently made up of 20 drivers. That's not an awful lot of the total motorsport population. Undoubtedly there are drivers out there who are much better than the current crop of F1 drivers, but who simply don't have the opportunity to compete. This isn't necessarily an issue of gender - there are most likely women out there who would prove much better than men, but the lack of F1 places means it would be impossible for them to enter this strange circus. The pool of potential F1 drivers is huge, while the number of actual spaces is tiny. Given that women make up a tiny percentage of the motorsport population at large, it's not particularly surprising that there are no female F1 drivers. It's not necessarily about ability in this case, but more about opportunity. The solution to this problem? Giving more girls and women the chance to compete from a very early age and working their way up through the ranks - same as the men.

Women face another barrier to F1, and that's the differing expectation that go with the gender. A few weeks ago, I had a lecture on unconscious bias - the judgements we make in a split second upon meeting someone. We assume things. Everyone does this, and it's just human nature - not necessarily indicative of prejudice, but just something we're socialised into believing about people based on their physical traits. During this lecture, we were asked to write down a 'secret' about ourselves, and we all had to guess who had written what. I decided to write about my years spent driving Land Rovers in competitions, and how I learnt to drive age 12. When my 'secret' came up, the majority of my class guessed that one of my male classmates had written this - not the nerdy girl. This is potentially another indicator of why women don't get into top-level motorsport. Young girls are often socialised into liking Barbies and dolls, less cars and F1, just because this goes along with traditional notions of gender. Again, there's nothing wrong with this necessarily, but from the off girls have less inclination to pursue a career in F1.

Similarly, look at how women are represented when they get anywhere close to F1. By and large, the most women we see on the F1 grid are the grid girls. When we see photoshoots of drivers, men stand proudly with arms crossed, looking determined, while women have the wind blowing through their hair, perfectly made-up - sometimes draped across the car in a completely ridiculous manner. The recent appointment of Carmen Jorda is somewhat suspicious - she's not a great racing driver, but she does look very pretty. Every photo posted of her by the Lotus F1 team is of her looking glamorous, rather than getting in a car. I won't even go there with the comments posted under these photos. Now, until women are promoted away from grid girls and models and towards SERIOUS racing drivers, I doubt much will change. The women who do get into F1 are also going to be held to a much higher standard. While it might be acceptable for Will Stevens or Roberto Mehri to race around at the back with Manor, I doubt a female driver would be so accepted - her slow pace would have nothing to do with the car, and everything to do with her gender.

There has been some progress towards gender equality in F1 - but largely in relation to team principals. Claire Williams and Monisha Kaltenborn have been doing a fantastic job in running their teams (alright - ignore the Sauber vs van der Garde scandal recently, and look at what their cars are doing on track), and it's heartening to see women in serious roles within top-level motorsport. I'd be interested to see how many mechanics are women too - although, again, women are woefully underrepresented in this profession generally. While their skill may match the men, there are just too few to have a statistical likelihood of getting into the job.

Overall, there's still much work to be done in getting women into F1 and other championships, and this isn't something that will happen overnight. A women's only F1 championship is ridiculous, and there needs to be a broader attitude shift towards women who choose to like cars. We need to stop viewing women as decorative grid girls, and start taking them seriously as competitors. If women can be taken seriously as F1 team bosses, I don't see why they can't be taken seriously in any other role. It takes work though, and the entire motorsport community should be there to support this change.