Danica Patrick’s historic pole position for last Sunday’s Daytona 500 attracted a huge amount of publicity and comment, both positive and negative.
Despite a great number of people trying to put her down, it’s hard to deny that she won that pole position on pure merit and in doing so fought against a huge tide of tradition and opinion to beat the guys at their own game. Being a successful racing driver is difficult enough for anyone but I am full of admiration for her achievements both this weekend and in IndyCar. Good for her.
Women in F1
Even ignoring Danica, the subject of women in motorsport and F1 always generates opinion. This blog post is not about drivers however, it is about women working in management, engineering and marketing positions within F1 teams. Formula 1 is so often considered a sexist and male dominated sport but times are changing and the good news is that a woman who wants to make a career in Formula 1 should have just as many opportunities to do so as her male colleagues.
As a spectator sport, Formula 1 is now very popular with women, some estimates suggest that 40% of the spectators at Grand Prixs are now female. On a Grand Prix grid however, the vast majorty the mechanics & engineers will still be men and any women team personnel may well still be outnumbered by grid girls. This statistic however is changing and the presence of Monisha Kaltenborn as the new team principle of Sauber team has given women who want to work in Formula 1 a real boost. Monisha has worked as a senior member of that team for many years and was hand picked by Peter Sauber to take over the reigns when he stepped back from running the team himself. She has forged ahead to show that women can be successful at the very top of the sport.
Women in the ranks
Practically every Formula 1 outfit now has female design engineers and aerodynamicists on their staff and many are in increasingly senior positions too. Until very recently, the Head of Aerodynamics at Caterham F1 was Marianne Hinson, one of the top jobs below Technical Director, directing all of the aerodynamic design and windtunnel testing. Women are also now commonly found working in many of the practical roles too, such as composite laminators, hydraulics technicians and electronics assemblers.
Sportscar race engineer Leena Gade made history in 2011 by becoming the first female race engineer to win the world famous Le Mans 24hour race with Audi. Gade studied aeronautical engineering and volunteered in several different race series before making the switch to Audi in sportscars. Read her story here.
Outside of Engineering
Away from the technical side of Formula 1, plenty of women find work in marketing & media. Team branding, image and public relation is undergoing something of a revolution at present with traditional sources of funding such as tobacco sponsorship being replaced by younger more dynamic brands such as energy drinks and computing. Increased use of social media and online marketing means that opportunities in these areas of the teams are growing and could certainly be an area where non-engineering people can thrive. Many teams marketing groups are female dominated and good opportunities are available to those not from a technical background.
Any woman who wants to work in Formula 1 only need show that she has the right academic, personal and motivational qualities. In a performance driven sport, you will soon realise that nobody cares whether you are male or female as long as you get the job done properly. That’s not to say that women will not find the still male dominated environment difficult at times, or come across some sexist or prejudiced attitudes. These things will still exist but other women have paved the way ahead already and if you want to work in F1 then the foundations are there for you to follow in their footsteps.
Please take a look elsewhere on this site for other help and guidance on what you need to do to work in F1. The FAQ section is now up and running and should be the first port of call to answer many commonly asked questions.
You can also follow me on Twitter @Work_in_F1 or on Facebook.
Best of luck and see you on the grid someday.