By Stefan Kristensen
January 29, 2022

Female Drivers in Formula 1: All You Need to Know

Formula 1 is and has largely been a male-dominated sport. Certainly, there are plenty of female drivers who have made a name for themselves in other forms of motorsport; some notable examples include Danica Patrick, who is still the only woman to have won an IndyCar race, and the late Sabine Schmitz, who won the 24 Hours of Nürburging twice in a row.

There's nothing prohibiting female drivers from taking part in Formula 1; indeed, there have been several female drivers who have participated in the sport over the years. That being said, the percentage of female drivers in Formula 1 compared to male drivers is incredibly low and always has been.

Today, we'll be talking all about women in Formula 1. We'll be sharing with you some of the more noteworthy drivers who have participated in the sport, and explaining why exactly it is that women don't participate in this sport very frequently.  

How Many Female Formula 1 Racers Have There Been?

The first Formula 1 World Championship took place in 1950. In the 72 years since then, only five women have attempted to enter a World Championship Grand Prix; of those five women, only two of them actually qualified for the race and were able to participate in it.

The only woman to have actually ever won a Grand Prix is Desiré Wilson, a South African driver who won the race at the Brands Hatch circuit during the 1980 British Formula 1 Championship (A spinoff series that is not to be confused with world championship). However, no woman has ever won a race while driving in the World Championship.

The woman who has the most participation in Formula 1 as a driver was Maria Grazia "Lella" Lombardi, an Italian driver who took part in three World Championships from 1974 to 1976. During her Formula 1 career, Lombardi entered 17 races and qualified for 12. 

Lombardi set several firsts for women in Formula 1 that have yet to be repeated; as of today, she is still the first and only woman to score points in a Grand Prix, thanks to her sixth-place finish at the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix.

She's also the only person to end their Formula 1 career with a total of only half a point, which is due to the unorthodox nature of the aforementioned 1975 Spanish Grand Prix. Due to a series of accidents, the race ended up being cut considerably short, and so race officials decided to halve the number of points that the drivers received.

Aside from Lombardi, the only woman to have ever participated in a World Championship Grand Prix is Maria Teresa de Filippis, who participated in Formula 1 in the 1958 and 1959 seasons and qualified for three of the seven races she entered.

Which Female Racers Have Been or Are Test Drivers in Formula 1?

While still not very common, it's a little less rare to see women participating in Formula 1 as development or test drivers. There are also multiple women who have taken on other roles in Formula 1 outside of driving.

Some of the more notable examples of female test drivers in Formula 1 include Susie Wolff, who is currently the CEO of the Venturi Racing Formula E team. Prior to working as a test driver for Williams, she participated in Formula Renault, Formula 3, and the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM).

Another noteworthy example of a female test driver in Formula 1 is Jamie Chadwick, also with Williams. Chadwick is likely the youngest woman to take part in Formula 1 as a test driver, having been signed on in 2019 when she was just 21 years old. 

Chadwick has also achieved considerable success in the W Series, an all-female open-wheel racing league that is more or less on par with Formula 3 in terms of car performance. Of the two W Series World Championships that have been held so far, Chadwick has won both of them. 

Other female drivers who have participated in Formula 1 in some capacity include Katherine Legge, who tested with the now-defunct Minardi team; Sarah Fisher, an IndyCar driver who performed a demo run with McLaren at the 2002 United States Grand Prix; and Carmen Jordá, who joined the Lotus F1 team and worked as a sim driver.

There's also Tatiana Calderón who worked with Sauber as a development driver in 2017; Simona de Silvestro, who was also hired by Sauber as an "affiliate driver"; and María de Villota, who was a test driver with Marussia until she sadly passed away in 2013 as a result of injuries she sustained during an accident a year previous.  

Why Aren't There More Female Drivers in Formula 1?

As you might be able to imagine, being that Formula 1 is such a male-dominated sport, it can be pretty difficult for a woman to break into it. It's gotten better in recent years, but for a long time, Formula 1 was kind of hostile to any woman who wanted to take part in it.

One good example of this comes from the 1958 French Grand Prix, where Maria Teresa de Filippis was straight up denied entry into the race by the race director for being a woman. As he put it, "the only helmet a woman should wear is the one at the hairdresser's." Considering this was probably the popular opinion at the time, it's no wonder more women didn't participate in Formula 1.

Even until recently, it's likely that most women would have felt pretty out of place at a Grand Prix. Up until 2018, pretty much every Grand Prix featured the "grid girls", whose job was to meet fans, pose for photos, and essentially act as spokespeople for the teams they were working for.

It was pretty common for the grid girls to wear form-fitting, somewhat revealing outfits, which lead to a lot of criticism that the practice of hiring grid girls was sexist and demeaning. Whether or not this is really the case is debatable, but it's easy to see how a female driver looking to break into Formula 1 might be a little off-put by this practice.

In short, it's not that women are incapable of driving in Formula 1; it's more like the sport just isn't really as accepting of women as perhaps it should be. There's a big push happening to make it easier for women to join Formula 1, however; with time, we might see some big changes happening in the sport if things continue as they are.

(Cover photo: Susie Wolff, the latest female driver to take part in a Grand Prix weekend. Thomas Ormston, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Written by Stefan Kristensen
I have been passionate about motorsports ever since I was a little boy. Back then, I cheered on the racing cars simply based on their colors. Later I fell in love with the many technical features, strategic plays, humans and their stories that all together drives this amazing sport to make it as interesting as it is.
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