Be The Change – IWD

I walk through the pit lane in Austria and watch the activity in the garages. Engineers, mechanics, drivers, photographers… It takes a while for me to spot a woman in amongst them.

It’s in the Mercedes garage. It’s Kim Stevens, the track aerodynamicist. She’s half buried under the car, checking over the chassis, collecting vital data in making this car the championship contender that it is. I feel a spike of excitement and amazement at seeing a woman in such a role, so low were my expectations.

I want to see more.

I stand in line for the pit walk at Spa and get to talking to a teenage girl. She wants to become an engineer in Formula 1. She’s waiting on her A Level results in the hopes that she can get into a University to study Mechanical Engineering. She’s cautious in talking about it, maybe even a little embarrassed, so used to being shut down. But she’s already spent time with Lotus and hopes to work with Williams on their engineer scheme in the future. There are avenues for women to pursue this.

I want to see more.

I stand at the start finish straight at Silverstone, waiting to see Susie Wolff drive the Williams in free practice. I hear some men behind me chuckle at her time compared to the drivers around her. I hear them talk about how she doesn’t deserve to be in the car. I hear them laugh as her car breaks down, forcing her out of the session. I bite my tongue, instead focusing on the little girl in front of me. She’s wearing ear defenders, her eyes wide as she watches the cars. She asks her dad every time a white car goes by if that was Susie. She waves her hands and cheers when it is. She probably wouldn’t know Susie Wolff if she bumped into her but that doesn’t matter. The fact that she knows a woman can compete in this sport alongside men is important. Role models are important.

I want to see more.

I sit in the pit straight grandstand in Italy and watch as the grid girls walk out to a stream of cat calls and wolf whistles. It makes my blood boil and my skin crawl all at once.

I see women used as props at car reveals, sponsorship events, auto shows. I see people defend it as ‘sex sells’ and wonder when they’ll come up with a better excuse. I see people express outrage at the concept of scrapping grid girls because ‘old school’ and ‘nostalgia’. Again, I wait for them to come up with a better excuse.

I see women being told that they only like the sport because of the eye candy, being tested on their knowledge to see if they’re ‘worthy’ of being fans, being harassed at races by people who have been conditioned to think that women are there to please men.

I want to see less.

I close my eyes and imagine a time where women racing alongside men is the norm. Where women engineers and mechanics and photographers and journalists can be found in just a single glance into the pit lane. Where companies have enough confidence and faith in their products and potential buyers to let them sell themselves, instead of resorting to half-dressed women to do it for them. Where they have to actually get creative in their marketing.

Where I don’t have to feel the need to justify why I am a fan of motorsport to anyone, it’s just accepted.

It’s not going to happen overnight. And it’s not going to happen without us pushing on and on. We’re making great strides. We just need to keep making more and never back down, no matter who may dare stand in our way.

Happy International Women’s Day. And to all my motorsport ladies, keep on keeping on.

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