Women and Motorsport – From the Fans to the Drivers

Charlotte discusses how female fans of F1 face backlash.

To be a female fan of motorsport is to face backlash. It is not uncommon for women who express a love for F1 or Motogp, for example, on social media platforms to be interrogated by male fans. They seem to think that women are not ‘real’ fans and they quiz them – who won x in y? There is apparently a set criteria of how much one must know about something before they have earned the right to call themselves a fan of that thing. The concern here is how it seems the expectations for women are so much higher than they are for men. As motorsport is not a female-dominated space, it is less common for women to be seen in the sport and to be seen engaging with the sport as a fan.

 

A recent example of this in the F1 fan community is from an F1-related podcast called Pitstop. The Pitstop podcast is made up of two new fans to the sport, Jake and Fabio, and has seen a dramatic rise in success from their first episode, released in February 2022, to now. Currently the podcast has 143K followers on Instagram, 156.7K followers on TikTok, with 7.6 millions TikTok likes, and has hit no.3 in the Spotify podcast charts. The popularity of Pitstop has meant that it went from two guys discussing F1 to getting the opportunity to go to Grand Prix and interview multiple F1 drivers. Jake and Fabio’s success partly comes down to the fact that they already had established an audience through their football commentary and simply the fact that they are quite entertaining to listen to. However, for such a meteoric rise, it is quite shocking how little they actually know about F1.

 

It is a common occurrence in episodes for them to say things which are not true or to not know details about the sport. The discourse around how they did not know that Sebastian Vettel won four world championships with Red Bull has been very telling. For most F1 fans, this is a very well known fact and yet a lot of people have shrugged off the ignorance of the Pitstop boys because they had always made it clear that they are new to the sport and not experts and because they are likeable. This has not been taken so well by female F1 content creators or many female fans as this kind of mistake would be enough to incite tonnes of abuse towards them. Female fans get absolutely slated for not knowing niche facts and female-run F1 podcasts do not get anywhere near as much attention as those run by men. It seems listeners are much more forgiving towards the Pitstop boys than they would be towards any woman who expresses an interest in F1.

 

Source: Pinterest

 

According to many male F1 fans, female F1 fans are practically synonymous with fans of the Netflix series Drive to Survive. The show has had enormous success and has converted many people into lovers of the sport. Yet, it has been criticised a lot for overly dramatising F1 and being sometimes inaccurate for the sake of entertainment. Whilst these may be valid claims, the show has brought in many new fans, a lot of whom are female, and these people are frequently shamed for not being ‘true’ fans of the sport. ‘DTS fan’ is a derogatory term used to mostly dismiss female fans of the sport online, and the F1 teams themselves have recognised this and played into this problematic notion. When the ‘little miss and mr’ meme format became popular this summer, the Mclaren social media team posted to Instagram their versions, including a ‘little miss Drive to Survive fan’, enforcing this stereotype that women only engage with F1 through that show, which is rooted in gender bias.

 

Christian Horner, the Team Principal of the F1 team Red Bull, said in an interview, “F1 is bringing in a young generation. It brings in a lot of young girls because of all these great-looking young drivers”. This myth that girls only show interest in sport because of attraction to the athletes is entirely misogynistic and false. To reduce female fans who express an interest in the drivers in such a way into only liking the sport because of such a redundant factor is absolutely ludicrous. Firstly, F1 involves drivers being seated in racing cars with helmets on, meaning you can’t even see them when watching a race to be able to fawn over their appearance. Secondly, to have a certain preference for some drivers over others is to be expected by fans of any sport, regardless of gender. Male fans can be very vocal about their support for certain drivers for all sorts of reasons, ranging from ‘he represents my country’ to ‘he’s the funniest’. To add ‘he’s the best looking’ is equally as trivial a reason as those often expressed by straight male fans.

 

Source: Sky Sports

 

It is not just female fans who experience this kind of backlash in F1. Female pundits are inherently criticised much more than their male counterparts. Naomi Schiff, a racing driver herself who has recently joined the Sky Sports F1 team, received hate from online trolls questioning her credentials to have the job of an F1 pundit. It is notable how this only made headlines once Lewis Hamilton came to Schiff’s defence, followed by statements of support from other drivers and F1 personnel. Similarly, Hannah Schmitz, the Principal Strategy Engineer at Red Bull, was the target of online abuse that again forced the F1 teams to release statements condemning the hate. This kind of misogyny in the sport and its fanbase is hard to avoid as a woman involved in F1 or simply interested in F1, and this does not make it easier to lessen the patriarchal dominance in motorsport.

 

In late 2018, a women-only led racing championship called W-Series was launched in response to the lack of female drivers making it to the highest levels of motorsport, such as F1. In the entire history of F1, there have only ever been five female drivers. Just the existence of a women-only racing championship is enough for many motorsport fans to hate on the W-Series. Its most recent season, 2022, has had to be cut short because of a lack of funding, with hopes that by saving now they should be able to continue in future years. This is indicative of the issue of trying to encourage women in motorsport. Lewis Hamilton criticised F1 and Liberty Media, F1’s owners, for not supporting W-Series, but shows a lack of interest in helping those who are not rich, white and male.

 

The lack of women in motorsport is a well known fact by now, hence the attempts being made to bring in more female engineers, drivers, etc. The treatment towards female fans of motorsport, however, is often dismissed. Women who show an interest in racing should be welcomed rather than attacked, as how will they want to get involved in the sport itself if they are not given the opportunity to even learn and enjoy it.

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