| SCHUMACHER: ‘Women have the capability’
London: Formula One has remained a man’s world, on the racetrack at least, since Italian Giovanna Amati failed to qualify her Brabham in Brazil a decade ago.
But Indy Racing League (IRL) driver Sarah Fisher showed this month, as the first woman to take pole position in a major open-wheel championship in the US, that barriers can be broken.
While many Formula One insiders believe that the chances of any woman racer eventually breaking into the glamour sport are slimmer than a supermodel, others are keeping an open mind.
Ferrari’s five-times world champion Michael Schumacher, the most successful racer in half a century of Formula One who would have competed against Amati in 1992 had she qualified, did not rule it out. “I don’t see any reason why a woman shouldn’t have the capability of doing what we do, honestly,” he said at last weekend’s Hungarian GP.
“You see some (women) athletes, and I guess they are fitter than we are.”
None have had a chance to break into the sport since Amati last tried to qualify her uncompetitive car onto the grid at Interlagos in 1992. After failing to make the cut, she was replaced by Britain’s future champion Damon Hill — who also repeatedly failed to qualify before eventually making his debut.
Eddie Irvine, who has escorted many glamorous women over the years, sounded unimpressed by Fisher’s historic pole. “As a driver it would not be interesting,” the Northern Irishman said when canvassed about his views on racing in America one day. “I think there was a lady on pole at the last IRL race. So, you know, really...”
It is team bosses, not drivers, who make the decisions about who gets in the cars and both McLaren’s Ron Dennis and Frank Williams were also unconvinced. “Because a woman has done that one good lap and is very impressive, it probably means she is very quick. But you couldn’t say she’d be fine in Formula One,” said Williams.
Dennis said simply that he could not envisage a woman racing in Formula One in the future. “I think that, over-simplifying it, oval racing is a very different type of racing to circuit racing,” he said.
“It (Formula One) requires different abilities and I think those abilities are more challenging for a woman to fulfill than for a man. I think it is very difficult for a woman to be competitive in Formula One.”
Over the years, no woman has ever scored a full point at the pinnacle of motor racing. The closest any has come was Italian Lella Lombardi, sixth in Spain in a 1975 race abandoned after German Rolf Stommelen’s car left the track and killed five spectators. Before that, in 1958, Maria Teresa de Filippis became the first woman Grand Prix driver when she finished 10th in the Belgian Grand Prix in a Maserati after the likes of Jack Brabham and Stirling Moss had retired from the race.
In rallying, Frenchwoman Michele Mouton won a world championship round in 1981 while Germany’s Jutta Kleinschmidt took the Dakar Rally.
Kirsten Kolby, sister of McLaren press officer Ellen and Danish racer Kristian, is one woman currently working in Formula One with first hand experience of racing the men.
Now with Williams, she competed in Formula Ford, Formula Opel Lotus and Formula Renault with some success before calling it a day. In the junior categories, she raced against Williams’ Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya and Minardi’s Malaysian Alex Yoong — beating both. “I beat him once and he’s laughing about that now,” she said of Montoya. “He said I was not bad for a girl.
“(Women) do have to train a little bit harder but I don’t see a reason why women shouldn’t be able to compete. I’m sure there are girls out there who could make it to Formula One but who might not have the support to actually get there,” she added.