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Women who have raced in Formula One
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Football is male-dominated and male-obsessed, so much so that BBC1 produced a programme to expose it, titled 'Sexism In Football?', shown earlier this month. It seems you can be a tea lady and, at a push, a female physio, but you'll never reach the dugout.
There was one high-profile male prepared to predict a future for women at the top of the non-playing game, though. Lawrie Sanchez, former Fulham manager and current Northern Ireland boss said: "There will be a top-flight female manager within the next decade." But he added the caveat: "Whether because she's the best person out there or because of the commercial aspect...we're in an entertainment business."
I'm not talking about the ones holding long poles on the grid
Formula One is no place for a woman either. Ah yes, I can hear the 'pop' as that can of worms opens, but that's according to the sport's big boss, Bernie Ecclestone, who spoke on the subject a few years ago.
Hopefully though, his tongue was rigid in his cheek because he's shrewd enough to know that if a woman came along into his sport today, the media spotlight would globally shimmer across his silver top and all down his pit lane, ringing the tills along the way. And if she looked like Angelina Jolie and had the balls of Rocky Balboa then the jackpot would have been hit.
As a former female Formula One-wannabe I'm thrilled to inform you that there already has been a woman in Formula One. Five, in fact, and I'm not talking about the ones in skimpy shorts holding long poles on the grid.
PA - Barratts - S&G and Barratts - EMPICS Sport
Maria Teresa de Filippis
Maria Teresa de Filippis was the first lady of Formula One, racing in the late 1950s when the sport was eight years old and she was in her early 30s. A previous sports car racer, Maria was a works Maserati driver competing in a car that Juan Manuel Fangio clinched his fifth championship title in the year before. He was suitably impressed with her skills to comment that she went too fast and took too many ricks. Atta girl!
Women can compete with men on equal terms in motorsport
She took part in just a handful of races and had a best finish of 10th position. I met her at the top step of the podium at the 2004 Silverstone Formula One Grand Prix when she handed me the winner's trophy for the Maserati Trofeo support race. It was a moment I treasure.
Motorsport is one of the very few sports where women can compete with men on equal terms. The only others I can think of right now are horse racing and mixed tennis doubles.
I know from my 20-plus years of competing that as soon as you put a helmet on, your rivals become sexless. But I also know from experience that a man's ego takes a bit of a bashing when he's beaten by a girl, as does a girl's too, and I'll admit that I've always needed to be the first chick home if there was a fellow filly on the grid.
PA - S&G and Barratts - EMPICS Sport
Women were obviously busy burning bras or throwing them at the Beatles in the 1960s because in that decade Formula One was an all-male affair, but in 1974 the second Italian female racer stepped into the arena - Lella Lombardi. And she is the sole woman to score a point in Formula One, albeit half a point due to an accident-shortened race.
The only woman to win a Formula One race
In 1976 Divina Galica flew the flag for Britain, swapping skis for tyres having become the UK's most successful female on snow, captaining the Olympic ski team twice.
Entering just three Formula One world championship GPs - and being talented and gutsy - a succession of bad cars, bad timing and bad luck contributed to Divina failing to start even one, and it's a similar story for her successor.
South African Desiré Wilson is credited as being the only woman to win a Formula One race, but because it was in the British non-GP series (called Aurora) it does not register in the point-scoring Formula One history books. She raced in a contemporary car and is often thought of as the best of her kind.
PA - S&G and Barratts - EMPICS Sport
Despite the shortage of points between them all, these four women were not token ladies who trotted around the track - they had the spirit, supremacy and spunk to wrestle those cars with none of the driver aids we see today. There aren't many men with the bottle to battle so hard.
More than a decade later in 1992, Italy produced its third Formula One hopeful in Giovanna Amati - the most recent to try her hand but the first to market her femininity more than her flair at the wheel.
The first to market her femininity
After three attempts to qualify for the first three races of the season, she and her Brabham just weren't quick enough and, classified as a mobile chicane, thus did not make it to a race start. In her defence, Damon Hill failed to qualify the car in the fourth round too.
This year the Marussia Formula One team (née Virgin) has the daughter of an ex-Formula One driver on its books, Maria de Villota, though there are no plans to enter her for a race, so who knows when we'll see the next woman on the grid or even in qualifying.
Rob Griffith - AP - Press Association Images
Maria de Villota
Over the years I've spent a lot of time wondering why there are so few female racers and it has nothing to do with physical strength - I am sure Kelly Holmes could pack a more powerful punch than Lewis Hamilton, for example.
No, the answer is simple and it comes down to mathematics. If 50% of the eight-year-olds racing karts were girls, then the chances of them making their way up the motorsport ladder would improve hugely. And eventually some of them would reach the very top. As it is, the numbers currently stand at something like 98% boys at grassroots.
There are only 24 people in whole wide big world who are current Formula One drivers, and everyone of them will tell you that if you've got the talent, the machine and the luck, then you will succeed - man or a woman.
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