It was back in 1958 during the Belgian Grand Prix which saw participation from a woman in Formula 1 for the very first time, the race director said: “The only helmet that a woman should use is the hairdresser”. We’re talking about a section of the human race that was relegated to the kitchen and laundry for centuries and even when they weren’t, they were expected to sit pretty and limit themselves to decisions about what curtains go best with the walls in the lobby. So, how do you pick someone from this section of society and put them behind the wheel of a race car? There was no other way, they’d have to do it themselves, there would have to be defiance. And thankfully, there was.
It goes back to the likes of Effie Hotchkiss. In 1915, Hotchkiss bought a Harley-Davidson, fitted a sidecar for her mum, and rode her way across the North American continent covering some 6400 km encountering sweltering heat, blown tyres, and unpredictable terrain. ‘Why Not Give the Girls a Chance? Thousands of Them Would Enjoy and Be a Credit to the Sport of Motorcycling If Someone Would Set the Fashion’ — an article featured in a motorcycle trade magazine read in October 1921.
Sure, Hotchkiss wasn’t participating in any form of motorsports but her metal to take the decision to do something that had purely been restricted for men back then opened a new avenue for women.
Fast forward to 1958, Formula 1 witnessed its first-ever woman driver Maria Teresa de Filippis. She scored no championship points but wrote history highlighting that women can be trained for the sport. There have been only five women racers to take part in Formula One World Championship since its inception in 1950. Desiré Wilson became the only woman to win a Formula One race of any kind when she won at Brands Hatch in the British Aurora F1 championship on 7 April 1980. As a result of this achievement, she has a grandstand at Brands Hatch named after her.
The last woman to attempt to qualify for a Formula One Grand Prix was Italian Giovanna Amati in 1992.
One woman you can’t look over in the world of motorsport is Michelle Mouton. Mouton is considered one of the pioneers for women in the sport, the former rally driver was the first woman to win a WRC event. She stood on the top step of the podium in 1981 at the San Remo Rally behind the wheel of the mighty Audi Quattro during the fearsome Group B era of the discipline. Mouton fell short of winning the world title by a small margin that year to Walter Rohrl, but with her three WRC wins that year, she played a huge role in helping Audi will their manufacturers’ title. While driving for Peugeot, Mouton also won the 1986 German Rally Championship.
Today, we’ve got several prominent names that set examples for women racers around the world with the likes of Pippa Mann who races in the IndyCar Series, Maria Costello who holds a Guinness World Record as the fastest woman ever to have lapped the Isle of Man circuit, Sabine Schmitz – motor racing driver for BMW and Porsche who reckons has lapped the Nurburgring circuit some 20,000 times. Her familiarity with the racetrack earned her the nicknames ‘Queen of the Nürburgring’ and ‘the fastest taxi driver in the world’. Schmitz has also hosted a very notable television car show.
Speaking of TV car shows, Vicky Butler-Henderson is a British racing driver who has worked with some of the very notable magazines in the field of automobile journalism.
Bringing this topic of discussion within the boundaries of India and there are now a number of names making a global impact. Currently one of the most popular names in Indian motorsport, TVS Racing’s Aishwarya Pissay became the first-ever Indian to win a world title last year. The 23-year-old lifted the FIM World Cup in the women’s category after the final round of the championship in Hungary.
Sneha Sharma has built herself quite a reputation as a successful racer in Formula championships and has also competed in motorcar races like the Vento Cup in India. Sharma was a part of the WIAA Women’s Rally to the Valley and to say the least was an inspiration to the rest of the participants. This year the WIAA rally will see participation from Diana Pandol who is also a Formula 4 race car driver.
International Women’s Day is marked every year on the 8th of March and we take this opportunity to raise a glass to these women in motorsports who shall be inspirational lighthouses for others to look up to. And to see more and more participation from women in such sports in the coming years. So much so that it is no longer looked at by others with surprise in their eyes and the likes of the race director from 1958 become extinct.
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