I vividly remember the day I became a Formula 1 racing, or F1, fan. My roommate, Michelle, has loved F1 for years, and I began to ask her about it, out of interest. I knew nothing about the sport, the drivers, the rules or the history. It was all entirely foreign to me.
Shamefully, what got me into the sport was Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc. Michelle showed me his Instagram, and I was drawn in by his classically attractive European looks. I agreed to get up at 5 a.m. the next morning, due to the European time difference, to watch the Monza Grand Prix.
My alarm roused me at 4:55 a.m., an ungodly hour usually reserved for rushing to the airport. I crawled out of my comfortable bed and moved to the couch to see what F1 was really about.
I became enthralled instantly. From the moment the engines started, and that glorious roaring began, I couldn’t tear my eyes from the screen.
When Charles Leclerc crashed into the barrier during that race, I felt my heart stop. There was no sweeter relief than seeing him crawl out of the cockpit unscathed. After the race was over, the adrenaline swimming in my veins was intoxicating. I knew I’d get up early again.
Michelle has loved F1 for far longer than me, but sharing this passion with her has added to my experience with the sport. I can ask her any question and she can explain it in depth.
“I can’t remember the exact moment I really fell for F1. Maybe it was hearing the sound of a V6 engine flying around a chicane for the first time, or maybe it was when I first watched the stunning [Ayrton] Senna documentary. Either way, F1 was my whole heart,” explained Michelle.
While F1 is a joy for me and Michelle, it’s not one that others often expect of us, due to sexist perceptions of racing and racing fans. Michelle has experienced this firsthand.
“Even simply having my genuine love for F1 in my dating profile brings out misogynistic comments,” said Michelle. “‘Oh so you must just be a band-wagoner for Lewis Hamilton,’ ‘Watching one episode of “Drive to Survive” doesn’t count,’ ‘Did your dad or brother make you watch it?’”
Obviously, all these assumptions are rude, patronizing and ridiculous. Women can enjoy things that men enjoy without being a “band-wagoner” or only watching a single episode of a popular Netflix show or being introduced to the sport by a male family figure.
These are only a few examples of the misogynistic vitriol female F1 fans face on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong, the drivers are attractive. Most of them look like they moonlight as male models. However, that’s not the only reason female fans watch the sport. Women enjoy racing too, and some enjoy it so much that they seek out jobs in the sport.
Bernadette Collins, senior strategist for the Racing Point team, said in an interview with Jenny Proudfoot for Marie Claire, “The majority of people I speak to are very surprised that I work in Formula 1 as it’s seen as a man’s sport, but most are impressed. Too many people expect that an engineer should wear overalls so the image of engineering has a long way to go.”
Collins demonstrates that even when you get to the top, people will still doubt you. F1 is seen as a man’s sport, given that all the drivers are male, and most of the highest-ranking team officials are male as well — with the notable exception of Claire Williams, who stepped down as Williams Racing team principal last month.
Collins considers herself mildly lucky with her experience in F1. “I think the days of anyone believing that a woman cannot do a job as well as a man are thankfully gone and I’ve never came across that opinion. I have been asked in the past for tea or coffee when making my own in catering and that has not gone down the best,” Collins said.
While no one has told Collins to her face that she cannot do her job as well as a man, the microaggression of asking her to make a cup of tea is incredibly demeaning and likely stems from the lack of female employees in the entire sport of F1.
According to F1’s 2018 pay gap report, only 28% of permanent employees are female. This is a sad percentage and demonstrates the long way F1 must go to become a fully inclusive sport.
Inclusivity starts with hiring more women. Female engineers and strategists exist, so hire them. The fan community also needs to become more accepting of women. Female fans are not “fangirls,” but an integral piece of the racing community.
While I’ve only started watching F1 within the past six weeks, I can name every driver for every team, explain to you the rules when there’s an infraction and understand the jargon the engineers say over the radio. I’m not a fangirl; I’m a fan.
I don’t watch F1 to pine for Charles Leclerc. I watch it for the magic of the racing and the cars whipping around corners at 200 mph like it’s the easiest thing in the world.
I love F1, and because I love it, I want it to improve. I want little girls to grow up watching racing and thinking that someday that could be them in the pit. It’s not just a man’s sport anymore.