So Bernie Ecclestone says a lot of stupid things, as all the crowing in the past few days about him being a Putin-loving sexist would seem to suggest. But let me correct everybody. He doesn’t say a lot of stupid things, he stupidly says a lot of things. The difference is important.
The comment that really twisted a lot of knickers was about women drivers. “I don’t know whether a woman would physically be able to drive an F1 car quickly,” said the 85-year-old, “and they wouldn’t be taken seriously.”
Now knee-deep into the 21st century, the reaction of the so-called ‘enlightened’ was to be expected. “He’s totally wrong,” said someone called Cindy Boren, one such progressive sports writer for the Washington Post. “Ecclestone was forgetting that Lewis Hamilton, the three-time F1 world champion, stands 5 feet 9 and weighs about 150 pounds.” Whatever that means.
Boren then quoted Danica Patrick, the most famous female racing driver in the world, as saying: “If you think of yourself as being any different, you will be different. Our thoughts manifest into reality, so believe in yourself and have a goal.”
“Hear that, Bernie?” Boren concluded, patronisingly.
Now, I don’t need to do any research whatsoever to know with certainty that Boren has not even hung onto the steering wheel around a 50kph bend in a 125cc go-kart, let alone sat in an actual racing car of any description. When she has, and only then, will I listen to her opinion about whether someone like Susie Wolff or Carmen Jorda is exactly as physically capable of driving an F1 car as Lewis Hamilton.
Does she know what 5G feels like? Does she know how many kilograms of force need to be applied to the brakes, and that even middle-aged former F1 drivers cannot replicate their stopping-power of the past when reacquainted with their old steeds? No? Didn’t think so.
Can you even imagine how the ‘anti-sexists’ would react if, in the glorious name of gender equality, it was proposed that men’s and women’s tennis be amalgamated into an all-inclusive 2017 ‘Human Being Super League’? Put it this way: with the possible exception of Serena Williams, I would imagine Maria Sharapova might need more than her single dose of meldonium when it’s her turn to go against Rafael Nadal in Round 1 at Wimbledon.
Now, while it’s true that the current generation of F1 cars are not as physical to drive as the downforce-dripping and uber-grippy monsters of a decade ago, to suggest that Bernie is sexist just because he wonders about the practicalities of women thriving at the pinnacle of motorsport is simply unfair.
He’s been there from the start: like Maria Teresa de Filippis, the first woman to ever race in F1, he failed to qualify for the 1958 Monaco grand prix.
As Susie Wolff admitted this week as she defended the eccentric 85-year-old, Bernie is actually a supporter of her Dare To Be Different campaign, aimed at getting more women in motor racing at all levels. That’s because it is ridiculous to suggest that Bernie – obviously now more passionate about ‘the deal’ than the petrol – wouldn’t dearly love a top female driver on the grid. How do we really know? Because he must have said it a million times — much more often than he has said women should be “dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances”.
A few years back, Bernie thought Danica Patrick might be the real deal. “Bernie has actually sent a lot of messages,” the Nascar and former Indycar driver confirmed. “Any kind of big high point that happens in my career, whether it be at Indy or Daytona or winning in Japan. He even sent me a big picture signed by him one time. He’s actually been really nice.”
That’s because Bernie knows that a woman in F1 is just like a lucrative race deal in China, Abu Dhabi or Russia. It would open doors. Doors with dollar signs.
If you actually read the so-called ‘sexist’ interview that Ecclestone did this week, it’s obvious that he is willing to do anything to help get a woman into F1, including putting “$20 million in to make sure it happened”.
Bernie’s comments have got him into trouble because he couldn’t care less about the ‘political correctness’ spell-checker that, in 2016, puts the brakes on so many things that we think in our heads but dare not utter in reality. Like Vladimir Putin, a hated figure in the West who undoubtedly, in Ecclestone’s words, “gets the job done”. Can we really say the same thing about our current systems of Congress and the Senate? So with a truly-troubled F1 currently paralysed by its own democracy, it is probably for the very same reason that Ecclestone likes the sound of President Donald Trump. “I’m sure he’s much more flexible than most of them. If he’s made a mistake, he’s more likely to say ‘It was a good idea at the time’,” he says.
It might not be what the politically-correct commentators want to hear, but Ecclestone is absolutely right that a) women have historically not thrived in F1, while b) not being taken seriously.
It’s not because women are not being given the opportunity. Maria de Villota sadly died as she recovered from her horrific skull injuries after losing control of a Marussia at low-speed during a straight-line testing session in 2012. Susie Wolff called it quits at the end of last year, when despite being given plenty of outings for Williams – including at the actual grand prix weekends – she was overlooked when push came to shove and the team really did need a serious reserve driver. If a team with the status and success of Williams, run these days by none other than a woman (Claire Williams), thinks Mrs Wolff is not up to the job, you can be fairly sure that she is not.
Then there’s Carmen Jorda, who is still affiliated with the works Renault team even though she has done nothing in motor racing except finish nearly last in GP3 and pose in tight clothing whilst working out for her Instagram posts. “Carmen Jorda couldn’t develop a roll of film, let alone a hybrid F1 car,” said her former GP3 teammate.
Ouch! Say what you want about the suitcases of millions that have powered the F1 debuts of ‘pay drivers’ like Pastor Maldonado, Rio Haryanto and Will Stevens in recent years, but no one has delivered a punch like that about them. But is that sexism, or is it that Carmen Jorda … couldn’t develop a roll of film?
So, long live those like Bernie who, even though the Pirelli Calendar says it’s 2016, are prepared to say what they think. Especially when what they think is the absolute truth.