Women in F1: “It’s All About The Benjamins Baby”

P Diddy said it best in the song: "It's All About The Benjamins Baby"
P Diddy said it best in the song: “It’s All About The Benjamins Baby”

Once again Bernie Ecclestone has proven himself an agent of disruption. This, of course, is nothing new. If you’ve never read the book Bernie’s Game, by Terry Lovell, then you might be forgiven for thinking that it was senility or simply the “Scrooge Effect”. It isn’t. This is who he has always been. It’s how he does business, confuse, confound and then offer his remedy to the problem that he’s seemingly created.

His latest polarizing concept is the creation of an “All-Female” version of the F1 series. A plan that he knows isn’t going to happen. The only reason that Eccelstone has suggested this course of action for Formula One is to shake up the teams and corporations that participate in the lower formulas in order to warm them to the idea of females participating, at some point, in the higher levels of the sport. Not for the social equality of it, but rather, for the money that could be made from it. Eccelstone is nothing if not deliberate in his outrageous utterances. They are always carefully placed.

Defiant and unapologetic, Bernie Eccelstone has a method to his madness.
Defiant and unapologetic, Bernie Eccelstone has a method to his madness.

In one of his more recent pronouncements he claimed that he didn’t care if the F1 audience was a young audience as they didn’t have the money to support their sponsors anyway. That seemed bad enough, he then went on to say that F1 would not bother to participate in ‘Social Media’ as it had no value to the sport. First of all, he fully realizes that the television revenues from F1 are the single greatest revenue stream the sport has and if that keeps falling at the pace it has in the past, then everything he’s built will have been for naught. So, F1 does make efforts to involve themselves in social media, but not in the traditional sense.

F1 uses social media to bring attention to the sport, not to provide mobile streaming or live streaming. There is no money to be made. This was tried for television in the 1990’s and was a dismal failure. Folks simply did not want to fork over cash to watch an F1 practice when the races and qualifying are free. Frankly neither would I.

If money can’t be made from it, Bernie Eccelstone isn’t going to back it. Note that I used the term ‘Back it’. Eccelstone doesn’t have the dictatorial powers he once had after selling the majority stake in Formula One to CVC Capital Partners. This is a very complex arrangement that moves down more back channels than a drunken gondolier in Venice.

Looking more like a classic movie star than a hard core racer, Lyn St. James made it as far as she could on sheer talent.
Looking more like a classic movie star than a hard core racer, Lyn St. James made it as far as she could on sheer talent.

Without going down the maze from financial Hell with an explanation, Eccelstone does what NASCAR is famous for, he floats a trial balloon. Ok, it’s a trial balloon that more resembles the Hindenberg, but he get’s the idea out there to be talked about, loved, excoriated or just noticed. The Brits, God bless ‘em, are the world’s greatest scandal machine. If there isn’t a scandal, just manufacture one. It’s how Eccelstone gets the public to pressure the FIA and the rest of the ruling class of motorsports.

Once Bernie had floated the idea of an all female F1 series, he then began to slowly define it, or carefully destroy it. He now says that it probably won’t happen and if it did it would consist of no more than three races. That’s the end of that. No sponsor is going to throw down millions for a three race dog and pony show. Women are on their own and will have to pay the money to get into the lower ranks and win, not ride around, but out and out beat the men in order to be noticed.

I’ve had fans point out that Susie Wolff could be a candidate. She is the test driver for Williams after all. What’s not mentioned is that she isn’t a reserve driver. She doesn’t have a super license. I may catch hell for this, but her husband is Toto Wolff, the team principal of Mercedes AMG F1. They supply the powerplants and technology to Williams and Wolff has equity in the Williams team. He has, recently, divested most of that interest, but the aura of impropriety still exists.

The biggest barrier to having women make it into F1 is money. The biggest barrier to men making it to F1 is money. So why should there be any effort whatsoever for a woman to have a smoother ride to the top? Lyn St. James fought her way to the higher series in America and asked no favors.

Lella Lombardi
Lella Lombardi

Granted, women are not going to get an even break unless they can dominate a series in the lower formulas and then perform at the highest level. That leaves drivers such as Lotus development driver, Carmen Jorda in a anomalous position. Jorda did not obtain this designation based on her abilities. She’s never won a race in her 10 year career. However if you can bring enough money to the table you can become a ‘Development Driver’, which is tantamount to being a track day driver only with faster cars.

The closest the modern era has come to a female F1 driver would have to be Simona de Silvestro. De Silvestro was also a development driver for the Sauber F1 team, but could not complete her financial agreement and therefore was dropped by, oddly enough, Monisha Kaltenborn, the female team principal for Sauber. Gender equality in auto racing has a color and it’s usually green.

Fortunately Simona is making an impact back here in America with Andretti Autosport and was recently awarded another race, in New Orleans, as well as a commitment for the Indy 500. She has the ability, but the money is still an issue.

Lella Lombardi, Desire Wilson, Maria Teresa de Filppis are all in the history books as female Formula One drivers, but none have any great successes, Wilson did win a non-Championship F1 race at Brands Hatch and Lella Lombardi did score points in 1975 In the Spanish Grand Prix.

Truthfully, separating the series would be a sexist move if it were financially possible. Women will simply have to push through the same obstacles as the men do with the addition of being brushed aside by sexist team owners and backward thinking men.

In the words of the great philosopher, P. Diddy, AKA Sean Combs:

“It’s all about the Benjamins baby”




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