Formula 1 needs to make sure female drivers feel wanted and welcome in the future, according to Danica Patrick.
The most successful female driver in American single-seater history, the former IndyCar and NASCAR driver was linked to F1 in the past but never saw any serious opportunities open up. At the start of his IndyCar career in 2005, former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said that “women should be dressed in white like all other household appliances” in response to a question about his good performance, and Patrick says it’s an attitude that mirrored European racing in the past, and given the higher number of women winning IndyCar seats since then, it suggests he could still be lagging behind the United States on this front.
“I remember some negative things Bernie Ecclestone said about me, so maybe say nice things!” Patrick explained to RACER how to improve the chances of women pilots to reach F1. “Make people feel welcome! I’m sure you can create this quote …
“I can certainly speak of this in terms of being a servant in the US and England – I certainly didn’t feel as welcome in England as a girl. So I always had the impression that England and Europe were further behind in their social structures and their hierarchy of who does what and gender dynamics. I don’t know, for me that’s how I felt.
“I felt like I was much more welcome when I got home. I felt like people were really excited to have me around; I felt equal, but it wasn’t like that in England. So maybe that partly explains why you don’t see so many women moving up the ranks to enter Formula 1.
“What changes that? Those in charge must change their attitude. It’s like a cultural thing, it’s like a cultural norm. You can see it all over the United States – all kinds of different cultural stuff is really pushed around and a lot of storytelling and a lot of drama around it. There are a lot of initiatives here to make things abnormal, normal.
“I don’t know if it’s like that in the old world, you know? I do not know if it’s normal. I haven’t lived there for a long time, so I imagine it’s better than before, of course. I was there in 1998-2001, so over 20 years ago. I’m sure it’s different now, but I know states are moving forward so even though the world is moving at the same pace, when I experienced it at the same time, we were in different places.
“I know it might be a controversial answer, but I’ve had direct experience of it, so that’s how I felt. I mean, the boss said something about the washers and wearing white! I mean what ?! There you go, do I need to say more when the show’s manager says things like that? “
Patrick will be an expert on Sky Sports’ coverage of the United States Grand Prix this weekend – which will air live on ABC – but says she never seriously looked for a chance in F1 because she felt that his name was only used for marketing purposes. Although she believes the United States has given her a better career opportunity, she says F1 would benefit from an American driver making the breakthrough in a competition car.
“That’s definitely what people think (that an F1 test was scheduled), but no one ever called me. I saw there must be some kind of marketing angle going on, because no one ever called me. Or if they called, they didn’t call me, they called someone else and then they didn’t tell me – which I don’t know why they wouldn’t …
“But I don’t think there was ever any real validity to that. Once I left England after living there for a few years, I was okay with not going. I realized that my success depended on my surroundings and the comfort and opportunities of people and creatures. I felt like the opportunities in America were better and I was just happier and more comfortable, so I was always okay with leaving that behind.
“And I was never going to drive a Formula 1 car just to say I did, because for me the risk of, ‘What if I go and for some reason it just doesn’t go well. ‘Like, I don’t need that script. I only undertook things that I was really serious about, and luckily, I was able to do a good job at the things I really wanted to do. But Formula 1 wasn’t something I wasn’t serious about.
However, Patrick agreed that having local talent to cheer on would boost F1 in the United States.
“I think having an American Formula 1 driver would really help the sport and really help the popularity here in the United States,” she said. “I’m sure RACER would like to cover it even more – I mean, when there’s an American rider, there’s just a reason and a resonance here.
“Just like if there was another country with a driver from their country, you can watch a driver from home city or country anytime win, that’s the bigger deal. If an Italian wins, in Italy that’s the most important thing. If German wins in Germany – my dad and I were watching Schumacher’s documentary (Netflix) and watching him win in Germany was insane. So the same thing – if there was an American pilot, that would be really good for the American public. “