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Progress for women in motorsport in 2012

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2012 sees the first woman to head an F1 team and the first female Porsche GT3 Cup Middle East driver.

As the F1 season draws to a close, it is a good time to reflect on the progress made by women both in this and in other areas of motorsport in 2012.

As I reported earlier in the year, the sport’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), established the Women In Motorsport Commission (WMC) in April, announcing its first ambassadors; Michèle Mouton, Monisha Kaltenborn, Susie Wolff, Maria de Villota and Katherine Legge.

Their remit is work at a strategic level to promote education and to encourage more women into the sport.

As well as becoming ambassadors, 2012 has been a significant year for each of these women.

Michèle Mouton, President of the WIC, was invited to the Women’s Forum Global Meeting in October in Deauville, France. Nearly 300 professionals spoke on issues aimed at promoting women’s contribution to society. Mouton spoke about the “democratisation of women in motorsport”.

Katherine Legge signed a two-year deal with Dragon Racing to drive in the IndyCar series.

Touring car driver Susie Wolff has been signed by F1 team Williams as a development driver.

But two of these women saw their lives changed completely in 2012, in very different ways.

In July, 32-year old Maria de Villota crashed her Marussia MR-01 while involved in testing at Duxford Airfield in Cambridgeshire. She lost her right eye in the crash and suffered severe head and facial injuries.

In a press conference held in Madrid 0n 11 October she spoke about her experience for the first time.

“Before, I only saw F1, I saw myself in a car competing. I did not see what was important in life, the clarity to say: ‘I am alive’.”

She went on to say that she still wants to be involved in F1, and to be a role model to women hoping to enter the sport.

“I have motorsport in my DNA and there’s no way I can stay away from that world.  I want to keep fighting because I believe so strongly in women being part of motor racing.”

Her driving career may be over, but hopefully her ambassadorial role with the WIC will give her the recognition and satisfaction she deserves.

By contrast, Monisha Kaltenborn’s year has gone from strength to strength.

In October she became the first female F1 Team Principal when she took over from Peter Sauber at the Sauber team.

She began her career at Sauber in 2000, when she headed up the company’s legal department. It was not long before she was invited to sit on the board.

She became CEO in 2010, but her elevation to Team Principal is an unprecedented step that should give hope to the many other women aspiring to top posts in F1.

In an interview with the BBC, 41-year old Kaltenborn said, “I hope it will change [having more women]. I hope more women will come up and the most important thing is to give them to the opportunity. Women have the education, the confidence and the competence, but they simply need that opportunity.”

Kaltenborn’s promotion has been welcomed throughout the sport.

In the same interview, Red Bull Principal, Christian Horner, said “It’s good for her and for women in motorsport. In our own team we have more and more women taking predominant roles. It is very healthy and should be applauded.”

As part of her ambassadorial duties with the FIA, Kaltenborn has also become a Patron of the project “F1 in Schools”, with responsibility for the project in India.

F1 in Schools is a global programme aimed at encouraging children’s interest in engineering.

Kaltenborn, who was born in India, attended the launch of the project at the end of October in New Delhi. More than 250 students worldwide, 30 per cent of whom are girls, take part in the project every year.

Kaltenborn expressed her excitement at getting involved in the project. “I’m sure there are many Indian students who are keen to participate,” she said.

“There is so much talent in this county and I’m pleased that I was given the opportunity to support this programme… I would be particularly pleased to see this programme attract more girls and women to become involved in motorsport in the long term.”

Away from F1, there has been real progress in the GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East.

This lesser known, highly male-dominated sport comprises 12 races over six weekends.

Danish driver Christina Nielsen will be the first woman to compete in the series when she completes the opening round at the Bahrain International Circuit this weekend.

“More and more women are interested in motorsport, especially in Europe and America, and hopefully it will happen in the Middle East, too. All they need is encouragement and the chance to compete,” she said.

“I may be the only women to drive in the championship, but for me when I put my helmet on I’m just another one of the drivers. I set my own targets to achieve and focus on my own goals.”

We may be some way from women being seen as “just another” part of motorsport, whether as drivers, ambassadors, engineers of team principals. But if 2012 is anything to go by, women will soon be fulfilling roles which they could only dream of a decade ago.

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