FIA and F1 under fire after alarming results from huge female motorsport investigation

Sam Cooper
More than Equal survey. F1.

More than Equal's survey.

The FIA and F1 have been urged to do more after an international survey suggested just one sport was doing less for women.

More than Equal, a charity founded by David Coulthard last year, aims to find and develop F1’s first female World Champion and in part of that mission, they surveyed 13,000 fans from 147 countries to discover some of the attitudes towards women and motorsport.

Of these fans, 3,200 were female, giving it the highest level of participation for female fans since global motorsport fan surveys were introduced in 2005.

The results, seen by PlanetF1.com, show the female audience is dissatisfied and sceptical about both the sport’s organisers and sponsors.

One of the most alarming statistics came when participants were asked to compare motorsport’s efforts to drive change in comparison to other sports. Of the 21 sports compared, only American Football was found to be doing worse.

CEO Alison Donnelly told media including PlanetF1.com that fans believed the efforts made by the sport have not been enough.

“I think this is quite a disappointing chart for the sport, because [F1] will presumably say, ‘look, there’s actually an awful lot happening in this space.’

“But I think what this is showing you is that the fan base just don’t perceive it to be enough and just think it’s doing really badly compared to other sports.”

The W Series was launched independently from F1 in 2018 as a way of giving women more track time but hit financial difficulties and folded earlier this year. Meanwhile, Formula 1 has launched its own female-only competition in F1 Academy, led by Susie Wolff.

But the survey suggests that aspects like the F1 Academy have not been publicised enough, with 76% of responders aware of it, but just 12% knew what it did.

“Our perspective here is that there are benefits to having young female talent,” Donnelly said. “Giving opportunities in gender specific series, especially as they’re coming through the ranks, because we know they don’t get enough opportunities.

“And if [F1 Academy’s] one way to do it, then great, but we think the sport needs to do a slightly better job of explaining the benefits.

“Because right now, people possibly think what they’re seeing is a tickbox and actually, if they sold them progressing out of those into the senior levels of the sport, perhaps they would understand more what the purpose is.”

But the most alarming statistic from the FIA and F1’s perspective is in regards to who the participants believe should be leading change.

69% of total participants and 81% of female participants believe the FIA was best placed to promote change while 75% of women believed the F1 teams are second best on that list.

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“You are the people who people expect to be leading change,” Donnelly said. “So from the FIA’s perspective, they should see this as a great opportunity because yes, they’re not perceived to be doing a great job but they are also perceived to be absolutely vital leaders in the space.”

As well as publishing the results, More than Equal made some suggestions on what motorsport could do to promote female engagement and they put forward more grassroots participation such as financially accessible karting for all, more data and research, more recognition of the cultural change needed such as improving female facilities at karting tracks, more support for talented young female drivers and more collaboration between the sport’s leaders.

Coulthard, meanwhile, wants the sport to do more so that talented drivers are not left behind.

“What this research makes clear is that female drivers face a range of challenges and barriers that extend beyond those faced by their male counterparts,” Coulthard said. “This report provides all the insight we need to help the sport to catch up.

“We should all work to try to make sure that other talented girls don’t get left behind.”