Formula 1 needs to ensure it makes female drivers feel wanted and welcomed in future, according to Danica Patrick.
The most successful female driver in American open-wheel history, the former IndyCar and NASCAR driver was linked to F1 in the past but never saw any serious opportunities open up. During the early part of her IndyCar career in 2005, former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said “women should be dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances” as part of a response to a question about her strong performances, and Patrick says it’s an attitude that was reflective of European-based racing in the past, and given the higher number of women earning seats in IndyCar since then suggests it might still lag behind the States on that front.
“I can remember some negative things that Bernie Ecclestone said about me, so maybe say nice things!” Patrick told RACER on how to improve the chances of female drivers reaching F1. “Make people feel welcome! I’m sure you can drum up that quote…
“I can definitely speak to this in terms of domestic in the States and in England — I definitely didn’t feel like I was as welcome in England as a girl. So I always felt like England and Europe were more behind in their social structures and their hierarchy of who does what and gender dynamics. I don’t know, for me that’s how it felt.
“I felt like I was way more welcome when I came home. I felt like people were genuinely excited to have me around; I felt equal, but it didn’t feel like that in England. So maybe that’s part of why you don’t see as many females come through and up the ladder to go to Formula 1.
“What changes that? The people in charge have to change their attitude. It’s like a cultural thing, it’s like a cultural norm. You can see it in the States all over the place — all kind of different cultural things really getting pushed through and lots of narratives and a lot of drama around it. There’s a lot of initiative here to make things not normal, normal.
“I don’t know if that’s as much of how it goes in the old world, you know? I don’t know if that’s normal. I haven’t lived there in a long time, so I would imagine that it’s better than it used to be, of course. I was there in 1998-2001, so over 20 years ago. I’m sure it’s different now, but I know the States progress so even if the world is progressing at the same rate, when I experienced it at the same time we were in different spots.
“I know that’s maybe a controversial answer but I had direct experience of it so that is what I felt. I mean, the boss said something about washers and wearing white! I mean, what?! There you go, do I need to say any more when the man in charge of the series is saying things like that?”
Patrick will be a pundit on Sky Sports’ coverage of the United States Grand Prix this weekend — which will air live on ABC — but says she never seriously pursued a chance in F1 because she felt her name was solely used for marketing purposes. While she feels the U.S. offered her a better career opportunity, she says F1 would benefit from an American driver making the breakthrough in a competitive car.
“That’s definitely what people think (that an F1 test was planned), but nobody ever called me. I looked at it that there must have been some sort of marketing angle going on, because nobody 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 it. Once I left England after I lived there for a few years, I was OK to not go. I realized that my success relied on my environment and the people and creature comforts and opportunities. I felt like the opportunities in the States were better and I was just happier and more comfortable, so I was always OK to leave that behind.
“And I never was 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 doesn’t go well,’ like, I don’t need that storyline. Only things that I was really serious about did I take on, and luckily I was able to do a good job at the things I really wanted to do. But Formula 1 was something I wasn’t serious about.”
However, Patrick agreed that having a local talent to cheer for would boost F1 Stateside.
“I do think that having a Formula 1 driver be American would really help the sport and really help the popularity here in the States,” she said. “I’m sure that RACER would want to cover it even more — I mean, when there’s an American driver there’s just a reason and a resonance here.
“Just like if there was some other country with a driver from their country, you can look at anytime a hometown or home country driver wins, it’s the biggest deal. If an Italian wins, in Italy it’s the biggest thing. If German wins in Germany — my dad an I were watching the Schumacher (Netflix) documentary and watching him win in Germany was insane. So the same thing — if there was an American driver, it would be really good for the American audience.”