Don’t be shy about taking your little girl to the track; she might just be the next Vettel

Dads are awesome. A dad is a child’s first superhero, the one who teaches them important skills in life – driving, making fire, using power tools, basically everything that’s dangerous enough to make their mums nervous. The racers’ biographies and autobiographies that I’ve read are peppered with stories of how their dads gave unwavering emotional support their karting days and the lower formulae. There are few more emotionally stirring endorsements of a driver than a dad who sings their praises in the media.

Following the article I wrote in response to Sir Stirling Moss’s comments about women in F1, a number of people asked me what could be done in practical terms to increase the number of female competitors in the sport. I performed a very scientific survey (n=47, of friends who have kids, my parents’ friends, and my friends’ parents). I found that 95% of dads would support their kid’s aspiration to become a professional racing driver regardless of the child’s gender, compared to 13% of mums, most of whom voiced concern over safety issues and professional sport being “not lady-like”. It is possible that the most effective solution to the lack of women in motorsport – both two- and four-wheeled – is more long term than a focus group put together by the FIA. It requires a change of mindset across the board, and that’s a slow process.

If I may draw a comparison to South African post-Apartheid employment policy, legislating the hiring of disadvantaged groups produces less than stellar results. This is because there isn’t a big enough pool of competitively qualified candidates in the period immediately after passing the legislation. South Africa instituted a quota system to increase the number of professional Black employees, especially women. The result was a wave of token hires and passive investor buy-outs, which did nothing to help the majority of Black South Africans, or the perception of how Black employees contribute to the workplace. Now that the policy has been in place for a few years, a generation of well-educated, Black professionals is entering the job market, and producing positive results.

Sexualisation of female racing drivers, but this is cute (that's Bruno Senna!) - photo: / Joeh
Sexualisation of female racing drivers, but this is cute (that’s Bruno Senna!) – photo: / Jeeh

There is evidence to support the quota mentality in motorsport – the perception that a racer is there for reasons other than pure talent. Of the advertising that features female drivers in the United States, the current emphasis is on the sexiness of the driver, rather than her skill or credibility as a racer. Female Indy racers have made an effort to become more feminine in order to appeal to sponsors in the cosmetics industry. This was one of the major objections voiced by dads in my super-scientific poll – none of the men liked the thought of their little girl being another man’s pin-up.

The dads I polled also expressed concern over whether the talented girl racers are the ones who make it to the top, pointing to Alice Powell – a championship winning driver – being passed over in favour of the better connected and better sponsored Susie Wolff. Why should they encourage their daughter to dream of a top-notch race seat when she’s likely to be rejected in favour of a boy or a prettier girl?

So what can we learn from this? Focussing on encouraging the next generation to pursue their dreams and letting the talent rise to the top is more effective than dictating quotas. However, it takes a full generation of hard work and a coordinated effort to produce change. Given that parental input and monitoring show a strong correlation with adult career success and a reduction in juvenile delinquent behaviour (I would link to a journal article here, but there are too many to choose only one), the support of a dad seems to be central to success, both on and off the track.

Dads have a unique opportunity to change the next generation. There are few things more affirming to a child – especially a little girl – than being told how great she is by the superhero in her life. So today, let’s show appreciation to dads. The men who chased spiders out of our bedrooms when we were little. Our ever-patient driving instructors when we were reckless teens. The men who have supported and encouraged us through all the sticky situations we found ourselves in throughout our lives.

To the dads: well done, you’re doing fantastically, no matter what your kids tell you in fits of discontent. And don’t be shy about taking your little girl to the track; she might just be the next Vettel.

Following on from a science based look into female racing drivers, Bridget Schuil has produced this piece for Badger GP, just in time for Father’s Day.  We hope you enjoyed it.   Let us know what you think in the comments or get on Twitter @BadgerGP and @MMA_Brij