Danica Patrick says Formula 1 needs to make women feel welcome
Formula 1 needs to ensure it makes female drivers feel wanted and welcomed, 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. 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.
“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 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 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 (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET) – but says she never seriously pursued a chance in F1 because she felt her name was solely used for marketing purposes.
“I don’t think there was ever any real validity to it," Patrick said. "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.
"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.”
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. 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. “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. So the same thing – if there was an American driver, it would be really good for the American audience.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Danica Patrick says Formula 1 needs to make women feel welcome