Danica Patrick and Lewis Hamilton address sexism in auto racing

Earlier this month, Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton took first place in the Chinese Grand Prix. The victory barely breathed the news. Hamilton has become something of a redundant champion in recent times, winning nine of his last 11 starts dating back to last year when the 30-year-old Briton won the year-end F1 championship. The events following Hamilton’s crossing of the start-finish line did not appear to be a hot topic either. All the Mercedes driver did was act out the scene that every driver plays claiming the checkered flag: he reached for the nearest pre-approved drink and emptied its contents on every soul within reach.

The drink in this particular case was Mumm, no less than the official F1 champagne. And Hamilton, like a kid with a garden hose tormenting pedestrians from his backyard, sprayed it with astonishment in the faces of Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel, the second and third who would join him on the podium and wield their own mighty power. magnums of Mumm. Hamilton even rained a bit of the drink on a select crowd of VIPs – who, at least unwittingly, would redefine what we’ve come to think of as bottle service.

The celebration was apparently a lot of fun until Hamilton soaked a 22-year-old model named Liu Siying, who worked that day as a race hostess. Siying had a job, as she explained to Shanghai Daily newspaper after the Chinese GP: “get on the podium,” she said, “and that’s what I did.

On the heels of this alcoholic shower came a storm of indignation. First of all, the old media brought lightning in the form of stills of Hamilton’s bubbly demeanor. Then social networks were thunderous, denouncing the driver as a champagne chauvinist. A UK-based anti-sexist group called Object has asked for an apology.

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It didn’t matter whether Siying told the Chinese newspaper that she “hadn’t thought too much about” the soak, because it only lasted “a second or two,” or that this half-century old way. Post-race expression isn’t even exclusive to Hamilton – who was taken aback by all the controversy it had sparked. “I would never intend to disrespect someone or try to embarrass someone like that,” he told reporters ahead of the April F1 final, the Bahrain Grand Prix, which he also won. “I don’t really know why people start talking about this stuff.”

Indeed, outrage in Hamilton is beyond hypocrisy given F1’s lack of inspiration when it comes to finding more noble roles for women in its ranks. ‘Grid girls’ like Siying, who predominate in sport and whose main function is to serve as a showcase, are only part of the F1 gender record.

That’s not to say that F1 is the only motorsport that targets women. NASCAR and IndyCar are probably the most obvious imitators in the United States. But the way they present women has matured. The future models have ditched their once-tailored attire for one that couldn’t be less flattering: the fiery jumpsuit. Meanwhile, a growing number of women in more technical jobs around the garage are mingling with other crazies in shirts and pants.

And then, of course, there’s Danica Patrick, who’s just as likely to wear all of these things as hardly anything at all. The fact that she can emphasize the freedom she has to play with the definition of what it means to be a Grid Girl. Yet when it comes to creative licensing, no series takes more than the NHRA, which has produced enough award-winning women to fill a list of the Top 100 Women’s Wins.

How did they do it? By seeing the auto racing gender issue for what it is – a numbers game – and encouraging young girls to clutter its grassroots ranks. As a result, the NHRA gives itself a great chance to produce successful women at its highest levels.

Formula 1 could easily preside over a similar revolution. Six years ago, its governing body, the FIA, created what is known as the Women in Motorsport Commission, with the aim of promoting the involvement of women “at all levels”. The effort has not only been slow to gain traction, it has been directly undermined by F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone, who recently pitched the idea of ​​creating a women’s world championship that would take place alongside the F1. (In Ecclestone’s defense, he moved on to the subject of women, whom he once said “should wear white, like a household appliance, and they shouldn’t be allowed out. You don’t take the machine out.” washing from home, do you? “)

Never mind that an all-female race series only exacerbates Ecclestone’s problems of filling in a grid every week. “You would almost need 40 women competing in F2, F3 and more in the endurance world championships, because only half of them would probably have the opportunity to have 20 cars to race in one. Formula 1 women’s championship, ”says 1992 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Lyn St. James, who is adamant that male and female racers don’t need to go their separate ways. “Ours is one of the few sports in which men and women compete on an equal level. It takes physical strength, physical endurance, but physicality is not a determining factor.

Simona de Silvestro seemed to have all of this and more when the Sauber F1 team signed her to their roster in 2014, with the aim of having her race the following year. But when their relationship ended prematurely due to money issues, the 26-year-old Swiss made a comeback in 2015 in IndyCar, where she had recorded laps from 2010 to 2013. In fact, she came back stronger. than ever, averaging 11.0 in two starts with Andretti Autosport, including a fourth place finish two weeks ago in New Orleans.

She’s aiming for an even higher finish on her next start, the Indy 500, which she can punctuate with her own champagne shower. “I don’t even know why it became such a big story,” she says of Girlgate. “When you’re on the podium and partying, it doesn’t matter who’s there.”

With Hamilton barely in the first act of a Schumacher-style debut, it’s unclear how many more innocent people will come under his friendly fire. And if a grid girl gets caught in her grape-infused wake, don’t hate the player. I hate the game.

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