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Monisha Kaltenborn: The woman racing ahead in F1

October 26, 2011 -- Updated 0756 GMT (1556 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Austrian-Indian CEO of Sauber is F1's first female boss
  • Trained as a lawyer before moving through ranks of Sauber
  • Has overseen one of Sauber's most challenging periods
  • Proud of her role as first woman boss of F1 team

(CNN) -- When growing up, Monisha Kaltenborn wanted to go into space, but as the first female CEO of a Formula 1 team she's arguably reached greater heights.

Breaking into the male dominated sport wasn't the 40-year old's first ambition then, but the trained lawyer has embraced her trail-blazing position.

"It feels good and I'm a bit proud about that," said Kaltenborn.

"But again it's not my doing, it just so happened that I've done a lot to be in the position."

Inside an Formula 1 team

As a young girl Kaltenborn moved from her native India to Austria with her parents. Taking Austrian citizenship and studying law, Kaltenborn first became involved with motor racing in 1998 when she joined the Fritz Kaiser Group, a shareholder of the Red Bull Sauber F1 Team.

She went from looking after the team's legal and corporate affairs, to taking a place on the Sauber Group's management board in 2001. In 2010, she took over the business operations of the whole team.

It's interesting to see that how people take a while to get used to these kinds of questions to women.
Monisha Kaltenborn, CEO Sauber F1 Team

"Certainly it's not easy," she said of working in a hugely competitive industry and being the sport's most high-profile and influential woman.

Kaltenborn has been adjusting to her role during perhaps the team's most difficult period. After four years BMW pulled out of Formula 1 in 2009, leaving a large amount of uncertainty surrounding the development of Sauber's racing cars and among personnel.

"The biggest risk you have here is... people don't see the future in the team and then they want to leave and if you start losing your key people at that time, the whole process comes to a standstill. It's only later that you'll realize that insecurity amongst your personnel has a strong influence on the development of the car," she said.

"We had to make sure that we could keep the company going, secure funding."

With two young drivers, Kamui Kobayashi and rookie Sergio Perez, Sauber have had a number of points-scoring results this season and currently lie seventh in F1's constructors' world championship table.

In helping to steer the team to safety, as a team and business, Kaltenborn has also been involved in moving forwards the attitude to women in the sport.

"I think people, not the teams but others especially media, they don't ask a woman a question relating to performance," she said.

"The questions I get are normally very strategic questions about the company, the team, where F1 is going but never how the race was and what I feel about the drivers. But that's changing now. It's interesting to see how people take a while to get used to these kinds of questions to women."

When she set another first last year -- the first woman to attend an FIA press conference -- many men from other teams told her they were embarrassed that it had taken so long. Realizing the gender gap needed to be closed the sport's governing body, FIA, set up the Women and Motorsports Commission last year, in which Kaltenborn is taking a leading role.

"We are realizing that to a certain age there a lot of young girls driving in car series and then suddenly, when it gets into the next category, it drops off. A lot of that is to do with the whole social set up they have," she said.

Bernie Eccelestone, the head of Formula 1, has said a woman could be his successor, but Kaltenborn intends to be with Sauber for a long time to come, improving the team's performance. It's also possible a woman could be behind the wheel of an F1 car in the not-too-distant future. Maybe even with Sauber.

"From the physical side of it, I don't see why a woman cannot be in Formula 1," she said.

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