Should women drivers have their own F1 championship?

CNN  — 

Is it finally time for women to have their own Formula One races?

While the likes of Susie Wolff and Carmen Jorda have landed development roles with teams in recent seasons, there hasn’t been a female driver on the starting grid for almost 40 years.

The last woman to compete in an F1 race was Lella Lombardi in 1976, and the last to try to qualify for one was Giovanna Amati in 1992.

F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone told the media at last weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix that female racers would benefit from a “showcase” series.

But when asked by CNN about the possibility of forming a separate women’s F1 world championship, he responded: “I am not sure if this will happen.”

The 84-year-old hinted, however, that a separate women’s race could be added to the undercard of grand prix weekends.

“If it does then it will probably be just two or three Formula One events,” he said in a statement sent to CNN.

“Provided the team(s) supply the cars. The same thing could happen in (F1 feeder series) GP2. It’s early days.”

Wolff, a test driver at Williams, is opposed to Ecclestone’s ideas, saying she wants to race against men. Michele Mouton, who used to compete against men in the world rally championship and is now head of the FIA’s commission for women in motorsport, has stated similar views.

But Jorda, who is development driver at Lotus, believes the time is right for F1 to catch up with the rest of the sporting world.

“Why in tennis, why in other sports, why in soccer right now, why in every sport you have separate championships and not in motorsport?” Jorda tells CNN. “Not everybody looks at it like that, you know?

“Naturally a man is stronger than a woman, so obviously if we’re competing against them we’re not going to win races.”

The straight-talking Spaniard sits up straight in the reception room of the British team’s Enstone headquarters.

She’s wearing makeup from an earlier photo shoot and her hair is down in loose curls. An impressive collection of Lotus trophies glitter nearby.

The 26-year-old first got involved in racing when she was a child, following in the footsteps of her father, ex-driver Jose Miguel Jorda.

It’s a similar career path to that of compatriot Maria de Villota, who was a reserve driver for the Marussia F1 team but suffered serious injuries in a testing accident in 2012 and died a year later.

Jorda recalls being one of very few girls on the track, how she felt strange and longed to fit in.

“I wanted to be a boy because motorsport was all about boys. But then I grow up and I realized – why do I have to act or be like a boy? I’m not, and actually it’s completely the opposite – I am what I am and I just have a passion for motorsport,” says Jorda, who finished 29th in last year’s GP3 feeder series.

“Since I was 12 years old, all my teams were men, all the mechanics … by the end of the day you get used to it.”

When asked if she felt more pressure now to be feminine, she replies: “I feel it but I don’t care – I am who I am, I hide nothing.”

Softly spoken yet self-assured, Jorda believes the current structure works against women drivers.

“It’s the only sport in the world that men can race against women. There’s not another sport where men and women compete at the same level. So it’s so much more difficult for a girl to make it than for a man.”

One such man is Jolyon Palmer, who became Lotus’ reserve driver after winning the 2014 GP2 series. When asked what he thought about Jorda joining the team, his immediate response is positive.

“She’ll bring something different to the team that they’ve never had before,” Palmer tells CNN. “F1’s becoming so much more commercial now – having someone like Carmen on the team is really important commercially because I think she can bring a fresh image.

“There’s a lot of things that men can’t do and women can. I’m not saying that they’re necessarily better at commercial, but it’s different sides.”

While Jorda is often kept busy with photo shoots, Palmer’s experience is rather different.

“I don’t get anything like that, no – there’s probably a good reason for that!” jokes the 24-year-old. “I think photo shoots, when you’re in Formula One, there’s always a bit of a demand. It’s just a different hype about a woman driver.

“At the moment it’s a completely male-dominated sport – it’s not a secret. And having Susie Wolff in Williams, people know of her and it draws more women spectators and fans, and now there’s Carmen as well.”

“I think it’s the commercial side more than the performance side that’s driving women in, so it will be good in the future to have more on the performance side as well.”

Jorda’s eyes light up when she talks about the “Like A Girl” campaign aimed at breaking down gender stereotypes – she says she would love to be a role model for F1’s young female generation.

“It’s very clear, if they have a woman there they can see that a woman can make it, and then they will follow it much more,” she explains.

“The most important thing will be to be the best woman in motorsport. And then from there I think I can inspire a lot of women.”

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