F1 is not the "man's world" it once was, according to female deputy team boss Claire Williams. "Formula one is quite different to how it was ten years - or even five years - ago," she told the German daily Der Tagesspiegel. As well as 39-year-old Williams' prominent role at her father's Grove based team, Monisha Kaltenborn is the boss and co-owner at Sauber.
And Williams' test driver is Susie Wolff. "There are now many influential women in motor sport," Williams insisted. "We have mechanics, engineers, aerodynamicists. Eight per cent of our engineers at Williams are women. That might not sound a lot, but four years ago it was zero per cent. We are not there yet, there is still a lot to do, but it's getting better," she said.
Williams does not, however, think that another step in the right direction is to ban grid girls from F1, as has been done at Le Mans. And in Monaco earlier this year, there were - controversially - 'grid boys' instead of 'grid girls'. "Grid girls is simply a long tradition in motor sports," she said. "I don't know if it's necessary to ban them. Why should that be an outdated image of women? They're not forced to do it, are they?"
But Williams says F1 nonetheless has a long way to go, as she tried and failed to find female-oriented companies to sponsor Susie Wolff's path to the grid. "Many of our partners see it as a good thing that we have women in prominent positions and take advantage of what myself and Susie are doing," she said.
"But it is a fact that there are no purely female brands in formula one. We have Unilever, a unisex brand, but the purely female brands don't want to be here and I don't know why," added Williams. "It's not because it's a man's world -- 38 per cent of our audience is female."
Perhaps it is because the perception of some female drivers is that they reach F1 only because of their gender -- and in Wolff's case, her husband Toto is the boss of the Mercedes team. Asked why Wolff is at Williams, Claire insists: "Only because of her performance. If you don't believe me, talk to the engineering team that works with her."
"She has helped to develop the car that our drivers race at every grand prix. And if she was not doing well, do you really think that we would keep her? We have a world championship team with huge ambitions and I would not put our future at risk by using a driver that does not know what she is doing. For me, Susie is a valuable part of our team with a specific role, and she does it very effectively. Otherwise she would not be here," she added.
Williams admitted, however, that 32-year-old Wolff has to fight hard against the perception that she does not really deserve her job. "She has had to fight for decades against all of that, and yet she made it into formula one. People should pay her more respect," said Claire. (GMM)
Bahrain International Circuit - Winter testing