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Women Changing the Game: Motorsport Edition

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCT chapter.

With massive motorsport teams such as the Haas Formula 1 team saying that out of 167 employed staff members, only 15 of them happen to be women, a clear disproportion can be seen in the teams that are meant to be revolutionizing the motorsport industry.  

Despite this clear disproportion, an increased number of women are joining the industry both trackside and on it. With the help of racing series such as the W series (a racing series aimed at creating opportunities for women to gain exposure and the sponsors needed for formula 1), opportunities (although still too few) have been created to allow for more exposure for women. In addition, many teams are looking to take on the challenge of implementing a much-needed change by increasing the number of women with roles ranging from mechanics to strategies to marketing. 

For this reason, much inspiration can be taken from the women who have quite literally changed the game in this male-dominated industry with their involvement, so here are some of those names which you and I can draw inspiration from in our own lives:   

Susie Wolff  

Susie is a former Williams Formula One Team development driver who made history in 2014 by partaking at the British Grand Prix where she was the first woman to do so in over 22 years. Later turned Formula E Venturi team principal and later CEO, Susie Wolff truly has changed the game. Despite leaving Formula 1 after feeling she had gone as far as she could in the sport at that time, she has continued to use her time and resources to empower young women as they begin their journeys within the sport. She is truly living up to her words of wishing to inspire others and wanting them never to feel the restriction within the sport that she did. With her husband, Toto Wolf (Mercades CEO and team Principle), she is often seen in the paddock making her voice heard by incredibly notable members of the sport about much-needed changes.  

We as individuals can learn from Susie the lesson that just because doors may be closed in our faces which may lead to disappointment as we’re veered off from our original plans, this does not mean we should shy away from the challenge of helping others to try open those very doors.   

For more on this inspirational woman, see her featured on the Beyond the Grid podcast with her segment entitled Susie Wolff: racer, role model, risk taker

Brehanna Daniels:  

Brehanna Daniels is a woman of many firsts, not only is she the first African American woman in a NASCAR Cup Series, but she is the first female tire changer within this series too. In addition, she was also a part of the first female duo to work in the pit, changing tires alongside Breanna O’Leary. Not only is she changing the game for women, but she is also doing it for women of colour by creating a space for representation in a sport that has lacked for years due to its historic oppression of POC. Furthermore, Brehanna has gone on to use her platform, as an athlete but also as an advocate to create awareness of the need for more women in the sport. She does this to show that women, such as herself, are capable of being within the fast-paced environment that is the pit crew. Within the world of NASCAR, after 64 years, the first woman was hired. Since then, only 15 crew members have been female and only three POC. Therefore, there is still a great need for representation, but women like Brehanna are showing it is possible to break barriers.  

From Brehanna, we can, therefore, learn that one should never shy away from the challenge of making waves, no matter how many systems may work against us. All it takes is sheer determination and courage to overcome those obstacles and we can go on to rewrite history just as she has.  

Jamie Chadwick  

The Brit is a hopeful contender for many of us for a future F1 Seat which would make her only the sixth woman to gain one and the first in 46 years to start a race. Despite these daunting stats she has trailblazed in many ways to try to make this happen. Her main achievements can be seen within the W series where she has gone on to win the championship twice and currently holds the records for most wins, podiums and pole positions as well as points within the series. She is clearly in a league of her own and like Susie Wolff, she is a Williams development driver giving her a good leg to stand on to join the world of f1. However, despite this, her journey to f1 has seemed to come to a halt but she is continually working on the track and off it to prove herself to those within the paddock.  

Jamie gives us the lesson that to make history one needs to constantly work at it. From here, we can see that things sometimes don’t come easy but that shouldn’t mean we give up on our final goal, no matter how many steps we need to take to get there, because in due time it will come.  

Marie Herrera  

Maria Herrera was the only female rider in the MotoGP paddock for 2017 with Team AGR, who was running a single bike in both Moto3 and Moto2 series. In addition to this and more recently she is about to make history once again by joining an all-female team which aims to reduce the current gender gap. She has said that she is beyond excited to begin this journey where she will be able to help pave the way for future riders just as she has been for the last 7 years with her involvement within the sport. 

Marie shows us that although we may achieve what we desire that does not mean we should stop having goals to go after. We should never be satisfied, and we should also create inspirational spaces where we can work with others who have the same dreams.  

Naomi Schiff  

Naomi Schiff who is Rwandan-Belgium-born but South African-raised, after stepping back from racing, has been the W series diversity and inclusion ambassador since 2020. In addition, as of 2022, she has become a presenter on Skysports where she has appeared on the screens of millions of young women during highly televised formula 1 race weekends, creating a space for representation which has not been seen in recent years. Here she has displayed her race knowledge along with her incredible fashion sense. She always remains on her A–game as she delivers entertaining and insightful commentary during race weekends and debriefs on Mondays after races.  

Naomi teaches us that despite where one comes from, making oneself internationally known is highly possible with the right amount of hard work. Furthermore, with the right amount of commitment to the goal, we can make it happen only so much as we want it.  

Natalie Pinkham  

Natalie Pinkham has been within the broadcasting industry for many years dabbling in various sports but firmly creating a name for herself in f1 in recent years. In 2021, Pinkham became the first woman to commentate on a Formula One session on British television when she led Sky’s commentary of first practice at the 2021 Bahrain GP, alongside big names Jenson Button (2009 F1 world champion) and Karun Chandhok (Former racer). With this role within F1, she has also used her platform both in front of the camera and online to constantly spread a message of inclusivity and empowerment.  

Natalie teaches that in every respect whether behind a camera or in front of it, the hard work doesn’t stop. So regardless of being seen or not, one should continue being a good person and inspiring others.  

Hannah Schmitz  

A familiar name around the inner circle of the paddock but a new name in the mouths of fans, Hannah is the principal strategy engineer at Red Bull and has been argued to be the woman behind Max Verstappen’s success. She recently gained praise after the Hungarian GP made calls that ensured Max, who started 10th in the race, went on to win the race. After joining the team in 2009, after just 18 months, she was promoted to the role of senior strategy engineer. In 2021, she was promoted to her current role as a principal strategy engineer and is at the forefront of many important calls during highly stressful situations.  

From Hannah, we can tell that under stressful situations, calm and mindfulness are incredibly important for our decisions to lead to success. However, with that said, taking needed risks that go against expectations, just as she often does, can work in our favour and if they don’t, they are a lesson we are meant to learn from.  

These are just a few names of the women changing the game both on track and off it. I can’t wait to see what each of them does next and I hope they inspire you as much as they do me. For more incredible names check out @femalesinmsport on Instagram. 

Hey! My name is Lekia Collene Thaver (lct) and I am a 3rd year BA student majoring in Psychology, English and Sociology a combination that continually challenges my thought processes about the world and the people in it. My free time is spent writing about anything and everything and when I am not lost in my imagination, I am watching fast cars go around in oddly shaped circles or I'm exploring new places in and around Cape Town with my friends and family.