Since the Formula One World Drivers Championship began in 1950, the sport has seen just five female drivers, and none of them making it onto the podium.
April marked 17 years since the last time a woman driver entered a Grand Prix. Italian Giovanna Amati, drove for the Brabham team for three races between the South Afican Grand Prix and the Brazilian Grand Prix in 1992.
In all three races, she failed to qualify, being dropped from the team for Damon Hill.
Other female drivers have had limited success. Maria-Teresa de Filippis was the first woman driver to enter a Grand Prix in 1958. She raced in Belgium—her best finish at 10th—Portugal and Italy.
She drove for Maserati and Behra-Porsche (the latter hoping to debut their car in Monaco1959 but de Filippis failed to qualify, the team subsequently had their debut in 1960).
Lella Lombardi contested the championship between 1974 and 1976. She drove for March, RAM and Williams. Lombardi contested seventeen Grand Prix and is the most successful female world championship driver, and the only points scoring female driver after finishing sixth at the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix.
She 0.5 points. Half points were awarded as the race was shortened. This also makes Lombardi the only driver in F1 history to receive the lowest non-zero points possible in a season.
Divina Galica, is Britain’s only female F1 driver. She entered three Grand Prix between 1976 and 1978. She drove for the non-works Surtees team and Hesketh. Interestingly, Galica had more sporting success off the track than she had on it. Galica had a very accomplished skiing career.
At the age of 20, she entered the Olympic Games at Innsbruck, Austria. She also competed in the the 1968, 1972 and 1992 Winter Olympics. Galica was captain of the British Women’s Olympic Ski Team.
South African non-works Williams driver, Desire Wilson was the only female driver to win a Formula One race of any kind. In 1980, Wilson won at Brands Hatch in the short-lived British Formula One Series (The Aurora British F1 series was a championship based in the United Kindgdom between 1978 and 1982).
As a result of her magnificent achievement, a grandstand at Brands Hatch was named after Wilson. Wilson also competed at the non-championship South African Grand Prix in 1981. In the F1 World Championship Wilson only contested the 1980 British Grand Prix but failed to qualify.
Outside Formula One women have had some notable successes. There are a number of women drivers coming through the ranks in the junior Formula championships, although the turn around into the top motor sport classes are slim.
In the US, the Indy Racing Leagues IndarCar series has attracted some very notable women drivers. Venezualan Milka Duno, drives for the Citgo-Drey & Reinbald Racing team.
Andretti Green Racing driver, Danica Patrick, became the first female driver win an IndyCar race by taking victory at the 2008 Indy Japan 300. Patrick has been linked with a future Formula One debut.
Former Honda F1 team, now Brawn GP, had been due to test Patrick, but due to their pullout this was not possible. Aspiring American Formula One team USGPE has allegedly considered testing Patrick for a drive, however in a press statement Patrick denied this arguing that she was not leaving the IndyCar series.
At the time of this year’s Malaysian Grand Prix, the UKpress reported on 16 year-old Alice Powell making her debut in the Michelin Renault Formula UK Championship, the same series that helped propel Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen and Heikki Kovalainen to Formula One.
Her aspirations are to one day step up on the podium like these three, but with what seems such a little breakthrough for women drivers in the sport, she has a very uphill battle.
So why is it that women drivers are so rare in F1. In all fairness to the FIA, the rules have always allowed to race as equals to men. But has F1 culture reached a point that any woman who dares to enter is frowned upon.
In an article for F1 Racing magazine Giovanna Amati said:
"It's a male environment and they want to keep it that way—the drivers, the journalists, everyone. Only one person came up to me and offered me his hand at my first GP in South Africa—and that was Ayrton Senna. He came over and said, 'Welcome Giovanna, I'm glad you're here. My congratulations.' The others ignored me, and when I failed they shrugged and said it was because I was a woman."
Bernie Ecclestone, was recently reported in saying he would like to like to see more representation from women in the sport. However back in 2005, when responding to rumours about Danica Patrick joining F1, he argued; “women should be dressed in white, like all the other domestic appliances".
There are other reasons that could be argued that have nothing to do with the sport. Arguments around religion, etc, in other countries may limit women engaging in motorsport and other professions.
There are also arguments about the level of fitness needed in Formula One, but there is nothing to stop any woman to reach the same level of fitness as men.
As part of its continuing revolution around sporting, technical and financial regulations, could Formula One be doing more to promote the sport to women? Is the role of world governments to provide funding to get more women involved at motorsport from an early age?
Whatever the solution is, it would do the sport no harm what so ever to encourage more participation from women and enhance its image which is sometimes surrounded in controversy and unfairness.