In the spirit of pushing the envelope, which has often been the story of my life, I wish to put forth a relatively mundane explanation for why women are so poorly represented in F1.
Everyone talks about how women have made so many inroads into science/medicine, and how as pilots women can handle more g-forces (and not until 1993 were women even allowed to fly in combat MISSIONS, much less be at the helm of an F-16, but that's another article altogether).
So what is my rationale for this phenomenon? It is this: Men are more prone to genetic mutation than women.
What does this mean? Well, men are significantly more likely to be mentally retarded, have autism, hemophilia (which ONLY men can get, correct?) and are even far more likely to have relatively mundane problems like color-blindness than women. On the other side of the bell curve, men, it certainly appears, are more likely to be gifted than women, whether mentally or physically.
I wish I could draw it for everyone, but if you are familiar with a bell curve, for women it looks like a normal bell curve, but for men the curve is wider and lower. There is talk of women just not showing their intelligence in classrooms and so forth, which is something I will agree with, but just at the fundamental genetic level, those mutations come up more in men. So while there are thousands and thousands of gifted women, there are thousands and thousands more gifted men.
When you look at F1, there are call it 25 people going out there and racing come Sunday. Out of six billion! I personally cannot believe that men are twenty-five times more likely to be gifted than women, so it still does not answer the question of why women are not in the sport. Please stay with me and don't hit the comment button yet.
Continuing, if one is going to bring up Maria Sharapova vs Danica Patrick, as another article has on this site, saying that Sharapova gets large amounts of sponsorhip whereas Patrick does not, the response to that is that Sharapova competes in women's tennis, in a sanctioned class in which only women compete. Danica Patrick competes against women and men in a sport which does not distinguish sex when its drivers compete. And just as Sharapova might not do well against someone like Federer or Nadal, Danica Patrick it has been argued is not in the same league as Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen, or Fernando Alonso.
To me, this argument is the same as stating that a WNBA team might not be able to compete against the Lakers or Celtics. How many NBA players can dunk, compared with WNBA players? Let us just start with that comparison. What if, going back to my example, the answer is a ratio of at least 25 to 1? That would lend credence to my comparison at the beginning of the article. Even if height is simply the yardstick of measurement, the point is that the extreme of male height has proven to be greater than that of women. A racing example would be frequency awareness. The average person can only sense things inside and outside specific Hz ranges. Racing drivers have been demonstrated to be more sensitive across a wider range of frequencies. Thus, why would sensitivity to harmonics not be something that, like both retardation and giftedness, are demonstrated more in men? Or to the extreme that makes them one of the 25 out of six billion to compete in F1?
Again, my only statement is that genetics are honestly on the side of men, so to speak. Look at Lewis Hamilton, whose brother has cerebral palsy. There is a family that has both a clear gift and a clear disability. I still believe capable women are out there. Personally, I do not think F1 is the sole cause, however.
What it probably does come down to is the drive to...well, drive, and support by parents and sponsors. It appears that men have traditionally been the ones to do risky things like driving cars fast, and women have done other things. So fewer women start racing karts at a young age, go race in more competitive series, and then make it into professional motorsport.
THAT is why you'd see 25 men and no women. Any sane sponsors or teams would be absolutely crazy to ignore a woman who was truly fast. The publicity, whether negative or positive, would be too much to pass up. But it is unfair I think to blame F1, the highest series in the land, and not blame every series below that for not helping cultivate female talent; or blame parents who don't support the racing bug in their daughters; or society for allegedly keeping women playing with dolls and not with toy soldiers and Hot Wheels.
If we are going to talk about promotion of F1, in particular things like the grid girls, sure, there is quite a bit of chauvinism that seems to be displayed. The question is if removing them would help revenue. That is what it comes down to. Racing is about money and if having the grid girls will get men to pay more money or watch more commercials more than it turns off the women, then the grid girls are not going anywhere. This is not unique to F1, either. Even local Sports Car Club of America events can have trophy girls and such at the end of an event. I even remember reading an issue of Grassroots Motorsports which talked about a woman who raced but also was a trophy girl! She apparently did not dwell much on the supposed chauvinism of racing when she decided to do this.
If people are going to complain about women's representation in F1, there are two obvious options. The first is to create a ladies series for F1, similar to how many SCCA or NASA regions have classes which are exclusively for women. The other is to go the other way, and get rid of Title IX, have both sexes compete together in the Olympics, and combine women's and men's sports at all levels, such as the NBA/WNBA.
I think that women have a greater likelihood of demonstrating lap times which can beat men than they will 400-meter-dash times which can beat men. I think that more women need to be cultivated through the ranks of racing in order to find the rare women who are able to race in F1, just as the rare men who compete in F1 have to go step by step, many of their compatriots being weeded out along the way, until those 25 out of six billion are the ones strapping themselves into their cockpits. I will be ecstatic if I saw the name Fisher or Patrick or Legge (currently racing in DTM after racing in Champ Car) on the side of an F1 car. I think that sponsors and television producers would go crazy over women who proved they were competitive in an F1 car, and the publicity, both positive and negative, would greatly enhance the sport. But in many ways it is simply a matter of odds, whether it be in the genes or whether you were able to nail that sponsor. Thus, it is not a glass ceiling, but a steep slope, which is keeping women from being represented in F1.