Features - News Feature


Girls in Formula 1


Formula 1 is not a very enlightened business when it comes to sexual equality. It is a macho sport in which, traditionally, women have looked pretty, made sandwiches or, in the old days before computer timing, used stopwatches. Today things are changing. There are still plenty of bimbos hanging out, but increasingly girls are winning important jobs.

Formula 1 is not a very enlightened business when it comes to sexual equality. It is a macho sport in which, traditionally, women have looked pretty, made sandwiches or, in the old days before computer timing, used stopwatches. Today things are changing. There are still plenty of bimbos hanging out, but increasingly girls are winning important jobs.

Woman have been arriving in the F1 engineering world for the last five years, but usually they do not attend races. Diane Holl is a senior member of John Barnard's Ferrari Design & Development team in Guildford and has been designing with Barnard since he set up Ferrari GTO in the late 1980s.

Ferrari also now has a woman in its engine department at Maranello, fluid dynamics engineer Morena Ferrari (no relation to Enzo) while Benetton also has a lady technician Dina Clark in its electronic department.

The best known of the female F1 technicians is Elf's Valerie Jorquera, who checks and analyses all Elf's fuels and lubricants at the circuits. Must be a boffin, everyone thinks.

"No. I was a road car mechanic," she says. "From when I was very young I worked in my father's garage. I liked racing and in 1967 Elf was looking for someone mechanically-minded to keep an eye on what was happening and my job has developed from that. It was only afterwards that I learned chemistry and took exams."

Today part of Valerie's job is research as Elf is preparing for the new rules restricting engine changes.

"You can tell the wear of the engine from the oil," explains Valerie. "We are quite experienced at that now."

But is it the technology or the sport which she loves?

"I like to travel," she admits. "I like racing and I like meeting new people. With this job I have all three together."

Down at Goodyear tyre engineer Janet Melia has a different outlook. A chemical engineering graduate from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania she joined Goodyear's racing department straight from college.

"All the new people at Goodyear do a training programme in which you go around a bunch of different departments for about a month each, trying to determine where you fit in best and how you can help Goodyear and where you will be happiest. This is where I landed. I am not particularly interested in racing, but as a job it is great because it is one area where you can come up with an idea on Monday, build some tyres on Friday and test them the next week. I'm an impatient engineer and while everyone else has to wait months and years to have their theories tested, there is a pretty quick turnaround in racing."

Janet has two jobs, at the tracks she engineers tyres with Ferrari, measuring tyre temperatures and pressures and relaying that information to the team. Back in the office in Akron, Ohio she is a compounder, developing and testing better tyres.

"Travelling around has its ups and its downs," she says. "Eventually I will probably decide that it is nicer to be home all the time. I want to stop missing all my friends' weddings and stop having my parents not knowing where to look for me if they want me."

There is also an upsurge of women in the administration and running of race teams. Back in the F1 factories there are legions of women involved in administration, but now there are girls in high places at the race tracks as well. Sauber arrived in F1 with Carmen Ziegler as its team manager and Australian Suzanne Radbone plays an important role at Lotus, although she doesn't have an official title.

"It would be something along the lines of operations supervisor," she says. "I organise all the travel and the freight. It is hard work, but it's quite rewarding."

Suzanne did not start out as a racing fan, but she has come a long way to get where she is today. From Adelaide, she was trained to be a junior school teacher, but ended up working for the local tourist board.

"When the Grand Prix came to Adelaide for the first time they asked me to join the staff of the Grand Prix office. I was the accommodation officer. Through that I got to know some of the F1 people. I wanted to get out of Adelaide so I quit the GP Office, packed up and went to England with the idea of working for an F1 team."

There were no jobs so she ended up at the West Surrey Racing Formula 3 team for two years before she got the call she had been waiting for from Team Lotus boss Peter Collins. She became his right-hand woman as he began the juggling act of putting Lotus back on its feet.

"You don't get the implicit credibility that a man in the same position has," she says."You have to try harder. F1 is not at all what I expected as an outsider. I saw it as a lot more glamorous, but it is mainly hard work and down-to-earth people. What fascinates me is the motivation they have. It's something I've never seen in people in before."

Female engineers and administrators are still rare with the traditional female stronghold being public relations.

"PR is such an obvious thing," says Tyrrell's press officer Ellen Bernfeld. "The trouble is that the teams find themselves in a dichotomy between having pretty girls who just hang out and what they actually need, which is intelligent women who work very hard and want to do a good job in quite difficult conditions. There is a large pool of talent which could be used better. I think that having Carmen Ziegler at Sauber and Suzanne and Melanie Brown (the new promotions manager) at Lotus, is very good for the sport."

How did Ellen get involved?

"It was a fluke," she says. 'I was reading The Times one day and I saw an advert in Situations Vacant for a racing team. I used to do some road rallying as a co-driver and had always been interested in it. I thought it might be fun so I applied."

Ellen's qualifications to work in F1 included having worked as an archaeologist!

"It's true," she says. "I have a history degree and a diploma in archeology and I worked in the oriental department at the British Museum for five years."

Brazilian Beatise Assumpcao has a similarly impressive curriculum vitae. She was a professional volleyball player and became a football reporter. Now she works as a journalist for Ayrton Senna Promotions.

"In my last year at school we did a newspaper just for fun and because I was nosey and involved in volleyball I wrote the sports pages. I liked it so I studied journalism and played volleyball. Then I started working and ended up as a football reporter."

Beatise went to England on holiday in 1987 and decided to stay. She took a course in English, freelanced for Brazilian magazines and married an Englishman. At the beginning of 1990 Ayrton Senna was looking for someone to work for him in Europe. Beatise was Brazilian, lived in London and was a sports journalist.

"I fitted the bill," she says.

And how does F1 compare with football reporting?

"It's more difficult," she says. "F1 is a very closed world and obviously if you are a woman it is more difficult. It took me about a year to get to know people. In football, you have loads of great players in Brazil but they are accessible. They are there for you. You have their home telephone numbers. You know them. In F1 you don't have that much information."

Pamela Lauesen from Hollywood, California, can claim an even more unlikely background.

"I was an art student and wanted to be a painter," she explains. "But I didn't make any money so I went to business school and learned to type and started working as a secretary. One day I went to work for the Twentieth Century Fox record company and for the next 12 years I worked in marketing, advertising and promotion in the record business. Finally I went freelance, working with two famous rock-and-roll photographers and for five years I lived the rock-and-roll dream. We had photo sessions and famous stars performing in our studio. We went to their houses and their parties. I helped out with all the photo sessions and so on, but I wanted to pick up a camera. I saw the horrible things these primadonnas did to the photographers.

"And then one day I saw F1 at Long Beach and I thought: "This is great"."

Pam and her partner George (who writes) set up the F1 Spectators Association 11 years ago in California - an attempt to get Americans interested in Grand Prix racing.

"It is a subscription organisation and for a while we sold merchandise and made money, but you cannot make money in the United States off publications on Grand Prix racing in the United States so now FOSA is also the F1 Sports Agency. We supply photographs and words to the media.

"I tell people what I do and they say "Oh, is that like Indycars?" I used to spend half an hour explaining and their eyes would glaze over. Now when they ask, I say: "Yes, only we go to better places".

"The record business and F1 are very similar and they are unlike any other business in the world. There is money, glamour and famous people, but if you strip away all the hangers-on, there is a small group of professional people who work really hard. In the record business we used to call them "street people". None of them went to school to learn what they are doing. They do it because they love it."

Working with one's partner and loving motor racing certainly inspired Di Spires and her husband Stuart to start looking for work in F1 back in 1978. Stuart and Di are known to the paddock as Mum and Dad, although she jokes that after 15 years in the business they are nearly Grandma and Grandpa. Together they run the Benetton motorhome.

"The catering side is probably the bottom of the list of jobs in F1," she says, "but it was the only way females could get in those days. Stuart and I have always been racing fans - even before we met - and we used to spend all our money going to GPs in a VW caravanette. We both had good jobs. He was a quality control engineer and I was a higher executive officer in the civil service, running an employment exchange with 72 staff. I used to be involved with the Arbitration and Conciliation Service and tried to solve trade disputes and all that sort of thing.

'We saw the hospitality side starting up where a husband and wife can work together and we began writing to the teams. That didn't work so we put an advert in a racing magazine and at the last minute the Surtees team offered us a job. We had a week to think about it. We thought we'd do it for a year or two and we're in our 15th season. I don't regret it one bit. we had done our settled living and we gave it all up and now we're very unsettled. We even decided not to have a family. I like all sports but motor racing is a bit different and this job incorporates racing, travelling and meeting people - which is what we like doing. For the last two years we have been doing racing and testing which means we haven't been home much. Last year we were away for 316 days. It can get to be a bit much sometimes, but we still enjoy it."