It’s not a secret that men hugely outnumber women when it comes to those working in Formula One. Despite this there are many women behind the scenes doing jobs that are integral to the success and performance of all teams on the grid. There are high-profile female employees at many of the teams in F1, and the standout team championing women would appear to be Sauber.
Although Sauber may regularly be fighting from the back of the grid, they still have the foresight to promote those women in the team who deserve it. In 2012 Monisha Kaltenborn became the first woman to become Team Principal of a Formula One team. Until then, throughout the sport’s over 60-year history, only men had operated in the most senior roles. Kaltenborn said “…don’t let yourself get intimidated by some unqualified comments that you’re a woman.”
A strong woman with experience working with the UN and a master’s degree, she is a great role model for young women. She presided over some difficult years, after the team re-entered F1 independently in 2010. With increasing costs, and smaller teams such as Sauber receiving a fraction of the prize money the bigger teams do, times have been tough for the Swiss based team. Kaltenborn remained a key figure for women in F1 until her departure earlier this year, and will forever be the first woman to be so powerful in the highest series of motorsport.
Only a year after her breakthrough, Williams F1 promoted Claire Williams as Deputy Team Principal. After over a decade working within her father’s team, she became responsible for many aspects of the team with Sir Frank Williams in the Team Principal role. Another woman who shows that women can do the jobs just as well as any man.
It’s not only managerial roles in which Sauber have proved champions for women. Senior Strategy Engineer Ruth Buscombe is another high-profile woman in F1 who also works at Sauber. Having previously worked at Ferrari’s headquarters, and on the pit-wall for Haas, she is an established figure in Formula One.
Talking about her childhood, Buscombe said she went from “wanting to be a princess, to being an astronaut to wanting to be in F1”. However, she was discouraged by her school teachers who didn’t think it was the right career path for her.
Nevertheless, she has had the last laugh having worked for the most famous and successful team in F1, the most successful debut team and now a team celebrating 25 years in F1 in 2017. This is one of the reasons she is an ambassador for ‘Dare to be Different’, an initiative set up to inspire and showcase women working in all areas of racing. Their aim is to show young girls that careers in motorsport and engineering are for them and not to be discouraged by what others may say and the male stereotypes.
Buscombe is also responsible for a key quote from the 2017 season in which she described driver’s attitudes towards women in key decision-making roles. In an interview she said, “it is so competitive…they (the drivers) don’t care whether it is a woman or a chipmunk talking to them”. So, if the drivers who are ultimately putting their bodies on the line aren’t bothered, should there not be more women in the paddock?
Another ambassador for ‘Dare to be Different’ is Tatiana Calderon. A test and development driver for Sauber, currently racing in GP3, she is the only female test driver currently signed to a F1 team. The Colombian has many accolades to her name including being the first and only woman so far to be on the podium at the Colombian Rotax Championship, only woman to lead an FIA European F3 race, and first female driver for Arden in GP3 in their 19-year history.
However, she is still struggling to make a breakthrough in Formula One having never raced in a F1 practice session, though Sauber have given her the opportunity to test on their simulator. Her career is still on the up, having scored more points this season than last. She is currently a driver for DAMS and this year has scored 7 points with the season still in progress, this is in comparison with her 2016 season with Arden International in which she only scored 2 points.
Sauber may not have more female employees than other teams for many reasons, such as having a smaller workforce. But what they have done is appointed and promoted women to more visible roles. This is important as unless young girls see and are aware of women in powerful and influential positions, they will never be able to envisage themselves doing that job and so won’t strive for it.
It’s great having many women behind the scenes but if young girls don’t know about it, how will they ever be inspired to do the same or an even better job. Whether the team improves or not in terms of their results, they will always be the first team to be run by a woman, they have one of the most well-known Strategists working for them who continues to inspire women into engineering, and have a test driver who shows that female racers can handle it when it comes to driving in the top tiers of motorsport.
If Sauber could take a chance on allowing Calderon a practice session or in-season testing at least, the impact could be huge and really show who is championing women in F1. This could also ensure that no matter what their results and how long their future in Formula One may last, they will be remembered for far more than just points and their performances in Grands Prix.