Former F1 racer and W Series supporter Desiré Wilson rejects the idea that Grand Prix racing is too brutal for female racers, insisting that women are actually “stronger” mentally than men.
Wilson’s claim to fame came in 1980 when the South African defeated her male counterparts at Brands Hatch in a round of the British Formula One Championship, a competitive series populated by a variety of drivers and second hand DFV-powered F1 cars.
Today, the 65-year-old former racer is a fervent support of the new all-female W Series that kicked off at Hockenheim.
Recently, Red Bull motorsport Helmut Marko came under heavy criticism for stating that F1 was perhaps “too difficult and strenuous” for women, the Austrian doubting the female nature could cope with the sport’s “brutal” wheel-to-wheel high speed action.
While not specifically addressing Marko’s comments, Wilson denied that a woman would be physically or mentally constrained at the wheel of an F1 car.
“I used to drive for three hours in world endurance championship races, in monstrous Porsche 956s, and I was capable of doing it,” she told Reuters at the W Series opening round.
“My opinion is that women are actually stronger mentally than men are. I think we can push ourselves much further than men can.
“It’s the individual person, what you are made up of, what you want in life, how hard do you want to fight for it and how serious and focused you are.”
In 1980, Wilson attempted to qualify for the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch with a privately run Williams FW07.
Her endeavor failed unfortunately, but she does remember the derogatory words that weekend of front row qualifier Jacques Laffite who stated that “No f…… woman should in grands prix”.
“There’s no doubt that chauvinism and sexism was difficult in my era but we were seen a little bit more as novelty drivers,” she recalled.
“Every few years a woman was at least able to attempt to get into Formula 1. But you still had to qualify and get the super licence to be able to race.
“I had a couple of sponsors who turned around and said: You’re in my car because I want you to go and beat those boys.
“A lot of the guys were pressured by their girlfriends and wives not to be beaten by a woman.
“Everybody was your friend while you weren’t competitive. But the minute you started winning it was amazing how fewer male friends you had. They just disappeared.”
Wilson is strongly rooting for the W Series’ success, hoping the format will ultimately put a woman, or even a few, back on the F1 grid for the first time since Italy’s Lella Lombardi in 1976.
“I think it´s a superb idea,” she added. “Because ultimately you´re giving these women an opportunity to take part. A lot of them wouldn´t be racing if it wasn´t for this series.
“For men who say ‘why should it be an all-woman series?’, they haven´t had to really go through what women really have had to go through in motorsports. So they have no idea.
“I think this series will showcase women more than it ever has before and hopefully that will be a combination of finding some more sponsorship.
“I´d love to see somebody there (in Formula 1) in the next few years.”