We finally have to release the brakes on equality so that female racers can make it all the way to the premier league.
By Nico Rosberg
I recently had an epiphany in Sardinia during our last race. My team Rosberg X Racing has been competing in Extreme E for almost two years. We drive electric off-road vehicles in areas of the world particularly threatened by climate change in an attempt to draw attention to the environmental crisis's effects and to show solutions. In addition, we also address societal and social challenges such as equality. This means for example that not only male drivers compete in the Extreme E, but also the fastest women in the racing world.
One man and one woman share one car per team. With this rule, the series hopes to promote an equal playing field. As a result, I've seen team bosses fight very hard for the most talented girls. To get Swedish driver Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky to join RXR, I spent many nights on the phone with her because three other teams also wanted her. It paid off as she's becoming an incredible weapon in our fight for the championship.
This season, the focus has mostly been on our male driver, reigning Extreme E Champion and four-time Rallycross Champion Johan Kristoffersson, after his impressive performance that secured our team's win during the first race in Saudi-Arabia. In Sardinia, however, 29-year-old Mikaela not only drove on an equal footing with her team-mate but was the star of the show. In the semi-final, she first fought a wheel-to-wheel duel with Timmy Hansen – also a rallycross world champion - and then in the Continental traction challenge, she quickly wiped away nine-time world rally champion Sébastien Loeb by beating his time. And in the final race she made the decisive overtaking maneuver against Jutta Kleinschmidt, one of the most successful off-road drivers and the only female Dakar Rally winner to date. Based on this, I consider Mikaela to be amongst the best female racing drivers in the world.
As a team owner, that makes me incredibly proud but also ruminative. Mikaela's example shows how much must have gone wrong in the past. Not only is she a match for the boys, she even beats them at times. But before Extreme E, she didn’t manage to make a big breakthrough in motorsport, despite some incredible moments in her racing career - such as being the first woman ever to win a race in the Scandinavian Touring car Championship in 2018.
During my epiphany I realised just how important it is that we promote women in motorsport more, just like we do in Extreme E. And all the way to Formula 1! For this, we need financial as well as non-material support. From associations, clubs, racing series, sponsors, manufacturers, and fans. So female racers are supported from an early age and manage to attract the attention of sponsors and the media right from the get-go. But above all: so they believe in themselves and don't have to fight the battle alone. Parents of talented girls need to know it's worth investing in their child because it can make it all the way to the premier league - and not at an astronomical cost either.
Mikaela is an inspiration for young girls. Off the track, she's the friendliest person I know. But as soon as her foot is on the accelerator, she shows what she's made of. Her bold and courageous driving style, paired with her team spirit, makes her a great role model. And it shows just how much women can achieve in racing when they are given the opportunity to shine. Because when they get a real chance, it inspires them incredibly. Unfortunately, women often still don't have the same opportunities, support, or network as men who have been dominating this sport since its inception.
Can women be as fast as men? I see nothing that speaks against it. In motorsports, just like in equestrian sports or sailing, any claim of male physical superiority is irrelevant. The race car puts the power to the ground. The rest is talent, experience, technique and above all, mental strength. Incidentally, small and delicate racers even have an advantage over large and heavy pilots. And as the father of two self-confident daughters, I know that women have as much courage as men, not just on the racetrack.
I've raced against women in my early karting days: Susie Wolff, the wife of my former team boss Toto Wolff, was one of them, and she made it into the top five back then. Another example is Sophie Kumpen, Max Verstappen’s mother, who was strong at World Cup level. There are many more like them, but despite this, we have given too few women the chance to develop – and as a result, inspired far too few girls along their way.
If 1,000 boys go karting every year and only 15 girls, then it is, of course, much more difficult for great female talent to crystallise. But one thing is certain: in Extreme E, equality now works because the rules make it mandatory for a woman to be in the car. It's a drastic regulatory step, but it works sensationally because it forces teams to search for the best drivers and gives them the support they need to develop in the fight for the championship.
Does Formula 1 also need a quota in order to finally make progress on equality? I don't have the answer to this, but I've learned one thing in Formula 1: where there's a will, there's a way. And there is a solution to every challenge!
Motor Racing is a great sport. Pushing such a high-tech machine to the limit is incredibly fun. The adrenaline at high speed, the tactics and strategy, duels and teamwork, technology and sporting challenges; Motorsport has many facets, for which not only men are predestined.
Let's finally give the girls a chance. It's time.