It's a sad day when a racing icon like Sir Stirling Moss claims women do not have the mental capabilities to succeed in motorsport. Despite Moss deriving from an entirely different era, his comments mark the words of a man disconnected from reality, adhering to stagnated beliefs from the 1950s. His opinion remains not only baffling, foolish, and incorrect, but also downright sexist.
Moss, perhaps the greatest driver never to have won the Formula One world championship, said in a BBC Radio 5 Live interview Monday that, while women may have the "strength" to race, they do not possess the "mental aptitude to race hard, wheel to wheel." Moss followed that by saying, "the mental stress would be pretty difficult for a lady to deal with in a practical fashion," stating they don't have the "aptitude to win a Formula One race.”
Understandably, there has been outrage regarding Moss's comments, a man who stands as a hero to those with even the vaguest knowledge of Formula One's racing history. Only five women have ever raced an F1 car, none garnering success. But the reason as to why remains far from mental.
Racing may not look physical from TV, but the combination of massive g-forces and steering loads in open-wheel racing makes driver endurance as crucial as any mechanical part. Danica Patrick, despite undergoing vigorous strength workouts, needed to adjust her IndyCar's steering rack due to the incredible effort required to turn the wheel. Many smaller male racers did the same. IndyCars, however, do not have power steering, whereas Formula One cars do.
But Moss focused his attention to the female brain, and lack of ability to manage high-stakes stress. Women can handle stress as well as men on or off the track, but Sir Stirling, apparently, remains blissfully unaware of this.
We all know the story of Danica Patrick; she's nearly won the Indy 500 and came close to victory at this year's Daytona 500. Irrelevant of one's opinion regarding her talent level, she's never displayed signs of fear, despite plenty of vicious hits.
The story of IndyCar's Simona De Silvestro is perhaps less known — at least outside the racing bubble. Simona suffered a horrifying crash after her suspension failed during practice at the 2011 Indianapolis 500, receiving second-degree burns to her right hand and superficial burns to her left. With her primary car destroyed and her hands bandaged up in agony, she leaped into her backup car just two days later. Despite the undoubtable apprehension, she averaged 224.392 mph, qualifying for one of the most competitive Indy 500 fields in recent history, garnering legions of new fans in the process.
Simona also suffered terrible burns after a fiery wreck at Texas in 2010 — where she was trapped in her burning race car until fire crews could rescue her — as well as breaking her back in Milwaukee just a few weeks after her massive Indy 500 wreck. All of which she bounced back from fearlessly.
What about Shirley Muldowney, three time NHRA Top Fuel dragster champion? I'm sure she'd have a thing or two to say about women being fearful and unable to handle stress.
The reason women aren't competing in Formula One has nothing to do with strength, talent, or mental ability. It's due to circumstance. It wasn't many years ago that racing was deemed male only. Women, therefore, received a late start to the game. It's also fair to say that racing is not as popular amongst women as it is with men. That means there are considerably fewer women even attempting to race in F1, so it's no surprise there aren't any currently competing.
In my personal racing career, prior to writing for Yahoo!, I've competed wheel-to-wheel against Danica Patrick, Simona De Silvestro, and Susie Wolff — the Williams F1 test driver — and can confirm by experience that women are just as fearless as men. Moss should know this; the whole reason this quote came to light was that he had raced against Maria Teresa de Filippis in 1958, the first woman in F1. Heck, Moss's own sister Pat Moss-Carlsson was one of Europe's leading rally drivers in the '60s, and Moss has spoken highly of her talents.
Despite this, I still admire Moss, and his achievements are undeniable. But comments like this are uneducated, old-fashioned, and idiotic. One day, we'll see a talented woman enter Formula One and show the guys how it's done. But, until then, we can watch Simona De Silvestro fight for victory aboard her 700-hp IndyCar, scarred hands and all.