The world of motor sport needs more women, according to Williams Deputy Team Principal Claire Williams, but she admits the playing field is becoming far more open.
One hundred school girls were at Daytona Milton Keynes on Wednesday to get a first hand taster of the world of motor sport, thanks to Dare To Be Different - an initiative set up by the Motor Sport Association and former F1 test driver Susie Wolff.
From changing a tyre in pitstop conditions, carrying out podium interviews with race winners, building hoverboards and getting to race around the track, the girls were shown that motor sport isn’t just about putting a helmet on.
“It was a gap that was missing for us to go and talk to school children about the amazing world we’re all a part of,” said Williams, who was the special guest of the day. “It’s great to be able to do a day like this. We’ve got 100 girls here between 8 and 11, and they’re able to undertake a lot of different activities around a lot of different skill sets.
“There has definitely been a proactive drive to get women into the sport, but also the number of girls who come in and see it as a viable career has grown.
“If we can encourage even one girl to consider a career in motor sport, that’s the target.”
It’s a situation that has been address already at Williams’ base in Grove, Oxfordshire.
She added: “Five years ago, we had a look at our engineering department and there wasn’t one. All the women in the company were in more traditionally female roles, administration and marketing, but now we have eight percent of the engineering workforce is female. It doesn’t sound much, but considering it was zero just a few years ago. But it takes role models to go out and showcase it, to let them know it’s a career destination for people and a welcoming environment.
“As much as I get on with my job, if it helps in terms of a promotional aspect to bring more women to the industry then I’m all for it.”
While the key focus in motor sport is ultimatly the driver behind the wheel, teams like Red Bull Racing, Williams and Mercedes employee more than 600 people to help send their two cars racing all over the world.
There hasn’t been a female F1 driver employed in a race seat since Giovanna Amati was hired by Brabham, who were based in Milton Keynes at the time, in 1992.
The Williams team had Susie Wolff on their books as a test driver until her retirement at the end of 2015, and while Claire Williams is keen to emphasise the industry as a whole, she admits there needs to be another female driver coming through the ranks.
“Driving is just one role in motor sport, but we do need to find the next Susie Wolff, the next female who can come up and compete. That’s what sets F1 apart - it’s open to men and women. They can compete on the same grid, but you can’t say that about football, rugby or cricket. We need to shout about that a bit more. But it’s not just the drivers.
“The girls have enjoyed all the challenges here, whether that be the engineering side by building hoverboards, or the fitness challenges or doing the media challenge.
“We’re catching up. I’m not aware of what other sports are doing, but in the last couple of years there has been a lot more focus on the younger generation, particularly females, coming into our sport. We have difficulty bringing up young people with the right skill sets, like engineering talent, but also from a viewership. We want people to follow our sport.
“We need to do a lot more work, but at Williams, and with initiatives like this are doing a fantastic job of reaching out to young girls. It’s about making sure our industry survives.”