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Formula 1

An overdue rule change is coming – and F1 must follow it soon

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

Motorsport UK is updating its regulations to finally eliminate the language that only refers to participants as males, something Formula 1’s governing body the FIA also has on its agenda.

British motorsport’s national body already has a bespoke set of guidelines to advise member clubs on how to use inclusive language, providing examples of existing terms and alternatives such as chairman/chairperson and female driver/competitor.

It is also completing a rewrite of its comprehensive ‘blue book’, which details the rules governing motorsport events in the UK, for next year and is using that process to remove masculine pronouns.

“One of the key tasks in that is to remove the ‘hes’, and the ‘hims’, and absolutely make it inclusive,” said Motorsport UK CEO Hugh Chambers.

“One of the extraordinary things about motorsport is that it is completely gender-neutral. And we have, as an industry, done a very poor job of capitalising on that as an opportunity.

“We only have 5% of our licence holders who are female.

“We have more in other areas; in our officials and our volunteers there is a greater proportion, and it varies between different disciplines.

“But we’re painfully aware that we’ve done a lousy job of making it more welcoming and more accessible to girls.”

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Ignoring gender-neutral language risks excluding or highlighting competitors or other participants solely based on their gender and, in Motorsport UK’s words, may “reinforce stereotypes or discriminatory attitudes and make people feel unwelcome when coming to an event”.

Motorsport UK chair David Richards has claimed the FIA Motor Sport World Council recently saw regulations for an all-female championship that featured male pronouns.

Chambers said: “It’s unacceptable and we absolutely put pressure on anybody we come across in the motorsport world that is not providing full inclusivity and appropriate language.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Austrian Grand Prix Race Day Spielberg, Austria

In F1’s sporting regulations alone there are 53 references to drivers, competitors, team representatives and FIA personnel as “he” and 18 references to “him” or “himself”.

This also applies to documents such as the FIA’s race director’s notes, which also refer to drivers as “he” or him”.

F1’s new female-only F1 Academy series, however, has updated its regulations to use female-gendered pronouns.

The Race says

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Austrian Grand Prix Preparation Day Spielberg, Austria

The Race understands that the FIA does intend to update championship regulations and the International Sporting Code – which has a single reference to “his/her” in relation to a licence-holder’s passport – to use gender-neutral pronouns.

In the meantime, the FIA Statutes has a provision stressing that “terms referring to natural persons are applicable to both genders”.

It is an administrative task that would likely take significant time to complete – the Motorsport UK changes are being made as part of a two-year process to overhaul its regulations entirely – but is well worth undertaking as a bigger priority. The longer it takes, the more some might start to wonder why.

The FIA is not dragging its feet because of intransigence, and it is laudable that the governing body puts its money where its mouth is by taking on other, larger projects to champion female participation in motorsport.

But small actions matter too, and the totemic value of prioritising this kind of rule change, would not be insignificant.

The FIA does have its Girls on Track programme, with a budget of €750,000, which aims to introduce “eight-to-18-year-old girls and young women to the variety of career opportunities in motorsport”.

Among other initiatives to try to encourage greater female participation in motorsport is a new one twinned with the new-for-2023 F1 Academy, an all-female single-seater series under F1’s official watch.

The ‘F1 Academy Discover your Drive Karting UK’ programme is being overseen by Motorsport UK and indoor karting operator TeamSport, which runs 35 karting venues across the country.

Of TeamSport’s 1.25million arrive-and-drive customer base, 35% are female – but the number shrinks to around 5% when it comes to entering a competitive series.

“We need to get more in at the base of the pyramid,” said Chambers. “And the base of the pyramid is we’re talking eight-to-12-year-olds.

“There’s a fire break in there at the moment that the girls that come along and do it casually, are not taking it more seriously.

“The karting initiative is designed to break that whole model apart.

“We’re inviting the girls that come along into those casual karting sessions to take part in five female-specific academy training sessions, so that they can be given the right attention and care and to get them to understand that this sport is for them.”

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