I recently had my wake-up moment in Sardinia. I’ve been competing in Extreme E with my team Rosberg X Racing for almost two years. There we will compete with electric off-road vehicles in areas of the world particularly threatened by climate change to draw attention to the effects of the environmental crisis and to show solutions. In addition, we also address societal and social challenges. This means that not only male pilots compete in the Extreme E, but also the fastest women in the racing world.
One man and one woman share one car per team. The series wants to promote equality with this rule. With success: I’ve never seen team bosses fight so hard for the most talented girls. To get Swede Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky to join RXR, I spent nights on the phone with her because three other teams also wanted her. It paid off as she’s becoming an incredible weapon in the fight for the championship.
So far, the focus has mostly been on our male driver, Extreme E Champion and four-time Rallycross Champion Johan Kristoffersson. In Sardinia, however, the 29-year-old Mikaela not only drove on an equal footing with her team-mate. In the semi-finals, she fought a wheel-to-wheel duel with Timmy Hansen – after all, also a World Rallycross Champion. In the super sector, she quickly wiped away nine-time world rally champion Sébastien Loeb. And in the race, she made the decisive overtaking maneuver against Jutta Kleinschmidt, the only Dakar Rally winner to date. In my opinion, Mikaela is currently the best racing driver in the world.
As a team owner, that makes me incredibly proud, but also thoughtful. 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 she didn’t make her big breakthrough in motorsport before Extreme E either, despite some incredible moments in her career. In 2018 she became the first woman to win a race in the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship.
There are reasons for that. Above all, we have to 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 that female racers are supported from an early age and manage to attract the attention of sponsors and the media. But above all: So that they believe in themselves and don’t have to fight the battle alone. Parents of talented girls need to know that investing in their child is worthwhile because the path to the top is clear. We finally have to release the brakes so that female racers can make it to the premier class.
Mikaela is also an inspiration for young girls. Off the track, she’s the friendliest creature 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 for young people. And it shows that women can achieve a lot in racing. Because when they get a real chance, it inspires them incredibly. Unfortunately, they often still don’t have the same opportunities, support, or network as the men who have dominated this sport since its inception.
Can women be as fast as men? I see nothing that speaks against it. In motor sports, as in equestrian sports or sailing, the alleged physical superiority of men hardly plays a role. We have the race car that puts the power to the ground. The rest is talent, experience, technique and above all mental strength. Small and delicate racers even have an advantage over big and heavy pilots. And as the father of two self-confident daughters, I know that women don’t just have as much courage as men on the racetrack.
I’ve also karted against girls: Susie Wolff, the wife of my ex-team boss Toto Wolff, was my opponent. And she made it into the top five. One of the best examples is also Sophie Kumpen, the mother of Max Verstappen, who was strong at World Cup level. There are many more. Despite this, we have given too few women the chance to develop – and as a result, inspired far too few girls along the way.
When 1000 boys go karting every year and only 15 girls, it is much more difficult for great female talent to crystallize. But one thing is also certain: in Extreme E, equality only 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 pilots and gives them the backing 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 a final solution ready, but I’ve learned one thing in Formula 1: where there’s a will, there’s a way. And there is a solution for everything!
Racing is a great sport. Pushing such a high-tech machine to the limit is just plain fun. The adrenaline at high speed, tactics and strategy, duels and teamwork, technology and sporting challenges; Motorsport has many facets, for which not only men are definitely predestined.
Let’s finally give the girls a chance. It’s time.