British racing driver Jenson Button says a female Formula One World Championship driver would “revolutionise” the sport.
The former F1 champ believes a woman lining up on the grid alongside the men would inspire a new wave of racing fans and encourage more women to get involved in motorsport.
Jenson, 39, a Santander UK ambassador, appeared alongside a host of high-profile female speakers at the Formula Student World Finals at Silverstone yesterday.
The annual educational engineering competition is put on to provide young people with a platform the skills and experience they need to embark on a career in engineering.
The event also saw the launch of a brand new initiative developed by Santander Universities called STEMships - aimed at supporting young women pursue a career in engineering.
According to a 2018 report only 12% of engineers in the UK are women.
Yet research carried out in 2017 into the state of British engineering found that the industry suffers from a workforce skills shortfall of around 60,000 each year.
And Jenson says that whilst more needs to be done to encourage young women to pursue a career in engineering, a female F1 driver would provide aspiring youngsters with the ideal role models in engineering and motorsport.
He said: “I would like to see more women race against the boys on an equal playing field.
“It will be a little while I think until we see that happen but it’d be great for F1 and it’s what it needs.
“It would revolutionise it (Formula One), and Santander STEMships is a great idea to give so many girls the opportunity to further their expertise.”
It’s hoped STEMships will empower and inspire more women to not only consider a career in engineering earlier in life, but to develop a passion for it.
Santander UK research suggests there are a number of barriers are preventing women from getting into the industry.
A lack of access to funding, women engineering role models and problems with accessing the support at grassroots level are partly to blame.
STEMships is designed to break down those barriers by providing young women with not only the tools and necessary resources, but also the opportunities post-study to do the job in the real world.
Jenson added: “What Santander Universities is doing is fantastic. It’s a world first.
“Motorsport is growing all the time and there is a need for a new generation of engineers to push the new technology.
“It will be a long time before there are lots of women in Motorsport but that’s because women and girls haven’t had the opportunities to drive racing cars.”
Thirty up-and-coming women engineers were announced as the first-ever STEMships participants at Silverstone yesterday.
The talented crop of aspiring engineers will benefit from a two-year study plan that includes a £1,500 scholarship and global work experience opportunities.
They were welcomed onto the initiative by 2009 Formula One World Championship winner, Jenson Button and Santander UK CEO, Nathan Bostock, this weekend.
“The education and awareness needs to start earlier than at university”, Jenson said.
“If there are more females in F1 then it will help to create a bigger audience for the sport.
“There needs to be a change of mindset at an earlier stage in a person’s life.
“The opportunities are there are no team would choose a man because he’s a man, they’d choose the best person to do the job.
“We have had female drivers in the past but not on a competitive level. Having a role model to look up to is a massive part of it.
“Girls need to be made aware of the skills and the jobs they could do at eight-years-old, when a lot of other F1 drivers started.
“Getting more women into engineering and STEM is vital for the future of the industry and the UK so I’m really pleased to be supporting the launch. We need many more to enter the field if the UK is to continue to be a leader on the world stage.”
Since 2007, Santander Universities has invested £80m in supporting UK students and universities.
Santander Universities funds eleven of the Formula Student teams competing teams as part of its overall initiatives to inspire the next generation of engineers and encourage the study of STEM subjects.
Santander Universities also welcomed its newest and youngest ambassador, 12-year old Female British Cadet Karting Champion, Ella Stevens. Through Santander’s university partner network, Ella will benefit from bespoke support as she progresses her motor racing dreams.
Matt Hutnell, director of Santander Universities UK said: “We’re thrilled to be launching our unique STEMships to support and inspire the next generation of women engineers from across the UK.
“Having worked closely with Formula Student teams across our partner universities, we recognise the challenges facing female engineering students as they look to embark on careers in the industry.”