HE was Britain’s speed king, famous for his aggressive driving style. Now Sir Stirling Moss has slammed female Formula 1 drivers into the crash barriers, by insisting they lack the mental skills necessary to win a grand prix.
In a BBC radio documentary, Sir Stirling said he did not believe women had the right psychology for Formula 1 racing: “I think they have the strength, but I don’t know if they’ve got the mental aptitude to race hard, wheel to wheel.”
He went on to say he was “not surprised” by how few women were in F1. “The trouble is, when you’re racing, it’s pretty tiring.”
But he added: “We had three-hour races in those days. You needed tremendous concentration. Now races are only one hour and ten minutes.”
Sir Stirling, 83, considered by many to be the finest driver never to have won an F1 championship, added: “We’ve got some very strong and robust ladies but, when your life is at risk, I think the strain of that in a competitive situation will tell. The mental stress I think would be pretty difficult for a lady to deal with in a practical fashion. I just don’t think they have aptitude to win a Formula 1 race.”
However, the racing legend’s comments angered Susie Wolff, the Scottish racing driver who is seeking to break into F1.
Wolff, 30, who last year joined the Williams F1 team as a training driver and hopes one day to compete professionally, said: “It makes me cringe, hearing that. I don’t know where to start.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Sir Stirling and what he achieved, but I think we’re in a different generation.”
Wolff added: “For Moss, it’s unbelievable that a female would drive a Formula 1 car, which is fair enough. In the days they were racing, every time they stepped into a car, they were putting their life on the line. But F1 is much more technologically advanced, it’s much safer than it was.”
Wolff, who is from Oban and is married to the Austrian racing driver Toto Wolff, began her career driving go-karts at the age of eight. She was recently the subject of another BBC documentary, The Fastest Woman in the World, directed by her brother, David Stoddart. In it, their mother said she was more nervous about her daughter racing than if it was her son behind the wheel “because she seems more vulnerable”.
Wolff said she would not continue to race after she had children, an issue that rarely concerns male drivers. She went on: “I don’t want to prove how good women can be against men. I race because it’s my passion.”
In racing history, only five women have competed in grands prix and just one registered a score: Lella Lombardi, an Italian driver who started in 12 races in the 1970s, scored a half a point. Wolff is at present the only woman in F1, after Spanish driver Maria de Villota lost an eye in an accident in July 2012.
Bernie Ecclestone, the head of F1, said in the Sunday night’s radio documentary there was “not really” a chance of a woman competing at the highest levels in the near future.
He said: “I don’t imagine a lady will ever get the chance to drive a Red Bull or a Ferrari. The only chance is with a lesser team – and they only take someone if they come with a good sponsor.”