Eric Silbermann: Yea for Seb, Nay for grid girls

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Malaysian Grand Prix - Race Day - Sepang, Malaysia

The generally cynical seen-it-all press corps burst into applause twice while watching the Malaysian Grand Prix in the air-conditioned splendour of the Media Centre: the first time was when Valtteri Bottas pulled a great passing move on his Williams team-mate Felipe Massa and the second was when Sebastian Vettel buzzed the pit wall after taking the chequered flag to record a very unexpected win, in only his second appearance for Ferrari.

If we were showing our appreciation for a great drive for Vettel, we were also applauding in relief that those previously all-conquering Mercedes had been beaten. Only two weeks earlier in Melbourne, the mood was one of resignation that we were in for another year of listening to Lewis Hamilton telling us he was “blessed” and Nico Rosberg smiling bravely and predicting that his time would come.

There was another interesting aspect to Vettel’s first win in red, in that the German has finally escaped the wilderness of unpopularity and was once again living in the land of Good Blokedom. In 2014, there was a definite feeling of schadenfreude when Vettel was soundly beaten by Daniel Ricciardo. But why? One driver winning four consecutive titles is definitely bad box office, but it’s no reason to attack the driver doing the winning, or to accuse him of having forgotten how to drive when his form drops off. “Yeah, that Seb, it was all a flash in the pan, he was a one-hit wonder, just the four world titles.” For goodness sake, even Bernie Ecclestone had a pop at him, describing him as “boring” at the end of last year, and then criticising his behaviour as world champion when compared to Lewis.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Malaysian Grand Prix - Race Day - Sepang, Malaysia

After that thrilling Sepang win, everyone loves Vettel again, which is a bit disingenuous because there was never anything not to like about the man. He’s always been one of the more interesting drivers in the paddock and he clearly never forgot how to drive. However, putting aside all rational arguments, I reckon Seb’s return to form is down to the fact his love of all things English led him to go for the baggy race suit first seen on BBC’s puppet icon Andy Pandy, or in more recent times, a style pioneered by Quebecois fashion icon Jacques Villeneuve.

I agree with Bernie...

Here are four words I don’t use very often, “I agree with Bernie.” Mr E is prone to making so many sensationalist remarks, that when he says something sensible, it can get treated as just another throwaway line, but what’s wrong with his idea of a women-only F1 series?

Even the most ardent apologist for women’s rights has to admit they have not exactly been successful in F1. Where’s the shame in that? In a past life, I used to be a horse riding instructor. I worked with eight girls, all of them happy to share their tights with me to wear under my jodhpurs when the weather turned nippy, but in general, they were all better riders than I was. Women have competed against men in most forms of equestrian sport and beaten them on a regular basis. They have more finesse in controlling 550 kilos of horsemeat. They also have enough courage to point half a ton of unpredictability at a massive jump and hope for the best.


However, when it comes to football, athletics, boxing, weightlifting, golf even, the list is endless, the distaff side of the sports world usually does not compete against men. Maybe that’s the way to go in motorsport. I blame the clamour for more representation on the notion that “you can be anything you want to be,” which is now fed to kids as a form of positive reinforcement. It’s a total lie as only a miniscule percentage of the population can be anything it wants.

Opportunities are the same for girls or boys wanting to start racing and plenty of girls do well in karting, where it could be argued there’s less of a difference between the strength of boys and girls in their early years. But after that, it just isn’t happening. Apart from the physical aspects - which are definitely less of a potential barrier thanks to modern F1 machinery - there is an argument that reckons women are simply more risk averse than men and don't like the idea of charging round the outside of another driver going through a corner at 300 km/h. That's always going to be difficult to prove or disprove, but could explain why women sometimes fare better in forms of motor sport that work against the clock and therefore lack the aggression of going toe to toe with other drivers.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Malaysian Grand Prix - Qualifying Day - Sepang, Malaysia

In fact, the only problem I see with a top line women-only motorsport series is that it might draw sponsors and interest away from Formula 1. On the subject of women’s rights in motorsport, it’s great to see that the World Endurance Championship has decided to get rid of the hugely outdated practice of having grid girls. But why did it have to be WEC who took the plunge before F1?

By now, the F1i lawyers are breathing a collective sigh of relief that I have avoided too many overtly sexist arguments, but just to raise their heartbeat a fraction, I have to say I find it interesting that reserve drivers such as Jolyon Palmer and Alex Lynn haven’t seen the need to hang around the pits wearing ridiculously short shorts, flip-flops and a wife-beater T-shirt. Just saying is all…

Click here for a more lighthearted look at some of the scenes from the Malaysian Grand Prix

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