Motor racing: Women racing drivers denigrated by F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone

PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Uproar sparked by Ecclestone's comment on why they are not 'taken seriously' in the sport

LONDON • Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone caused a social media storm on Tuesday when he said women racing drivers would not be taken seriously in the sport and dismissed the contribution of immigrants to Britain.

The 85-year-old Briton, speaking to WPP chief executive Martin Sorrell at an Advertising Week Europe conference, also hailed Russian President Vladimir Putin as a man who "should be running Europe" and expressed support for US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

The Russian Grand Prix in Sochi, a project close to Putin's heart, is the next race on the Formula One calendar and Ecclestone last year declared himself the President's "best supporter".

Formula One has not had a woman driver start a grand prix since Italian Lella Lombardi in 1976 and Ecclestone, who has caused offence in the past by comparing women to domestic appliances, triggered a backlash on social media.

"I don't know whether a woman would physically be able to drive an F1 car quickly, and they wouldn't be taken seriously," Ecclestone said in comments reported by The Guardian, the BBC and other media.

British driver Pippa Mann, who has competed four times in the Indianapolis 500 and is a race winner in the US Indy Lights series, fired back immediately.

CONTROVERSIAL VIEWPOINT

I don't know whether a woman would physically be able to drive an F1 car quickly, and they wouldn't be taken seriously

BERNIE ECCLESTONE, the man who holds the commercial reins to Formula One racing.

"Sigh. #HereWeGoAgain," she said on Twitter.

"Perhaps someone should remind him that @IndyCar doesn't have power steering, and we're strong enough to drive those."

It was not the first time that Ecclestone had been caught up in a controversy regarding his comments about women drivers.

In an interview in January on the Canadian network TSN, when asked if he anticipated the return of a female driver to the grid, Ecclestone said: "I doubt it. If there was somebody that was capable they wouldn't be taken seriously anyway, so they would never have a car that is capable of competing.

"There was a girl that was driving in GP3 for a whole season so it is not something that hasn't happened."

The reporter then asked: "But it is not going to happen in the main event?" Ecclestone replied: "No. I don't think so."

Sorrell, a non-executive director of Formula One and whose grandparents came from Russia, also asked Ecclestone whether immigrants had contributed to Britain, in which he replied: "They have not" and declared that he was "100 per cent" in favour of Britain leaving the European Union ahead of the June 23 referendum on the matter.

Britain's triple Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton is the grandson of immigrants to Britain from the Caribbean island of Grenada.

However, Ecclestone predicted a rise in female chief executives, saying: "Women are more competent and they don't have massive egos."

There are currently no female drivers in Formula One, but women have enjoyed greater success at boardroom level, with Claire Williams notably the current deputy team principal at Williams.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2016, with the headline 'Women racing drivers denigrated by F1 boss'. Print Edition | Subscribe