Racing driver: Sophia Flörsch on the lack of equal opportunities in formula racing: “Men believe in men”

Two years ago, Formula 1 managing director Stefano Domenicali said in a press conference: "Realistically speaking, I don't see a girl in Formula 1 in the next five years - unless some kind of meteorite hits the earth.

Racing driver: Sophia Flörsch on the lack of equal opportunities in formula racing: “Men believe in men”

Two years ago, Formula 1 managing director Stefano Domenicali said in a press conference: "Realistically speaking, I don't see a girl in Formula 1 in the next five years - unless some kind of meteorite hits the earth." His statement is representative of the prejudices that women in motorsport are still exposed to today. Nevertheless, the industry is changing. More and more is being done to make racing more attractive for women and girls.

Sophia Flörsch is currently the fastest woman in formula racing, as she says herself. She gave a detailed interview to the star.

Sophia, in Formula 1 you can see that something is changing both in the work with women and in the public perception of women. Do you also feel these changes in Formula 3?

In my opinion, there is a positive change in motorsport. There are definitely improvements in Formula 3 too. Nevertheless, there is far from the absolutely necessary equal opportunity when it comes to preparation, testing and access to top material.

I have been supported by the "BWT ALPINE FORMULA 1" team since the beginning of last year, am a sponsored pilot for their F1 junior squad and a member of the "ALPINE Rac(h)er" sponsorship. Alpine and I decided last year to drive Formula 3 again this year in order to be able to fight for results with a top team. The budget for a top team was together, promising discussions were held, and things were looking good for several cockpits. Suddenly there were cancellations and the driver positions were filled elsewhere.

The team bosses don't say directly what the problem is. In my case, another young driver was actually taken. Same budget, same level. Behind me in Macau. The reason is not stated. For me the conclusion remains that you still have a harder time as a woman. These obstacles are not isolated cases and in the multitude they give the appearance of a system. There is always a little stone, a hindrance, a pretext that blocks your step forward.

Overall, there are positive developments and I definitely see modern change. Opportunities are being created that didn't exist 15 or 20 years ago. There is simply no support for women on an equal sporting level.

Money plays a big role in motorsport. And you get most of your money through sponsors. As a woman, do you still find it more difficult to find good sponsors?

This is generally difficult in Germany these days. Not even related to the topic of women.

What do you mean by that? Motorsport and Formula 1 no longer have the boom in Germany that it did during Schumacher's time. Formula 1 is currently experiencing this boom in the rest of the world. We have over 400,000 spectators at the three to four day events. That's great!

In recent years, Germany has been almost manically fixated on retelling the Schumacher success story a second time. Other German talents remained unnoticed. Only one pilot received significant funding in Germany. The view of reality was clouded by the desire for a sequel.

How do you think this can be changed?

I am convinced that the young generation is open to new stars and new stories. I mean, we don't even have a German Grand Prix anymore, Formula 1 is broadcast on pay TV and young experts are given very few opportunities in the media. New ideas are needed. We have young professionals in so many areas of sport. Let's organize a German Grand Prix. Let young reporters and young experts get involved. A Timo Glock, for example. Young positive language. Young subjects. Creativity. Motorsport is high-tech and deserves high-quality content. Formula 1 produces its events perfectly. Absolute prime entertainment in the sports world. It works internationally. If the framework parameters in Germany are right again, the German sponsors will come back, I'm sure of that.

Another big factor in the change in the racing world is social media. How do you feel about the growing role of social media? Do you actively use it to make yourself visible to sponsors as a successful racing driver?

Yes, definitely. The important media platforms can be found on social media. They have become indispensable in marketing and in collaboration with advertising partners. As an athlete, I can authentically show my extraordinary life on social media. My fans should also see the work behind it. I show funny little things. I want to motivate and entertain. Not everything is meant seriously. I don't always take myself seriously. I am pleased by the numerous positive comments from my approximately 1.5 million fans and followers. Instagram and Co. are basically my babies.

Last season you commented live on a race that was officially streamed on Tiktok. How successful was that?

The Sky TikTok project in 2023 was a nice attempt to address the large new and younger target group. It worked really well - the response was consistently positive. The whole stream was different compared to traditional TV coverage. I would say more spontaneous and younger. In our comments, we didn't criticize any drivers or teams. I try to convey my impressions and experiences to the viewers. In a young language that my generation speaks. So it was funny. A new, entertaining experience for the Sky team and me.

At the moment I don't know how the project at Sky will continue. That brings us back to the starting point of the discussion. We should invest in the future and look ahead. Take new paths.

Why are projects like this so important to you?

Especially because I want to appeal to children and young people and of course women and girls in order to create even more enthusiasm for sport, individual goals and individual motivation. You communicate and demonstrate that many doors have opened for women in this sport. But it's also up to the girls to walk through these open doors and have the confidence to succeed. This is not possible without initiative. No quota, please. No purely women's projects, please. The magic formula is inclusion. Equal opportunity.

In order to promote female racing drivers, ex-racing driver Susi Wolff founded the F1 Academy - a racing series exclusively for women. What's your opinion? Do you think such funding is good?

Susi Wolff has been committed to women for years. That's a good thing and has my sincere respect. The F1 Academy generates media interest. It puts the female drivers in front of TV cameras and in the F1 media landscape. It is Formula 1's flagship product for its image of "equality". F1 wants to live up to this social demand. However, the F1 Academy should be a platform for young girls aged 15 to 16 to get into formula racing. Because the bottom line is that the women there drive braked Formula 4 cars. 15- to 17-year-old boys already spend six- to seven-figure annual budgets on real Formula 4 series. In reality, the only way to get into Formula 1 is via Formula 3 and Formula 2. That takes three to five years. If you want to make it into the top 10 there, you need 12 to 15 million euros. A driver has to prove himself in these series. That's the only place that results count. I really doubt whether women can avoid this difficult and expensive path thanks to the F1 Academy or whether they can learn the basics of sport so late.

But isn't attention for women in motorsport automatically good?

Of course, any attention for women in motorsport is positive and should be supported. I see it differently, it can be discussed. In my experience, women generally receive more media interest than boys. Nowadays media and fans want to see successful women. The story is interesting because it is extraordinary. This is where the great potential lies. Compared to the sporting training of boys, worlds open up. Am I not being supported because I would be a threat to the masculine hero story in the F1 paddock? My story is already unique. I am currently the fastest woman in formula racing. In order to stand up to the boys, you need a starting point at eye level.

Do you feel a certain amount of prejudice because you are a woman?

No matter how you spin it, you always come back to the core problem. Without 12 to 15 million euros from Formula 3 and the willingness of the F3/F2 teams to sincerely integrate with top material, all women have a hard time. Although the boys have to go through the same hurdle, boys just find partners for it. Men believe in men. Women have reservations about these amounts. Completely flat: friends, family, children, consistency, emotional, not stringent... – it's unbelievable what you hear.

As a driver, are you sometimes laughed at?

Of course, this has happened often in the last 19 years, yes. Fans, media and some experts are sometimes really disrespectful.

Also from other drivers?

No, but I have never been belittled or insulted by other racing drivers. There has never been a problem, no driver has ever treated me disrespectfully. I am very pleased about that and I can express my respect for all my fellow drivers. It really is a big family. Of course, the faster you are, the more respect you get. But that has nothing to do with gender. That's just how racing drivers tick and I'm absolutely fine with that.

In an optimal world, what would optimal funding look like for you? What would make your path easier?

In an ideal world I have the same budget and opportunities as the boys or men I'm racing against. Regardless of whether it's Formula 1, Formula 2 or Formula 3, success is possible if you drive for the right team. The more budget, the more preparation, with optimal preparation the circumstances are simply different as to how you start a race weekend. Without these opportunities, even the most talented male driver won't win a flower pot. An ideal world would be more transparent and honest.

To move on from female racing drivers: How are women who work in the paddock, i.e. in the paddock, supported?

There are a variety of women's programs in the Formula 1 racing circuit. At Alpine, for example, this is the so-called Rac(h)er program. They are actively looking for women who are interested in motorsport and want to work there. Rac(h)er offers training positions here. You cooperate with universities, seek contact with students, organize event days and information days. The F1, national motorsport associations and organizers of F1 events support the FIA's "Girls on Track" project. “Girls on Track” invites girls and women to the racetrack and provides information about career profiles and career opportunities. Motorsport represents so many interesting and future-oriented fields of activity.

How many women do you meet in the paddock on a race weekend?

It's hard to say, I don't consciously count. Within the paddock, I often meet women in the areas of marketing and PR. The marketing team at Alpine consists mostly of women. But more women are actually coming into the paddock. At Alpine, for example, we have four female mechanics.

So is there a trend for more women in traditional male roles?

Yes, the people inside the paddock confirm the trend. Everything has changed extremely, all contacts note. The Formula 1 cosmos has become noticeably more open. As a woman you are no longer laughed at so much. Women are respected. That wasn't the case a few years ago. In short, it gets better.

Sometimes statements and reactions should be questioned more closely. There is always a feeling that the effect comes from the fact that no one expresses their prejudices directly anymore. Probably not everyone dares to express their real opinion anymore. I would like to play mouse in a small circle and at some meeting tables.

Does your sporting success influence other young women or girls in racing?

Yes, I do. Of course, I can't say whether it's my fault, but when I drove in the DTM (Editor's note: German Touring Car Masters) in 2021 here in Germany, many young women and young girls aged eight, nine, ten came up to me at races and events. It touched me so much that some of the girls cried tears of joy and were so nervous when we chatted. They really see me as a role model.

I have a larger women's fan base or community that is simply interested in motorsports or sports and fitness in general. I don't know whether it's me or my sport that makes fans support me. It's definitely there and a really great feeling. I am very grateful for that.

How do you deal with it?

On my part, it is not at all easy to deal with this responsibility. For the first time, I'm flabbergasted and unsure myself. I just do what I love and try to convey that somehow.

Do you think that more and more women are becoming fans of Formula 1?

In general, there are more and more women and more and more young girls who go completely crazy when, for example, Lando Norris invades. That wasn't the case a few years ago. The Netflix documentary “Drive to Survive” probably plays a very important role. That's why there are now younger target groups and it's noticeably easier to appeal to younger girls.

Personally, this has affected me more in recent years than it did 15 years ago, when my father sat in front of the television on a Sunday morning before breakfast and watched Formula 1.

It's also easier because the drivers are more approachable. I think "Drive to Survive" brought the drivers and the people behind the sport to the fore. Entertaining and accompanied by beautiful pictures. You show private things and provide insight into what the drivers are actually like. Everything is a little social media style. Plus the huge influence of social media. Formula 1, all teams, all drivers and many media use the platforms. As a fan, you are now much more involved and feel closer to it. That's exactly what interests my generation and everyone below it. It's different than it was 15 years ago.

What is your plan for the future? Will you make the jump to Formula 2 and what's next for you?

The goal is to drive Formula 2 in 2025. What matters is how Alpine plans with me. Because things have to continue even after Formula 2. This investment only really makes sense if you jump into a Formula 1 cockpit. None of the Formula 2 champions of the last three years made it into an F1 cockpit. Another sad fact of sport. As of today, my future is in the hands of Alpine.

And yet you will still have a hard time as a woman

It's not an easy sport. The sport is beautiful, it has beautiful aspects, but some factors are significantly more important than in other sports, especially when it comes to the whole business around it. My path is unwritten. To achieve high goals, you have to stick out your elbows and perform. As a woman, you might perform a little more here and there than some men.