Why Christian Horner is Wrong About Women In Motorsport
I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want … Christian Horner to stop saying sexist things
In a recent talkSPORT interview, Christian Horner (Red Bull Racing team principal) discussed the benefits of hit Formula 1 docuseries Drive To Survive. One of its valuable features, according to him, is that “it’s bringing in a lot of young girls because [of] all these great-looking young drivers.”
Yes, those were his exact words. Christian Horner thinks Drive To Survive is great because young girls are attracted to the drivers, and therefore watch Formula 1.
I’m infuriated too.
What this makes very obvious is that one of the leading figures in motorsport believes in harmful misogynistic tropes.
There’s a lot to unpack here, but I’d like to give two very important caveats. Firstly, it’s reasonable to suggest that Drive To Survive has increased the number of young women following our sport, by opening our traditionally misogynistic sport up to new markets. The percentage of fans that are women has increased by from 10% to nearly 20% since 2017, according to the F1 Motorsport Network Fan Survey, and these fans are valid. Secondly, young women are allowed to find drivers attractive, and they’re allowed to support them because of that. We do not have to justify why we love motorsport to anyone.
These points don’t, however, diminish the harm that’s caused by Horner’s comment.
In this interview, Horner implies that young women care about F1 because of Drive To Survive, which is objectively untrue. Women have always existed in motorsport and have always loved this sport - you only need to look at our history to see that we have raced in F1 cars before Netflix was invented. The trope that Horner repeats here is borne from the idea that Drive to Survive has dramatically increased participation from young women.
I have personally defended the existence of DTS on many occasions, and whilst I acknowledge its multitude of flaws, I believe it can be beneficial as a marketing tool for motorsport. That is not relevant, though, to the fact that women don’t need a flashy, melodramatic documentary series to adore racing. We have always been here, and the thing that limits our participation is misogyny. That has a far greater impact on our numbers than the lack of a TV series advertising F1. Statements like Horner’s here are a perfect example of that misogyny.
When Christian Horner says that “young women” watch DTS because of “good-looking young drivers”, he explicitly perpetuates one of the most damaging sexist stereotypes in our sport. Let’s not give him the benefit of the doubt, or reduce down the message of his words - Horner is rewording the idea that young women only love racing because of attractive men. He centres our love of the sport around the presence of men, as if our existence depends on them - as if we, as young women, can’t enjoy F1 by ourselves. It’s humiliating and outrageously sexist, and that doesn’t even touch on the heteronormativity of the assumption that only young women can be attracted to drivers, and that all women are attracted to men, which is so harmful too.
What we are seeing is one of the most important figures in our sport saying outright that women are not capable of loving motorsport for the engineering mastery that is our cars, or the exhilarating racing, or the suspense of a season of such an incredible sport. According to the Red Bull team principal, we need attractive men. We are incapable of enjoying motorsport, where drivers wear helmets that cover their face for the whole event, without being attracted to the competitors. Apparently, we can’t love Formula 1 otherwise.
You’d be right to be absolutely infuriated by this suggestion, no matter who it came from, because it’s so obviously based on stereotypes that reduce women down to some inferior being incapable of loving sport without sexual attraction to competitors.
What’s even worse, though, is that this is coming from one of the sport’s leaders. Christian Horner is capable of leading the charge against the debilitating sexism that penetrates every element of Formula 1. We, as women who love this sport, are in a constant, all-consuming fight to justify our position. We are so often abused, harassed and invalidated just for being here, and instead of supporting us, one of the most important people in F1 is perpetuating the exact stereotypes that keep us locked out.
If I could tell Christian Horner anything right now, it would be to be quiet and listen. Listen to our outrage, listen to our experiences. Listen to our frustration, but also our hope. The only barrier to women in motorsport is misogyny and it’s words like these that give that a mandate.
You can help make our sport inclusive and safe for all, if you want to. Help us do that.