Tracking reasons for gender inequality in Formula 1 racing

March 20 2023

Honours graduate Shannon Perrera

Honours graduate Shannon Perera.

Former Monash Business School Honours student Shannon Perera has watched Formula 1 racing with her dad ever since she was a kid. She is also passionate about women’s rights and gender equality. Add her love for economics and business statistics and the topic of her Honours thesis was all set: The gender imbalance in Formula One racing.

“There are literally no women in Formula 1 even though they are present when it comes to Nascar and Indy car racing,” Ms Perera said.

“Women don’t make it past karting. Not into Formula 3, let alone Formula 1. For my Honours thesis in Economics, I wanted to find out why this is the case.”

There is no objective physical reason why women can’t do car racing. Women are usually smaller and more lightweight than men, which would in fact make them more suitable for the sport. The traditional trajectory for both genders interested in car racing is to start off with Karting and then move on to Formula 4 and up to F1.

“Car racing is a very expensive sport and the lack of sponsorship for women is obviously one reason it is hard for women to move into Formula 1. The W-series was created to try to get more women into F1,” Ms Perera said.

All about skill

The all-female single seater W-series championship had its first season in 2019. Women compete in identical racing cars equivalent in power to the cars used in Formula 3. This means that winning is all up to the skills of the driver, whereas in F1 the cars can be very different.

“Still, what we noticed was that even with the W category the girls were not going any further. They aren’t moving into Formula 3 to start competing with boys. Even though the British racing driver Jamie Chadwick won the championship for three consecutive years she has not done well in F3”, Ms Perera said.

To investigate why this might be, Shannon Perera used competitive balance which stipulates that everyone taking part is very equal so there is more excitement and willingness to watch a sport.

If there is one major star winning everything, as in the case with Jamie Chadwick, there is less propensity for people to watch, which possibly leads to less interest.

Do women drive differently?

This may lead to fewer sponsors for the event itself. However, it does highlight individual talent and shows consistency. Regardless, no sponsors are taking an interest in these women.

She also compared the change in race winners between the races in the W-series and Formula 3 to see how many times in a season the same person won, and how often there was a change in winners.

Further she compared the number of times drivers were overtaking each other as this indicates there are more shifts in position. This means more action in the sport and more excitement when watching.

In F1, the cars are equipped with a drag reduction system (DRS) which facilitates overtaking. This is not the case for cars in the W-series.

Naturally Ms Perera thought this would have a negative impact on the action in the W-series.

Shannon and Monash Business School Deputy Dean (Education) Robert Brooks at Monash Open Day 2022.

Shannon Perera and Monash Business School Deputy Dean (Education) Robert Brooks at
Monash Open Day 2022.

She created her own data set of overtakes in the W-series from 2019 and 2021 and compared them to the number of overtakes in Formula 1 in the same years.

Contrary to her predictions, the female drivers in the W-series are overtaking more on average than F1.

“This was very contradictory and surprising evidence. This one woman keeps winning all the championships but there’s still more overtaking happening than in F1, so then the argument that there is less action in the W championships doesn’t hold,” she argued.

“But the evidence also showed that a lot of the overtaking was happening amongst the middle drivers from number 5 to 15. The first driver tended to stay first and the last ended up last.

“This may be an argument for sponsors not to get into these drivers as it is hard to gauge their competitive edge when there is no challenge to their position. It is hard to see their defending capabilities.”

Sponsors stay away

Lack of funding remains a real problem for women in the sport. And the fact that there are very few female role models in the sport has an impact on future generations, both on a managerial and racing level.

Although different responses to the absence of a female driver in F1 are emerging, women need more support according to Ms Perera. In 2023 Formula 1 is set to launch an all-female F1 academy to develop and progress women drivers to higher levels of competition.

“Women are racing well and taking risks even though they are traditionally more risk averse than men. As much as the W-series attracts girls and highlights talented women; due to lack of DRS, there is still a lack of preparation for women. I hope I will see a woman racing in F1 in my lifetime.”

Since graduating with a first-class Honours degree from Monash Business School in November 2022, Shannon Perera has secured a graduate position with Ernst and Young in Perth where she will focus on valuation modelling and economics.

“The Honours year taught me so much about problem solving and not getting stuck in one way of thinking when the stats tell you something different. It absolutely boosts your employability,”  she said.

Learn more about our Honours program