A lot of people are going out of their way to have a dig at Sir Stirling Moss for comments he made in a BBC interview about women drivers.

I’m a little upset, to be honest. Stirling is one of the most decent people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. He is a true Gentleman, a legend and a hero. He is, however, 83 years old and harks from a very different time to the modern era. He doesn’t call F1 races Grands Prix. He calls them Grand Epreuves. He carries a shooting stick with him so he always has somewhere to sit.

He still calls women “crumpet.”

It should come as little surprise that his feelings on the matter of female racing drivers should be somewhat out of touch. OK, they’re not out of touch. They’re plain wrong.

But in all honesty, I must say I don’t really know why he was even asked for his opinion on the matter. Unless, of course, it is because those asking for his opinon knew precisely what they’d get…

Did he really blow a kiss to Maria Teresa de Filippis when he lapped her? Or is that still a bit of the old Moss bravado?

This is, lest we forget, a man who managed to get a date DURING the Monaco Grand Prix. The story goes that he noticed an attractive young lady watching the race and waved at her. The next lap she waved back. The next lap he signaled to her to meet him after the race. Rumour has it she did.

You can embrace that part of Stirling’s nature or you can deride it. To many, it’s all part of the legend.

The fact remains however, that while I have the utmost respect for Sir Stirling Moss and all that he has achieved, his opinions on the suitability of women to drive Formula 1 cars in the modern era is really rather inconsequential.

Far more relevant, in my eyes, is what the modern generation of drivers think about the matter. Jenson Button grew up racing alongside Danica Patrick. Why don’t we hear from someone in NASCAR, or Indycar who Danica’s been racing against these last few years? And in today’s junior formulas, there are numerous girls (for many are not yet women) racing alongside boys. Are their opinions not more relevant here than those of a man who last raced an F1 car over 50 years ago?

Last year in Barcelona, I spoke with the now Red Bull Racing reserve driver Antonio Felix da Costa about the GP3 season which lay ahead of him. We talked about the drivers he expected to challenge.

“Don’t forget Alice Powell either,” he said at the end of the conversation. “She’s won a championship, and not many people can claim to have done that. She’s a proper racer. We’re all aware of that.”

The dated opinions of the past generations on topics such as this should be left where they belong: in the past. Dragging them up for a quick headline surely stands to do the issue of gender equality in racing more harm than good, merely serving to remind people of an antiquated view which is no longer representative of the modern face of racing, whilst also serving to take a cheap shot at a legend of this sport.

A bit of perspective is needed here. Stirling’s was not it. And it was never going to be.

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23 thoughts on “Crumpet-gate

  1. Yes, Sir Stirling Moss’ comments were just silly, but while we are all lambasting the chap, one must also congratulate the BBC for creating a minor storm in order to promote a radio show about women in F1 that went out last night. Kudos.

    As an aside, these folks in the cars are racing drivers. I do not call them ‘racing men’ or ‘racing women’, I call then racing drivers. When their helmets and firesuits (etc) are on and they have been strapped into their cars, it is often very difficult (if not impossible) to tell their gender.

    Meanwhile if a driver wins, then brilliant – they win irrespective of their gender. If they don’t, then the chances are they will go unnoticed in the grand scheme of things.

    Me? I just like watching top drivers race. Everything else is just a detail to fill out the story.

  2. If Stirling is so wrong, why aren’t there many more female top-level drivers? Sure, motor racing is a sport with a wider appeal to men in the main, but with talent (and the obvious extra marketting potential of being a lday in a ‘man’s’ sport) there’s no reason for good drivers to reach a high level.

    As with all these media ‘storms’, one doesn’t know what was cut, what was said, how the interviewee was primed, etc., just the comment used. As you say, why ask Stirling unless they wanted such a response?

    Maybe he was thinking of Susie Woolf directly? Here’s someone who for years managed to be pretty much stone last in virtaully every DTM race she contested, then married her team boss, who becomes a shareholder of Williams F1, and lo, it does come to pass, she becomes the team’s test driver. Now call me a cycnic, but…

    There’s been plenty of ridiculous talk about pay drivers in F1 recently, but overall, talent will out. With one or two exceptions in recent history, we haven’t seen any female drivers at a high enough level to suceed.

    Motorsport is like a very steep-sided pyramid, only the very best get to the top – the numbers of female drivers makes it very unlikely we’ll see one get into F1 soon.

    • Ian,
      There is quite a good number of girls in karting, but the drop-off when it comes to cars is spectacular.
      In a nutshell, it often comes down to a lack of sponsorship, family intervention, bog standard sexism in the lower reaches and in some instances social pressures as well as a number of other reasons, etc…

      Of course, it goes much further than that and is a rather complex situation, but right now time is not my best friend. Maybe a bit later.

    • Bit harsh on Susie Wolff. She was a long way from last in most of her races. She was often in the top 50% in two year old machinery and beat those in the same age of cars several times.

      You don’t get BRDC awards for running around at the back of the field you know….

  3. “He is, however, 83 years old and harks from a very different time to the modern era.”

    Would you extend the same logic to someone who still refers to people of certain ethnicities by terms we now consider deplorable, but which in ‘a very different time’ were viewed as acceptable? It’s the same principle. Moss’ inability to move with the times should be condemned, or perhaps just ignored, but certainly not celebrated.

    • I believe you missed Will’s point in his argument. It’s not that we should give old Mr. Moss a pass for his out-dated view of the world – the point is that Stirling’s opinion doesn’t matter at all. Whatever it is.

  4. I find that female drivers in this century has excelled through Danica Patrick, she has won an indycar race in japan and took pole in Daytona in NASCAR this year, and what about Susie Wolff she got from DTM to Formula One Williams development Driver, but I think female who wanted to go racing needs to think again in terms of last years accident of Maria De Violetta.

    • Susie Wolff is not good for the Women in Motorsport cause. She is not there on merit. She is most likely there as a PR exercise as she’s a woman and because of her relationship with Toto Wolff.

      When women get into F1, because they’re women and because they know the right people, it’s not a good thing.

      • Williams are very rigorous in terms of who they employ. Frank Williams doesn’t want useless people in his team, and he is the least likely person to hire someone for PR reasons. Remember, this is the guy who let both Mansell and Hill go after winning world championships because he was able to sign drivers who he considered to be even better. I’d also suggest Susie knows a hell of a lot more about a racing car than you ever will. But prove me wrong by getting a Williams drive.

    • I also find that the accident of Maria’s was not because of her sex but of a eye level visual which could have happend to anyone, she just happened to be it.

  5. Will,

    I totally agree. This was all because the bbc wanted to drum up some interest for a program. They do it all the time with an apparent ‘news’ story with a link to a program at the bottom scheduled to discuss the issue.

    As for sir Stirling, I am not surprised about his comments, but then we have let him get away for years making comments about how F1 is too safe, and that there is not enough danger or risk in the sport anymore. To me these comments are just as wrong and offensive.

  6. The irony of bringing AFdC into this is his behaviour on twitter during the race where Danica was on pole, alongside several of his fellow young drivers which shows these attitudes are not part of a long distant past.

    (Although without it, I guess we would have been left without Vicky Piria’s entertaining defence, which would have been a shame)

  7. It’s never a good idea to make a general statement about a group of people. We will continue to fight for our rights and opportunities. We fought for 50 years to get men to give us the right to vote. So let’s not talk about the mental abilities of a group of people because I could rail on with this one.

  8. The irony of the matter is that most likely the first modern day woman to drive in F1 will be there not because she is good enough – but because of cash and the marketing opportunity. So all opinions on this matter appear a little hypothetical.

    At least no one is able to cry ‘sex discrimination’ at present because talent is no longer the pre-requisite to get one’s sexy or otherwise ass into an F1 seat.

    Personally I can’t wait to hear Crofty or Ben Edwards calling the pole sitter in the standard commentators’ – ‘immediately after the moment voice’ – which is shrill, high pitched, enthusiastic and yelling at us…”IN..CRED..I…BLE… You are watching hisit…ory folks as…. WOLFF takes pole from Vettel by the tiniest amount…. 0.001s ….in the Tena Lady McLAren….”

  9. Good show, Will. There’s definite a temporal disconnect between Moss’s era and the current one. There are lots of fast women out there who will silence the naysayers. My first racing love was drag racing, where women have been quite successful for a number of decades.

    Change can be maddeningly slow. F1 will get there eventually.

  10. Will – My first thought was, indeed: “How the heck did this even come up in the course of anything?” It was apparent that he’d been essentially set-up: whomever was gathering quotes knew exactly what they were going to get. Fish in a barrel, right?

    1. Everybody who’s half-interested in this story (as much value has it has, or doesn’t have) should watch an episode of Louis CK’s show, “Louis”, called “Country Drive”. There’s a moment in the episode where an elderly relative uses a rather inappropriate term for a brazil nut. CK is basically asking: What should we do? Scream at the racist aunt? Is she even racist? How do un-do 70 years, as you ask, 70 years of conditioning?

    2. All of the above considered and acknowledged – heck, I even agree with you, Will: What Moss thinks is so inconsequential, it’s laughable – Moss does seem to have his wits about him. Enough so, at least, that he should know when someone approaches him with microphone, asking about birds being in F1, that he should pull a Kimi and just say, “Ah, we were just talking about the tyres.”

  11. It’s Stirling Moss, one who has forgotten more about Grand Prix Racing than most will ever know. From HIS perspective he feels that Women can not cut it. He was honest he spoke his mind. Something sportsmen and women could learn from.

    Besides the BBC has a fetish for tearing down Heroes or successful athletes. I expected nothing less. It was bad form to ask that question from somebody who raced in a world of different values. But based on Danica Patrick’s record Sir Stirling might not be wrong.

  12. I bet you a pound to a penny that Alice Powell or Susie Wolff wouln’t have shoved their Sauber up the arse end of the Force India last weekend like Gutierrez did.
    What’s more maybe if Bernie helped sponsor some girl through the lower formulae then we could find out what they could do in F1.

  13. So can anyone give an opinion on why there are no women F1 drivers, WRC rally drivers or premiership footballers without their answer being considered sexist or outdated. There must be a reason and Sterling has just given his opinion. If he’s wrong, then what’s the right answer, or are we not allowed to profer one to placate the PC brigade?

  14. Well, successful female racing drivers are a rare breed, aren’t they? Why is that? As a gender, are they not interested enough? Not aggressive enough? Just not good enough for the top levels for whatever reason? I don’t know, but the fact remains – in the history of racing – there haven’t been many of them… Danica keeps coming up in these discussions. I suppose she’s a decent driver, but other than publicity, she hasn’t exactly set the racing world on fire with her talent.

  15. Will, beautifully written and to the point as usual. As a parent of a girl karter here in the colonies. I think it is only a matter of time and more importantly odds before we see a woman in F1. We have been racing for over 8 years and in classes of eighty plus kids there are usually less than three girls…I think it’s a matter of numbers, sponsorship and attrition. While lots of people’s attitudes have changed there are still a lot of dads that don’t like seeing their son losing to a girl.

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