The Women in Motorsport Commission is a big priority for the FIA as they seek to make the sport more accessible and diverse. But is there really a glass ceiling? Attracting more women into motorsport doesn’t seem to be an issue. The female fanbase is growing exponentially. The NMA has more students identifying as female than male on the MA Business of Motorsport degree and the number of women applying for the Motorsport Engineering degrees increases each year.
The lack of female drivers in F1 tends to dominate the conversation whenever the topic of women in motorsport is raised but if you look outside of that one series, you’ll find lots of girls taking on the lads and winning. Outside of driving, there are thousands of unsung female heroes working in motorsport right now in engineering, operational, managerial and admin roles. So, we thought we’d highlight the trailblazers in the industry – the women who can inspire the next generation to succeed in this historically male dominated industry.
Read on for five women who successfully smashed motorsport’s glass ceiling –
Deborah Mayer – President of the Women in Motorsport Commission
Many people may not recognise Deborah Mayer’s name, but she is now officially the most influential woman in motorsport. In February this year, it was announced that Mayer would take over from legend and pioneer Michéle Mouton as President of the FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission. Big shoes to fill after Mouton’s 12 years at the helm.
Fellow French woman and entrepreneur Mayer co-founded Iron Lynx Motorsport Lab, a racing team, racing academy and events agency based in Italy. This follows on from mixed success racing in GT3. Mayer’s true passion lies with getting more women involved in motorsport and her Iron Dames team competed alongside men in seven top-level races in 2021, including the European Le Mans Series, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Michelin Le Mans Cup, the Ferrari Challenge, the GT World Challenge Europe, the Italian Formula 4 Championship and, for the first time ever, the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Watch this space as she helps FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem achieve objective of creating a more diverse and inclusive landscape in motorsport.
Jill Gregory – NASCAR / Sonoma Raceway
Jill Gregory gave NASCAR a jump-start and turned it from an old-boys club into a marketeer’s dream. In 2007, Gregory moved from the financial sector into sports marketing and over the next ten years worked to build NASCAR into a global brand. Embracing the relatively new tool of social media, Jill Gregory was responsible for some of the most memorable NASCAR marketing campaigns for decades, culminating in Ready. Set. Race. – a campaign which generated the highest volume of NASCAR related social media conversation on record. Gregory’s main aim was to bring on board a younger and more diverse audience and get them actively engaged and involved in the brand.
Jill’s career at NASCAR culminated in the joint roles of Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing and Content Officer and up until her departure in 2021, she was known as one of the most influential women in motorsport.
In an interview with Marie Claire in 2014, Gregory had a great tip for anyone looking to get a leg up the career ladder –
“I’d been working at the sports marketing agency of record for Visa, which was also the official credit card of NASCAR, when I met Steve Phelps [NASCAR’s chief marketing officer], who was then at the NFL. Years later, I ran into him, and he was hiring for a position at NASCAR. He was like, “Hey, you know what? I was thinking of you for this position.” Maintain relationships and contacts! They will serve you well throughout your career.”
Jill Gregory is now Executive Vice-President of the famed Sonoma Raceway in her home state of California.
Catherine Bond Muir – W Series & Motorsport UK
Catherine Bond Muir is on a mission. A mission to end the 45 year wait for a female presence on the F1 grid. And with a stellar business career already behind her, we have no doubt she’ll succeed.
The founder of the W Series has a long history of facilitating some pretty big business moves, such as the sales of Chelsea Football Club and Aston Villa FC, so she’s no slouch when it comes to negotiating. A former intellectual property solicitor turned sports lawyer, Catherine Bond Muir came up with the idea for W Series when she was on a career break following the birth of her son. Having seen women go from strength to strength in almost all other sporting activities, Catherine saw the opportunities for women in motorsport dwindling to almost nothing.
Starting your own motorsport series is a gutsy business, but in less than 6 years Catherine has taken the W Series from a concept to a big motorsport success.
Catherine’s business acumen and credibility are obviously held in high regard – one single investor provided enough money to get the venture off the ground, with the promise of further support if the series was profitable. In the first year alone, 320 million households watched the W Series and it now goes into its third season, the second running as a support act for the ultimate goal for the girls – Formula 1.
Despite many thinking that the W Series does more harm than good for women’s opportunities in motorsport, the series has become a success in its own right. With big ticket sponsors such as ROKiT, Puma and Hankook and big names such as Caitlyn Jenner and crypto-backed CortDAO getting involved, there’s a buzz about the W Series and it isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
Read more about Catherine’s success with the W Series here in this great article on Forbes.
Susie Wolff – CEO, ROKiT Venturi Formula E Team
Everyone in this industry knows the name Susie Wolff. She’s one of the most well-respected and well-liked women in motorsport. Her life has revolved around one form of motorsport or another almost since birth when her Dad, John Stoddart, raced bikes competitively. Unlike most of the other ladies on our list, Susie has been up there with the big boys of motorsport her entire career.
Starting out, like many professional racing drivers (on the karting scene) Susie proved she could match the boys of Formula Renault, Formula 3 and DTM. She later went on to make history as the first woman to take part in a Formula 1 race for over 22 years when she participated in a practice session for Williams at the 2014 British Grand Prix. Since her retirement from racing in 2016, Susie Wolff has been busy.
Combining her passion for promoting opportunities for women in motorsport with her business skills, Wolff launched Dare to be Different in 2016. This venture merged with the FIA’s Girls on Track in 2019 and now forms part of a wider collaboration with the FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission to encourage more females to consider a career in the industry. It’s not just about driving either. This grassroots organisation promotes the importance of STEM subjects in the hope of getting more women into engineering roles.
Wolff also took up the position of Team Principal with ROKiT Venturi Racing in 2018 and has proved herself a force to be reckoned with. In three years, she took the struggling team to within 7 points of winning the Formula E Drivers’ World Championship. After making ROKiT Venturi Racing into a commercially viable and race-winning team, Wolff now holds the position of CEO.
Stephanie Tindall – PR & Commercial Manager, Carlin
Stephanie Tindall’s name may not immediately spring to mind when you think of the most influential women in motorsport, but she certainly deserves a place on our list. Steph is Public Relations and Commercial Manager of Carlin – one of the biggest success stories in British motorsport.
Carlin boast that they are the ‘most successful team in British motorsport’ and given their long list of accolades it’s hard to argue. They have nine British F3 titles to their name, three titles in Formula Renault 3.5, two titles in the GP3 Series, six titles in British F4 and over 400 race wins and 1000 podiums across numerous championships. Carlin has also become well known for bringing through some of the best drivers in the world including Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg, Daniel Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne, Max Chilton, George Russell, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Lando Norris.
Stephanie started with a degree in politics and then transferred to PR and communications with roles at A1 Grand Prix and Hyundai before helping husband Trevor build the behemoth that is Carlin. Carlin competes in 8 different championships and sometimes run up to 15 cars. Steph Tindall is responsible for contracts, negotiations, sponsorship and all team communications so that’s like juggling 15 different plates in 8 different places.
Stephanie seems to like to stay out of the limelight but is a great advocate for encouraging more women into motorsport.
“I’m proud of the environment that we’ve created at Carlin which allows women to move up to the highest levels of management and not only exist there, but really grow and thrive.”
The Elephant in the Room
There are thousands of women in motorsport who deserve to be celebrated. Not for being women, but for doing their jobs well. There are drivers, engineers, logistics coordinators, marketing staff, events staff – all of whom thrive in this amazing industry. The majority of them barely notice they are even in a minority.
As more women are employed in positions of power and influence, the more diverse the industry becomes. Looking at the rate of applications being received for the MA Business of Motorsport and BSc Motorsport Engineering, it won’t be long until the Women in Motorsport Commission becomes unnecessary and obsolete. But until then – no matter your gender – if you have a passion for this great industry don’t let anything get in your way!