Matters of moment, August 2015

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Who would you choose to become a member of the Motor Sport Hall of Fame? A great Formula 1 or sports car racing champion? How about a designer or engineer who helped shape an era?

Is there a motorcyclist or rally driver that inspired you and captured your imagination like no other? We need to know – because your votes will decide who next will enter our exclusive club for motor racing’s greatest achievers and most charismatic figures.

We launched the Motor Sport Hall of Fame in 2010 as a means of celebrating and acknowledging the heroes who have shaped racing history. Since that night at the Roundhouse in London, where we announced the original eight founding members and the first four inductees, a total of 29 racing legends have joined the club, the most recent in 2014 being James Hunt, Alain Prost, Ross Brawn and TT star John McGuinness. After a pause for breath in 2015, we’re building a new head of steam to expand the Hall of Fame next year.

But this time it will be different. To date, the team here at Motor Sport has chosen each new member. Sure, we’d consider carefully the thoughts and suggestions of readers, and those of previous inductees too. But ultimately the choices were down to us. Now we have shifted that responsibility on to you, the knowledgeable and loyal readers whom the Hall of Fame should truly represent.

Here’s how it will work.

For the first time, we have created categories for the awards representing the breadth of world motor sport: Formula 1, sports car racing, the US scene, motorcycling and rallying. Our role will be to offer ‘long lists’ of names for each, to be drawn up from what are likely to be lively discussions broadcast as part of our popular series of online audio podcasts. Then it is over to you, to vote via our website on whom from each category should join the club.

To ensure each nomination is considered carefully, we’ll stagger the release of the ‘long lists’ through the rest of this year and into next. First up is Formula 1. We’ll be recording the podcast to decide the nominations in the wake of the British Grand Prix, so keep an eye on the website and social media, listen in, then cast your vote. We’ll release the options for the other categories in similar fashion in the weeks and months to come.

Your choices will be revealed at a Motor Sport Hall of Fame ceremony next year, where for the first time tickets will be available to purchase. We’re still working on a date and venue, but you can be sure it’ll remain in keeping with previous Hall of Fame nights that proved so popular among the great and good of motor racing.

We’re excited by this new era for our exclusive club. Its biggest fault up to now was that it was too exclusive – you, the readers, weren’t invited! Now, through voting and perhaps even joining us on the night, the Motor Sport Hall of Fame will genuinely become inclusive, just as it should be. We hope you enjoy the podcasts – and happy voting.

“Why are those pretty women standing there?” asked my 12-year-old daughter as a victorious Lewis Hamilton pulled into parc fermé at the Canadian Grand Prix. She takes little notice of motor racing, but had there been any chance of Formula 1 piquing her interest, it was snuffed out as soon as I told her the identikit models’ purpose was purely decorative. She wrinkled her nose and went back to her book.

Motor racing doesn’t do itself any favours when it comes to women. I’m no prude, but ‘eye candy’ in a sporting context… it’s so 20th Century. I’m not talking about exploitation here – the young women involved weren’t forced to stand there and I’m sure were delighted to do so. Rather, it’s about what they stand for, the message it broadcasts about motor racing’s attitude to half the world’s population – and a largely untapped audience. It makes no sense.

Happily, there are in 2015 many examples of proper role models in motor racing to inspire girls, as highlighted by a recent discussion hosted at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London. ‘Women in Motorsport Engineering – Beating the Competition’ featured a panel of women who have built respected careers in the sport on equal terms, and on merit.

Leena Gade, race engineer at Audi Sport Team Joest, is the best known following her role in guiding André Lotterer, Benoît Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler to three Le Mans victories in the past five years. She was joined by Bernadette Collins, a former design engineer at McLaren and now a strategist at Force India, and Gemma Hatton, a race engineer at the new Paras Racing British Touring Car Championship team.

The trio spoke eloquently about their jobs and what inspired them. It demonstrated that for all the dated grid girl ‘fluff’, motor racing remains a fantastic, meritocratic industry where motivated, educated, intelligent people can get on, whatever their sex, race or background. Which makes the image misfire even more pronounced.

They were asked about an idea espoused recently by that man with his finger on the pulse, Bernie Ecclestone, who reckons an all-female race series is the best means to promote women in motor sport. “I’m all for equality, but the all-female idea is inequality in the other direction,” said Collins. “There is no reason why women can’t compete with men, as drivers or engineers. It’s a terrible idea.”

Hatton described it as “obvious segregation”, while Gade added “There’s nothing better than beating the guys at the rules they wrote themselves. It’s only as hard as you make it to be a woman in motor sport.”

On the question of the lack of women racing drivers, all agreed that, as Hatton put it, “There isn’t one that’s fast enough for F1”, and that’s unlikely to change until the pool of women racers gets bigger. “That’s down to parents not putting daughters in karts,” said Collins. “It’s an attitude that will take time to change.”

But the female minority in engineering has wider, more important implications. Host Jennie Gow pulled out a statistic that only six per cent of the national engineering workforce is female, with Collins making the point that a serious perception problem lies at its heart.

“So many people don’t know what engineering actually is. They tend to think we go to work in greasy overalls. This country needs to do more to revive the image of engineering.”

“In Germany engineers are regarded as highly as doctors,” said Hatton, as confirmed by Gade, who lives in Ingolstadt. They all agreed this is not a gender-specific problem, too. Alarmingly, engineering is unfashionable as a career choice for boys as well as girls.

The evening was thought provoking and inspiring – particularly for a father of daughters. Motor Sport recorded the discussion and it’s available now on our website as a podcast special. It is well worth an hour of your time.