Monisha Kaltenborn wants to get more women involved in the management of Formula One after becoming the first female team leader in the 62-year history of the world’s most popular motorsport.
Sauber Chief Executive Officer Kaltenborn added team principal to her title in October. She also owns one third of the Swiss team that founder Peter Sauber, 69, bought back from Bayerische Motoren Werke AG three years ago.
While Kaltenborn said she’s not against trackside pit girls helping to promote the sport to a largely male following, she said women should have more opportunities to become F-1 executives.
“That should not hinder us in having women in other positions like on the commercial side and the technical side,” Kaltenborn said in an interview after speaking at the International Football Arena soccer conference in Zurich, near where Sauber is based.
Sauber, whose sole Grand Prix win came in 2008 in Canada, heads to the U.S. Grand Prix on Nov. 18 at a new $450 million track in Austin, Texas, in sixth place in the 12-team constructors’ championship. The race is the 19th on the 20-event calendar, which concludes in Brazil on Nov. 25.
Sauber drivers Sergio Perez, from Mexico, and Kamui Kobayashi are 10th and 11th in the driver standings, with 66 and 58 points respectively. Perez has twice finished second this year, in Malaysia and Italy, and was third in Canada. Kobayashi’s only podium result came last month in his native Japan, where he was third.
This weekend’s Grand Prix will be the first in the U.S. in five years. A second F-1 race scheduled for next year along the waterfront in Weehawken and West New York, across the Hudson River from New York City, was last month postponed until 2014.
Former lawyer Kaltenborn, a 41-year-old Austrian citizen of Indian origin, said ingrained ideas mean it will take time for women to make their mark in the sport.
“One of the other team principals, an elderly gentleman, thought I was his translator,” she said. “He’s from a different generation and, for him, that is his thinking.”
Bernie Ecclestone, an 82-year-old British billionaire who has led F-1 since the 1970s, was criticized in 2005 when speaking about U.S. Indycar racer Danica Patrick when he said “women should be dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances.”
Kaltenborn defended Ecclestone by saying “he’s one of the first ones who’s had women in very high positions within his organization.”
Since the F-1 world championship began in 1950, five women have entered Grand Prix qualifying, with two winning places on the starting grid. The last female driver was Giovanna Amati, who tried and failed to reach the starting line in three Grand Prix races in 1992.
Marussia team test driver Maria de Villota, who lost an eye in an accident in July, told a news conference in Madrid on Oct. 12 that Kaltenborn is a trailblazer in the sport.
“Women need someone to look up to in motor sports,” De Villota said.
It will be “a couple of years” before fans can expect to see a woman in the cockpit, Kaltenborn said.
“How many boys want to become racers?” she said. “And 24 of them from the tens of thousands all over the world make it. So with a handful of girls it will take a while until you get one.”
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