- The 2018 Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix takes place on December 15th.
- The additional test session was encouraged by the local promoter.
- Saudi Arabia lifted a ban on women drivers last June.
Formula E is interesting. It’s a good way to advance electric vehicle tech and it keeps us entertained with lots of racing action. Sure, it’s still working out some of the technical kinks, but racing series are always in that position. And now, Formula E has gone and done something very interesting by having seven female racers competing in an open test session in one of the most unlikely of venues: Saudi Arabia.
According to Reuters, at least seven female drivers will take part in the Formula E test on December 16th, the day after the season-opening race on the streets of Ad Diriyah, near Riyadh.
A Different Culture
Saudi Arabia is about as progressive concerning women’s equality as rural Portugal in 1409. We would have said screw these guys ages ago if they weren’t sitting on top of an ocean of our oil, but they are. So we generally turn a blind eye to these fundamentalist creeps literally flogging you, by law, for spending time with the opposite sex, being gay, bringing liqueur chocolates into the country, and driving if you’re a woman.
Wait, scratch that last one. As of a little while ago, women can finally get a driver’s license in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Still, here we are; in a country dependent on the internal combustion engine for its wealth and power that looks at 51 percent of its population as little more than sentient property, now having an electric vehicle race with a whole bunch of women drivers.
The Real Deal
And no, in case you’re feeling contrarian, this is not just some kind of a stunt. And no, these are not some also-ran paid hacks sitting in the cockpit. So in there with the likes of Gary Paffett and Sebastien Buemi and Felipe Massa we see names like, oh, Dutch racer Beitske Visser, IndyCar racer and Formula Atlantic triple winner Katherine Legge and another Indy racer, Simona de Silvestro.
The women confirmed for the Saudi Arabia test include Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an official test driver for the Sauber Formula One team. She will be running for the DS Techeetah team. Visser will be with BMWi Andretti Motorsport, wtih Legge and Jamie Chadwick testing for the Mahindra and NIO teams respectively. Swiss racer de Silvestro will test for Venturi and Spaniard Carmen Jorda for the Nissan e.dams team.
I was in Long Beach when Legge won in Atlantics there. It was her first race ever in the series, and she won right out of the gate. I just happened to be in the paddock with her boss, garrulous Australian Kevin Kalkhoven, when she crossed the line. I thought the guy was going to die from the sheer joy of it all. It’s also worth noting that Legge handles adversity with a disarming level of cool.
Legge Walks Away
In 2006, the rear wing failed on her car going through the kink at Road America at an ungodly velocity. She slammed into the wall and reduced the car down to the bare tub in a fraction of a second, tumbling end over end. She came to rest upside down. When the safety crew righted the tub, she popped out, took off her helmet, shook out her hair, waved to the crowed, and beamed her huge smile.
Then my phone rang.
“Did you see that?”
It was my dad. “Did you see that,” he repeated.
“You watching the IndyCar race,” I asked, rhetorically.
“Yeah, but did you see that?”
“You mean Katherine Legge’s accident just now?”
“Yeah, that! My god, I’ve never seen anything like that! And that was a gal driving – a gal!” [My dad was a touch on the chauvinistic side.] “I thought he-er she was dead! I mean dead. I’ve never seen anything like that! And it was a gal!”
Fast & Furious
Speaking of fast, Simona de Silvestro. When she first raced Indy cars, she seemed to have two modes: Running up front or (literally) on fire. She’s fast, but used to have a tendency toward recklessness of the flaming variety. Seriously, the first three accidents I saw her in ended up with the car on fire. She’d just shrug and walk away, more pissed than anything.
Curiously, there’s also “locals” like Amna Al Qubaisi (from the UAE) running in this Saudi test session on the streets of Ad Diriyah (all FormE races are on street circuits). She was the first Arab woman to qualify for the Formula 4 Championship. “How did you get started in racing?” would be my first question to Mz. Amna Al Qubaisi.
Talk about playing on a tilted field.
New Times Ahead?
This racing business is stacked against women to a sickening extent, even though that is slowly changing. Chauvinistic doesn’t begin to describe it – shoot, women weren’t even allowed to set foot into Gasoline Alley at Indy until 1971! I, for one, am ready to see more women get involved in this sport at all levels. And if it gets a bunch of easily threated whiny little boys all upset, then too bad.
And if it has to start in places as unenlightened as Saudi Arabia, then I’m fine with that too.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle format. Follow his work on Twitter: @TonyBorroz.