One of the downsides of our Formula 1 obsession is the sport, and motorsport in general, was very sexist until recent years.
There simply aren’t very many female success stories amongst drivers. In F1, women drivers are incredibly rare and one has never won a race.
However, in the world of rallying there was the kickass Michèle Mouton. Kickass barely covers it. Bloody hell, what a total legend she is.
Michèle Mouton is the Queen of Speed
This 2021 documentary explores Michèle Mouton’s mighty career.
Born on 23rd June 1951 in the town of Grasse on the French Riviera. She delighted in fast cars from a young age. As she states in the documentary, she was obsessed with them. This passion led to a co-pilot job in rallying (the co-pilots explain the circuit ahead to the driver).
Her friend Jean Taibi asked her to practise the Tour de Corse with him. After this experience, she wanted to try out driving—her father bought her a Alpine-Renault A110 and Mouton debuted at the 1973 run of Rallye Paris Saint-Raphaël Féminin.
She was very bloody fast.
Queen of Speed makes that very clear. We mean, what an awesome documentary right here! For all the constant whining about “the woke” from dim-witted blockheads, here’s an incredibly positive example of why liberal values are so essential.
Mouton shifted to the World Rally Championship for Audi in the early 1980s. The manufacturer employed her as she was a woman (PR boost), but she was so stunningly fast her male peers were alarmed.
And we really need to highlight how intense, dangerous, and pressurising the rallying sport is. It’s popular, but often is lost in the limelight behind F1. The latter remains the pinnacle of motorsport, with good reason.
But rallying isn’t far behind. As a sport, it’s hellishy dangerous. It takes nerves of steel. You need to be a very specific type of person to succeed here.
Mouton turned up and was goddamn fast. Not only that, she was faster than the best. It’s pretty clear she should have won the 1982 rallying championship, with only unreliability from her car blocking that.
Walter Röhrl won it instead. He’s considered one of the best rally drivers in history.
Not that this is a complaint about the documentary, but it has to be structured in the way it is. With just how sexist the world was in the 1980s. You can hear the news reporters back then barely able to grasp the concept Mouton was clearly a genius. They just about are able to make it clear she’s winning rally events and doing well.
But it’s always under the caveat of “The attractive Mouton” and other constant references to her physical appearance.
We must mention Josh Revell’s brilliant YouTube channel here, as he has this excellent episode dedicated to Mouton.
There are women drivers these days. Recently, Danica Patrick in the US was one. But a large part of her involvement there seemed to be about her physical appearance.
As do many other female drivers. They seem to sell themselves on their looks and get drives even if their talent doesn’t deserve it.
Mouton, on the flip side, was just very bloody fast.
It’s unquestionable at this point, she’s up there with the very best. At her peak, she was incredible—steely, determined, smart, and having to deal with the usual sexist bullshit along the way.
And you need to understand just how terrifying rallying is. Spectators are allowed to line the tracks—Queen of Speed shows how fans would stick their hands out to touch the cars, sometimes losing their fingers in the process.
After her brilliant 1982 season, Audi sidelined Mouton and she retired in 1986. She won four rally races, the only woman to ever have done so, picking up nine podiums in the process.
After that, in 1988, she co-founded the famous Race of Champions (ROC) event that still takes place at the end of each year. She also became the president of the FIA’s Women & Motorsport initiative in 2010.
Now 71, she seems content keeping watch of her grandchildren.
But Queen of Speed is a great documentary. Very kickass and hugely enjoyable seeing Mouton prove the rallying world wrong.
It’s on Sky Documentaries and makes a fitting counterpart to the likes of Villeneuve Pironi or the Jackie Stewart documentary. It’s one of those stories the world should know about, but the quite unassuming Mouton isn’t the type to shout out about it.
Recently, we did wonder what it would feel like to have a female racing hero to revere. Sadly, it’s just not happened very much due to the nature of this often macho sport.
But right here was Mouton—the real winner of the 1982 rallying championship. And she was off the charts brilliant.
Women in Motorsport
These days, there are many, many women working in motorsport. F1 is packed out with them, including team bosses (“such as the dead fit Claire Williams of Williams F1 oi oi darlin’! Can I get your number, babe? Oh… why?!”).
There was also Monisha Kaltenborn who ran Sauber between 2010 and 2017.
However, it still is rare to have female drivers in any category.
And when they do crop up, such as with 22 year old Sophia Flörsch, it’s largely because they look nice and all that. On the flip, there’s the likes of Toto Wolff’s wife Susie, who was talented but didn’t really get a shot at higher formulas. Although she did run in F1 race weekend test sessions.
Despite F1’s history of sexism, we do think the sport gets a bad rep for not having women there. We are talking about the most physically demanding sport on Earth.
It’s been described as the most extreme human endeavour outside of going into space or facing war. And we think this is often forgotten. Our Johnny Herbert F1 retrospective highlighted this:
For those who think F1 is “just driving” and anyone could do it, what’s involved with braking is as follows:
- An F1 car can brake at 322km/h for 1.6 seconds to slow to 148k/mh.
This takes only 48 metres.
- That leads to 4.7g deceleration and a force on the brake pedal of 161kg.
- This means F1 drivers have to apply 350 lbs of pressure with one foot when braking through a whole race. And that’s pretty much every single time they brake.
F1’s shift led to the end of the embarrassing relic from the 1970s that was “grid girls”, although the right-wing sect of the fanbase had a bit of a snowflake whine about that.
Otherwise, excellent progress has been made.
But we can’t see a female F1 driver being a reality anytime soon. There are 22 grid slots available and getting those is so difficult it’s on the point of insanity. But we would dearly love to see some exceptional Mouton-esque talent arrive totally deserving of an F1 seat.
Which is the way it should be. And these initiatives F1 has instigated may, hopefully, make it happen.