According to the results of an online personality test I took a few weeks ago, I am 100 percent male and zero percent female.
My chromosomes would beg to differ.
But my apparently male characteristics – a penchant for obscenity, extreme competitiveness, and a collection of filthy jokes – might explain why I’ve yet to feel at a disadvantage for wearing heels in the paddock.
The accepted wisdom is that women don’t get equal treatment in Formula 1. We’re relegated to the roles of PR, grid girl, or girlfriend, and not accepted as journalists, drivers, or engineers.
That myth (which may have been true at some point) seems to have arisen from Beverley Turner’s book The Pits, an account of the ex-ITV reporter’s life in the F1 circus.
But times have changed since Turner last made her way through the paddock security gates, and my experience of life in F1 is no different to the experience of anyone else just finding their feet in this most competitive of environments, irrespective of their gender.
Sure, I had to spend most of my first season answering questions about which driver I fancied, and who I thought had the sexiest bottom. (The answer to both? None. Not interested in the drivers in that way.)
And – like all the other newbies – I had to prove my worth, to demonstrate that I had as much passion for this sport as anyone else in the paddock. Once my colleagues had established that I saw more beauty in the closing laps of the 1979 French Grand Prix than I did in Jaime Alguersuari’s eyes, I was treated no differently to anyone else.
Except for one small thing, that is…
However high the heels I’m wearing, and no matter how clingy my dress, I am referred to as a chap, or one of the boys. They might say ladies and gentlemen in the press conferences, or at the driver media calls, but in the press room itself we’re all boys.
In this sport, to be accepted as one of the boys is a high compliment, and I wear my chap-hood with pride.
Which isn’t to say that a little bit of femininity doesn’t go a long way.
When I first started out in F1, I made a point of dressing down. At the ripe old age of 28, I bought the first pair of jeans and (non-sporting) trainers I’d ever owned. I wore button-down shirts, no jewellery, and the barest of make-up.
As a highly respected male journalist told me last season, “you’ve got balls as big as I do – you just wear them slightly higher up”.
With no experience of life inside the paddock, I’d assumed that in order to be taken seriously in a sport outsiders perceive as an all-male bastion I would need to strip away all external signs of girlhood.
It didn’t hurt, but it didn’t really help much either.
As the years have progressed, I’ve become more confident in my presentation. Now in my third season, I wear the pencil skirts and high heels that have always been my trademark in the real world.
If anything, I now find it easier to secure interviews than I did when presenting myself as gender-neutral. No one in the paddock has been taken aback by the fact that a girl is choosing to dress in a feminine manner, and no one has treated me any differently.
Well, aside from the oh-so-funny jokes about my tyre choice on any given weekend…
Where I do find myself at a disadvantage in F1 is in my status as an online journalist. While I sell stories to a range of serious outlets (often without a byline), I regularly hear PRs telling drivers not to worry about being interviewed by me.
“She’s only a blogger,” they’ll say. “Don’t expect anything too difficult.”
Which is why I am now earning a reputation for asking difficult questions. Remember that competitiveness I mentioned earlier? If you denigrate my efforts and assume I’m not serious, you’re only motivating me to change your mind.
Because one thing everyone in this paddock has in common is that we’re fighters. Whether you’re manning the press room, changing the tyres, or looking after a driver’s media commitments, you’ve earned your right to be here.
No one is parachuted into Formula 1. This is the top tier of international single-seater motorsport and it takes a lot of effort to make it through those security gates (and just as much effort to stay in). Quivering daisies need not apply – this a sport for the bloody-minded, the hungry, and the passionate.
If you possess those qualities, there’s not a person in here who cares what you’ve got between your legs. All that matters is that you’ve got balls.
As a highly respected male journalist told me last season, “you’ve got balls as big as I do – you just wear them slightly higher up”. It was the highlight of my year.