Race start, Silverstone, 2023

The “unacceptable” oversight in F1’s rule book which may finally be changing

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Formula 1 prides itself on being the highest level of world motorsport. But on the matter of inclusivity and diversity, it has fallen behind other prominent racing series.

Motorsport stands out among many other international sporting competitions because it allows different genders to compete together. Nonetheless, it is a male-dominated sport, and even the FIA’s own regulations do not reflect the open nature of competition in F1 and elsewhere.

For many years, the same has been true in national-level motorsport in the UK. However Motorsport UK, the governing body for all four-wheel racing in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is making a change. The body which regulates Britain’s national touring car, rally and GT championships among many other series are updating their regulations to recognise the fact many participants, team personnel and officials are not men.

Motorsport UK is replacing gendered language in its rule book, such as ‘he’ or ‘him’, with inclusive terms like ‘driver’ or ‘competitor’. It has spent two years rewriting its ‘blue book’ – an overarching dossier that forms the regulatory basis of all British motorsport – and from next year, they will remove any gendered language from their documents.

Motorsport has done a “very poor job” of attracting female participants – Chambers
Motorsport UK CEO Hugh Chambers said this will be a big step forward to make racing more inclusive in the UK. “We are completely rewriting our rulebook,” he said in response to a question from RaceFans. “It’s about 264 pages and is regarded worldwide as being the best version of national competition rules, but it’s iterated over the last 100 years.

“We’re going through this huge exercise at the moment to simplify it and to make it more comprehensible. And one of the key tasks in that is to remove the ‘he’s and the ‘him’s and to absolutely make it inclusive.

“One of the extraordinary things about motorsport is that it is completely gender neutral. We have, as an industry, done a very poor job of capitalising on that as an opportunity – so only 5% of our [racing] licence holders are female.

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“We have more in other areas – in our officials and our volunteers, there is a greater proportion – and it varies between different disciplines. But we’re painfully aware that we’ve done a lousy job of making it more welcoming and more accessible to girls and females.”

Katherine Legge, RLL, Indianapolis, 2023
IndyCar’s rule book addresses its female and male racers
The same cannot be said of motorsport’s highest levels of competition, however. The current sporting regulations for all six of the FIA’s world championships – F1, Formula E, World Endurance Championship, World Rally Championship, World Rally Cross and World Rally-Raid – all contain multiple examples of gendered language referring to drivers or team personnel exclusively as male.

Strikingly, WEC’s regulations refer to its competitors as “he” despite many women having raced in the series and at Le Mans over many decades, including the recent notable example of the all-female team Iron Dames which was a podium contender at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours.

The same is also true for junior categories. Formula 2’s regulations also only refer to men, despite Tatiana Calderon having raced in the championship last year. Sophia Floersch currently competes in Formula 3 that runs using a set of regulations that fails to refer to her gender whatsoever.

Motorsport UK’s efforts to become more inclusive brings them in line with IndyCar – which works closely with the FIA but remains independent of its governance – and the governing body of motorcycle racing the FIM, which runs the MotoGP world championship. Both IndyCar and MotoGP are gender neutral in their own regulations, using language such as “competitors” or “riders”.

Inclusion matters, especially for those drivers who work just as hard and are every bit as committed as their male rivals. One female racing driver – who did not wish to be identified – told RaceFans her experience of male exclusive language in her career left her feeling like an outsider in her own sport.

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“I remember when I was much younger being in a driver’s briefing and people saying ‘guys’ and ‘boys,’” she began. “Back then there weren’t many girls driving anyway – but you’d standing there feeling like you wanted to say: ‘Hello! I am here…’

Motorsport UK is encouraging more grassroots female participation
“I wanted to raise my hand and say ‘I’m not a boy’. But I came to accept it because there were not many girls in the paddock anyway.

“I didn’t do anything about it, but if you stopped on track or had an incident or whatever, you could hear those around you saying ‘is he alright?’, even though it was written on my helmet what my name was. And it happened to be in bright pink.

“It’s those small things. And added with the gendered rulebook, it didn’t help.”

When asked by RaceFans, the FIA said they intend to update the championship regulations in Formula 1 and the International Sporting Code but have not indicated when this will take place.

They added that the FIA’s Statues do state that “terms referring to natural persons are applicable to both genders”, which had been added recently to be more inclusive. Additionally the “topic is currently under internal review”. At the moment, however, any woman or non-binary individual looking to get into the sport has already found their first obstacle – a simple copy-and-paste.

Chambers said he welcomes the planned change by the FIA. “It’s unacceptable,” he said. “And we absolutely put pressure on anybody that we come across within the motorsport world that is not absolutely providing full inclusivity and appropriate language.

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“It’s something that we will call out. Absolutely.”

Wolff is the last woman to participate in an official F1 session
As well as changing the ‘blue book,’ Motorsport UK are committed to bringing more young girls into the sport and are already working on this with F1. It has created the F1 Academy ‘Discover your Drive’ karting initiative which was announced last month.

“That’s something that Susie [Wolff] and David [Richards] and I have been working on for the last couple of years, which is to create an opportunity for eight-to-12-year-old girls to come into the sport and indoor karting,” said Chambers.

The project already has the backing of Ferrari. “They’re very clear that we need to get more in at the base of the pyramid. The base of the pyramid is eight-to-12-year-olds and the place that we’ve identified that we can do that is in indoor karting.”

Removing gendered language is not only important for those who identify as female, but it allows those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and non-gendered people to feel included.

“We have, I think, made a lot of progress on the whole equality, diversity and inclusion front,” said Chambers. “We have a structure drawn from the community on LGBTQ+ and we have Richard Morris who runs Racing Pride involved and I think that they are doing a fantastic job.

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“We’ve got Disability and Accessibility Committee headed by Natalie McGloin. We have racial diversity and we also have Women in Motorsport, so we have dedicated individuals within our organisation, but then drawn from the volunteers and those committees, focussed on those subject areas. We are strategically really focussed on inclusivity.”

The F1 rulebook has been through many changes in recent years, and a simple change which would make a meaningful difference to diversity and inclusion is not too much to ask for. It begs the question why it was not done much sooner. Susie Wolff made her F1 practice debut nine years ago for Williams with the regulations referring to drivers as ‘he’ throughout. At that time, both Williams and rivals Sauber were run by women – Claire Williams and Monisha Kaltenborn respectively.

Historically, few women have raced in F1. This is something all involved in running the series say they want to change. But until F1’s own rules and regulations become inclusive of women, how can they believe they will be taken seriously in the sport?

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Author information

Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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32 comments on “The “unacceptable” oversight in F1’s rule book which may finally be changing”

  1. Good, rules should be written to include every person potentially competing under them.

    1. Exactly

  2. Coventry Climax
    12th July 2023, 12:48

    Great. That’s as it should be.
    It’s typical for the FIA to fail to recognise and prioritise it’s shortcomings, even downplaying them by saying they have a clause about how their words should be read. That’s like yet another technical directive, while there’s nothing technical about this at all, it’s about decency.

  3. OK – it needed doing, but taking 2 years to rewrite the blue book – wow!

    1. notagrumpyfan
      12th July 2023, 14:27


    2. notagrumpyfan
      12th July 2023, 15:03

      [find], [replace all]

  4. I luv chciken
    12th July 2023, 14:19

    But…. What about grid girls?

    1. Only when they’re dressed like NFL cheerleaders. Then it’s cool.

      1. MichaelN,
        Mate, be careful you might get cancelled :)

        1. I’m just trying to toe the party line here! Everyone enjoyed those Miami cheerleaders cheering the drivers on… right? Should be fun to see what kind of ‘these are definitely not grid girls wink wink’ they come up with in Las Vegas.

          But on a more serious note, it should be an easy change in both French and English to have the rules account for both men and women. They already apply to both anyway, but it’s a small and easy change to make everyone happy.

          1. Gavin Campbell
            12th July 2023, 21:04

            In English yes – French they’ll need to double gender because even inanimate objects are given a gender for…erm…. Tradition?

            Interestingly French speakers have been adding Gendered terms not removing them. For example the feminine version of a lot of jobs means that persons wife not a female who does the same job.

            Also it does seem strange that motorsport would take so long to re-write these terms. He/him is really a old fashioned/lazy term for driver/competitor as it’s a non-gendered sport.

  5. notagrumpyfan
    12th July 2023, 14:26

    As this is a global/general topic, it would be much easier to accept the current male forms as a gender neutral version (like in mankind), and let the male gender come up with new words.
    man (neutral), woman (female), heman (male)
    actor (neutral), actress (female), actrix (male)
    he (neutral), she (female), ho (male)
    his (neutral), hers (female), hos (male)
    headmaster (neutral), headmistress (female), headyman (male)
    prince (neutral), princess (female), princess (male)
    hero (neutral), heroin (female), cocaine (male)

    1. I, for one, welcome the idea of being referred as “heman”.

      But I also refuse to be referred as “ho”.

      1. i luv chicken
        12th July 2023, 16:27

        I ain’t no ” ho”.

    2. I can see your point. Many people already use male forms as gender neutral terms: e.g. “Guys” to address everyone present, not just the males.

      The problem is that, while they are used as such in certain circumstances, they are known to be male terms. You can’t just say “these terms are now gender neutral” because the perception doesn’t just change. If you started calling a woman “he”, they would get upset because you can’t dictate the meaning of a word like that. It’s like you couldn’t just say that the N word referred to all races and just start using it everywhere.

    3. Coventry Climax
      12th July 2023, 23:37

      Why have male and female versions of these words at all? The point is that the gender doesn’t matter, so a neutral version only should be enough.
      Like the french though, the portuguese will have a problem, as everything is either male or female and neutral simply does not exist in portuguese. For a group of males, there’s a male form of ‘they’, for a group of females there’s a feminine form. But when the group is mixed, they use the male form again.
      There’s female/male forms of adjectives and articles and other types of words. Sometimes in a sentence, when the subject changes from male to female, every word in the sentence changes to its corresponding form.
      Portuguese is a ridiculously difficult language and solving this won’t be easy.
      Maybe they should just ditch their language and switch to english? ;-)

      1. All languages have their issues, but French is sometimes amazingly stupid – the word for vagina in French is masculine, le vagin.

    4. it would be much easier to accept the current male forms as a gender neutral version

      Why re-invent the wheel?
      Thee, thou, they should have you thinking on the right lines.

      “They” for example being non-gender and non-unitary specific.
      Is somewhere over a thousand years use enough to bed it in?

    5. Johnny Five
      15th July 2023, 13:08

      Actrix? Wasn’t he/ho a Gaul?

  6. Woperchild

    (I think the rewording was a good idea)

  7. This already exists. Wereman is old English for male person. Werewolf is a remainder of this, being a male wolf.

  8. Another headline that apparently required an article…
    Possibly one of the least important subjects in motorsport ever – packaged in one of the longest articles.

    It is totally acceptable, by the way.

  9. it’s worth noting karting has had a female FIA World Champion with Susanna Raganelli, and multiple top level drivers throughout its history e.g Lotta Helberg, Mary Hix etc… The person leading the only CIK class in the UK in the British Championship is Ella Stevens. So women are taken seriously, this needs to be emphasised. I think it’s very important when talking about getting women into karting that these things are detailed as it does an injustice to the sport. An obsession with F1 clouds a lot of the discussion. We should be talking about the success of sports like karting.

    The reason Motorsport UK is talking about indoor karting is because they’ve done a pretty poor job with their stewardship of owner driver karting. It’s become more exclusive than ever, and having some indoor programs will enable them to say “we’ve got x number of girls in kart”. The reality is that means nothing if their parents aren’t going to invest in the sport properly. And we’re talking children here. Karting is for everyone. We don’t just need kids racing, we need adult women spending their own money too. Karting’s focus on this F1 thing has only meant is has inflated prices and become more exclusive than ever. These are the details quite often missed in this discussion.

    So really the MSA have pivoted to talking about indoor karting, and this is a good way to hide their failures with karting in general. Failures which have allowed the growth of IKR. They’ve lost several notable kart clubs to the independent kart racing movement. Rye House, Hamilton’s home track, doesn’t run Motorsport UK meetings. Nigel Mansell’s club is now IKR.

    Like for like licence figures for karting since 1996 have dropped by around 50%. There is a lot of discontent towards Motorsport UK. This talk of inclusivity is very hollow. Sticking a few kids in indoor karts on the cheap will make very little difference to the type of karting the produces ‘top-talent’.

    1. Always good to get some insights from the world of karting. That’s where most aspiring racers start and end their careers, and if motorsport wants to attract a more varied cast of characters it needs to create more opportunities where it matters most.

      A proper tax on all World Championship series can substantially reduce costs further down the ranks, and help the careers of untold numbers of kids who don’t have rich parents, dad’s with connections, or the luck to be singled out for early support.

  10. Mark Tucker
    13th July 2023, 14:56

    LOL “unacceptable”. I mean its good that its being changed but is it really that bad? Ive literally never heard anyone complain about it.

    1. LOL “unacceptable”. I mean its good that its being changed but is it really that bad? Ive literally never heard anyone complain about it.

      Well, if I was of an age to want to take up racing it wouldn’t bother me – but then I’m male.
      If my wife was looking, the comment would be, “can’t they just change the gender-specific to non-gender-specific?”

      So easy to do, so little effort required to do it, but the motorsport set up went with so little effort done on it.
      As people have already pointed out, pick your gender term, pick the replacement, run search and replace.

      OK, they are talking about a rule book that came through many iterations and that needs other changes.
      In this exercise, update iteration 1 is a 5-minute search/replace and then a proofreading session.

      If the people concerned spent less time thinking of reasons that the change process will be difficult and more of that time on actually doing the simpler parts, they would be immersed in the document and understand what other bits need to change and how to change them.

      1. So easy to do, so little effort required to do it, but the motorsport set up went with so little effort done on it.

        And they have done that simply because it is of so little importance and so few people care about it.
        It’s not actually worth the time spent to change it, and nobody (who is even remotely sensible) sees it as a personal affront – because it is intentionally designed to be impersonal.

  11. As an aside, the tangent about Susie Wolff is perhaps not the best lead in to the prompt “how can they believe they will be taken seriously in the sport”.

    Aside from one decent season in regional Formula Renault, Wolf’s career is one of ending up near the bottom of the standings. Under post-Verstappen rules, she’d never have been even near getting a superlicense.

    That she did her FP run at Williams, which was partly owned by her husband and was supplied engines by Mercedes, whose F1 team her husband ran, was a much bigger reason for the endeavour to be seen as a bit of a gimmick that the fact she was addressed as he by the rules.

    It’s also a bit of a disservice to the many women in other categories who have achieved much more.

    1. Common sense has no place in this discussion.

      1. Common sense has no place in this discussion.

        Oh, sorry, I already suggested that multiple iterations of change, with gender term replacement (search/replace) just being the first.

    2. As an aside, the tangent about Susie Wolff is perhaps not the best lead in to the prompt “how can they believe they will be taken seriously in the sport”.

      When a journalist tries to get a point over, they find it works best when they use a name that people know, rather than someone who may actually have done a better job but is much less known.

  12. Changing the language = good
    Virtue signaling that they are changing the language = bad

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