IMPOSTER SYNDROME: CARMEN JORDA AND FORMULA E
I've spent most of this week jet lagged in various ways, between Mexico and the UK and also because I keep waking myself up in a towering rage at things people have said on the internet. This week's water cooler discussion is particularly maddening, as people I'd otherwise respect seem to have gone all Fake News on us.
Before we get too far into it, let's look at
Last weekend, Carmen Jorda drove the Formula E show car for a few laps at the Mexico City EPrix. A re-skinned Season 1 car, with added power steering, it's the vehicle that Thor has also had a go in. And several journalists and a lot of celebrities and to be fair, a few professional drivers.
Off the back of this, which she described as a 'test' although no one else associated has, Jorda was asked if Formula E cars were easier for women to drive than Formula One cars - she said she thought that the physical challenge was more suitable for women and seemed to imply female drivers should aim for Formula E and not Formula One.
Jorda has not held a race seat since 2016, when she completed a fairly dismal season in Renault sports cars. She has never scored a point in an FIA championship, let alone amassed a haul to earn the 20 Super License points for Formula E.
Although some drivers can waive the requirement on the basis they have relevant motorsport experience, it seems unlikely that Jorda's results-free career would point to that. Especially with Formula E teams currently able to pick from virtually any driver they want, massively over-subscribed with interest and with lower-performing drivers under tremendous pressure to score points.
However, Jorda does sit on the FIA's Women's Commission – which is the only possible reason someone who has no experience of driving a current or racing spec Formula E or Formula One car would be asked to compare the two for gendered suitability. Let alone get hundreds of articles written about it.
THE OTHER FACTS
Formula One cars weigh a minimum of 728kg, plus 100kg of fuel at a race start so somewhere around 828kg maximum total - although they have mechanical power steering, high downforce carries extreme speeds into corners meaning that drivers experience between 3-5g during a Grand Prix. There is no question that the racing is intensely physical, requiring high levels of physical fitness.
Two women have driven a recent Formula One car, one of whom did so during a Grand Prix weekend.
Formula E cars weigh a minimum of 880kg, with no reduction during a race as fuel weight is not burnt off. Without power steering and with very little downforce, the entire weight - and any counter-force on cornering - of the car must be controlled over a bumpy street circuit by the driver's strength alone, especially trying under fiddly regenerative braking. Taking place over a single day, an EPrix requires a driver to participate in all practice, qualifying and race sessions with no pause greater than three hours between them and, for the rest of this season, to complete a timed car swap during the race.
Three women have raced in Formula E and a further two have driven a race-specification car during private filming or testing.
Despite differences, it seems extremely unlikely that any competitive Formula E driver would face a physical barrier to driving a Formula One car - especially as several of them either have or do; Oliver Turvey shares duties between his NIO drive and a testing role with McLaren. In particular, the woman who has driven the most races in Formula E is one of the same women who has driven a recent Formula One car.
For some reason no one has, to my knowledge, asked Simona de Silvestro whether she thought Formula E was easier for women to drive than Formula One.
One of these women has driven a race-spec Formula E car.. The other is Carmen Jorda. (image coursety of FIA Formula E)
Motorsport has a hyper masculinity complex. It's strange because the original aesthetics of motoring, of the spirit of endeavour and innovation that goes hand in hand with so much of the progress of the sport, aren't especially. A lot of the first people involved in motorsport were speccy nerds keen on discovering torque or deathwish outcasts you wouldn't want to make the face of a luxury luggage brand.
For various reasons, that's shifted; some of it advertising and sponsorship demands, some of it audience-based, some of it to do with automotive stereotypes and marketing way beyond the sporting side. Driving cars on race tracks has a complex, familial relationship to selling cars on roads and the acquired idea over the 20th century, from toy models to 35ft wide advertising billboards, has been that cars are for men.
The things that make them (allegedly) for men are all ethereally tied up with what (allegedly) makes cars - the smell of the petrol, the deafening roar of an engine, the hot ticking of a cooling exhaust as the bonnet thrums heat, oily residue warm in the air like cologne.
If petrol cars are for men, electric vehicles must be girly. Men are men, therefore women must be girly. Neither of these concepts should, of course, be allowed near cars lest they become less unquestionably masculine.
Which is probably why it upsets people so much when someone invents an electric racing series or puts women in them. As anyone who's ever talked about Formula E on the internet knows, there is a huge craving for it to be rubbish - for anyone who goes to have had a bad time watching it, for the racing to be bad, for the drivers to be desperate to escape, for the whole series to be failing.
That desperation is getting more and more reaching, as undeniably Formula E becomes well-attended, incredibly competitive on-track, for drivers to be battering at the door for a chance to even test a car and as manufacturers flock to it in a way they markedly aren't to that other top-flight single-seater series. If only someone could just confirm that Formula E is in fact bad and not good, somehow; it's really maddening to these people the way it just isn't proving them right.
Equally, there's some incredible mental contortion that regularly goes around about why, for science you understand, women cannot be competitive racing drivers. Despite the clear evidence that, when given the chance to compete women are equally as good as men, there's an audience of people who'd like this not to be true.
If only someone would come out with a quote, whether they have any ability to make the judgement, saying that weak-limbed women would make better Formula E drivers, as the series has lower physical demands? That would definitely be exciting for those people.
Jorda was asked a leading question about the difference between an unmodified, current Formula E car, which she has never driven, and a current Formula One car, which she has never driven. Chris Hemsworth has also not driven either of these things but was not asked if Formula E cars were easier for men to drive on the back of his turn in the show car in New York.
It seems obvious that this should not be being reported as an informed opinion. But my male peers - and yeah, I am disappointed in you all - rushed to their desks to republish the quote, without debunking.
"It's a less physical car than in Formula One because of the downforce and because of the power steering as well. So yes, for sure. The challenge that we women have in Formula Two and Formula One is a physical issue and I think in Formula E, we won't have it."
Formula E cars do not have power steering, except the celebrity-adjusted show car. I would be allowed to drive the show car - that doesn't mean I wouldn't immediately bin a real Formula E car into the pit wall when my transcription-trained wrists flopped pathetically under the strain of turning.
Jorda has never driven an F2 car or modern Formula One car.
"It's not for me to decide what's good for women or not in the sport."
Jorda is on the FIA Women's Commission.
"But in my experience I can say Formula One -- not all the other championships, karting, Formula Three, GT, I think women are capable of good results in all those series -- in Formula One and Formula Two there is a barrier that is a physical issue. I think there is a big issue for women and that's why there aren't any in those championships."
Jorda has never driven an F2 or modern Formula One car.
"We have to consider Formula E as a very high level championship. You can see all the drivers who are here, the car that I tested is not a super-difficult car to drive, but there are so many different things that you have to learn how to manage. It's a challenging championship. It's a high level in motorsport. To have a woman here, Formula E has already had some women here, so why not to have more?"
Actually this part was all true apart from the fact doing six laps in a celebrity-adjusted show car with no data is not a test.
It's the perfect confirmation of that bias: a leading question that so satisfyingly says what detractors of the series and women's participation in motorsport want it to say: women aren't strong enough to seriously compete - and Formula E is easy, slow, non-physical.
A difficulty with Jorda is that she's an advertising dream. She has built a well-funded modelling career with a motorsport theme, rather than one as a driver and yet continues to receive attention for her views as though she has.
Why? Because she says exactly what huge numbers of people in motorsport want her to. On every forum or platform I saw the articles reporting Jorda's comments posted to, people – universally men – were keen to explain to anyone who reacted strongly that she "had a point."
She doesn't; she's got no relevant experience or authority to say this, if someone made the opposite point their credibility would be immediately questioned, if it was even reported. Anyone who says women can compete in motorsport or that Formula E is high-level usually gets torn down in comment sections, men still chin-tappingly muse on why exactly it is that there are so few women in motorsport.
This isn't about Carmen Jorda - who's merely an incredible example that you can be a glamorous woman and still keep Bernie Ecclestone's level of tremendous press-baiting going, so long as you are happy to say whatever will create most trouble.
What's happened is that the motorsport community has fallen over ourselves with eagerness to put out blatant inaccuracies, just because they appeal to a broad view. This is the fakest news since the latest rumour linking a billionaire's son to a reserve role.
Jorda did issue an apology-
"I am sorry if my comments appeared to speak for all women and created all confusion -- as I was reflecting merely on my own personal experience. I never intended to discourage other women from competing at the pinnacle of our sport, or say that they physically cannot."
Since she's never driven either of the cars she was comparing, she wasn't even speaking from personal experience. And even allowing for translation errors, she definitely said 'we women' in her original quotes.
There wasn't nearly as much press the last time a woman got asked about F1 and Formula E in Mexico City.
Actual F1 and Formula E driver Simona de Silvestro was asked what any women looking to get into motorsport should do to realise their ambitions -
"I think if you really want to do it and be passionate about it, then the biggest thing is to work hard and believe in yourself."
Unfortunately, unless you're saying what they want to hear it's an uphill struggle to get anyone else to.