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Just Drivers: How similar is Body Physiology Between male and female Drivers?

Written by Karlha Contreras, Edited by Mara Simion

Based on David Ferguson et al s original investigation: "Physiological Responses of male and female race car drivers during competition"


It's well known that motorsport is a historically male dominated discipline, there are just a few female drivers in that history (especially in F1) and they used to race alongside with men… Until now.


The creation of W Series and the F1 Academy sparked a debate: Can female drivers compete alongside males, or do physiological differences hinder them? Well, recent studies were made to prove and show what is the reality.


There is a really important fact to consider: women have monthly hormonal cycles, but is it possible that these hormones change drastically how a human can perform?


Researchers took two phases of this hormonal cycle (follicular and luteal) and compared the performance of these female drivers during these phases and the performance of males.

Image credit - Clue App

Theoretically, let’s see what happen during these phases:


The follicular phase starts on the first day of the woman's period and lasts for 13 to 14 days, ending in ovulation. The pituitary gland in the brain releases a hormone (follicle stimulating hormone - FSH) to stimulate the production of follicles on the surface of an ovary, and also during this time, the level of the hormone estrogen rises. But later in this phase, as the follicle-stimulating hormone level decreases, usually only one follicle continues to develop, which produces estrogen, whose levels increase steadily.

Via: OHSU - Brain Institute

Meanwhile, during the luteal phase, which occurs after ovulation, follicle-stimulating hormone levels decrease. The ruptured follicle closes after releasing the egg and forms a corpus luteum. This cell releases progesterone and a small amount of estrogen. If pregnancy does not occur, the corpus luteum dies, progesterone and estrogen levels drop, the uterus lining sheds and the period begins again.


To summarize: in the follicular phase the estrogen is high and in the luteal phase, the progesterone is high.


But why are these hormone levels important?


A recent experiment suggests that the breath and heart rate as well as the skin and core temperature are higher in the luteal phase where the progesterone is high.


A few studies suggest that muscle strength changes during these phases of the hormonal cycle. For example, it is higher in the follicular phase than the luteal phase. Others suggest that estrogens may also positively influence post-damage repair processes. These are just hypotheses, but considering that drivers are required to steer and brake the race car multiple times during a race, they need high muscle strength to tolerate the speed changes and there is no difference in the force of each muscle fiber between female and male drivers. So in this case, training is an important factor.


Now, let’s see if these hormones make a big change in how females perform in comparison with male.

Female (L): Luteal phase Female(F): Follicular Phase

These results were obtained in a few totally green flag races, in the original study, drivers did a few yellow flag races too, but the results are pretty similar. Hence, there is not such an important difference in the physiological responses between female drivers and male drivers.


Men have had more opportunities since they were children, so it’s kind of normal for them to have more years of experience, more efficient ways to deal with fatigue, and even more racing skills. But at the end of the day, bodies work the same way.




Link to the original study: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30925578/#:~:text=Results%3A%20During%20racing%20conditions%20there,compared%20with%20the%20male%20drivers.


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