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What does the trolling of Naomi Schiff mean for sexism in F1?

Written by Heather Stevenson, Edited by Ishani Aziz

For those of you who don’t know, Noami Schiff is a Sky F1 pundit who joined the team this season. She is an ex-racing driver who began racing single seaters at the age of sixteen in the Southern African Formula Volkswagen. She’s had a string of victories including winning the 2014 Clio Cup China Series, and the 2015 KTM-X-Bow GT4 with her teammate Reinhard Kofler. She also came second in her class during the 24 Hours of Nürburgring in 2018. Most recently in 2019 she has driven in the W series.

(Credit: W Series)

With this extensive experience and list of achievements, you would think it would be clear why she was appointed as part of the Sky Sports F1 team for 2022. Sadly this was not the case, as Schiff recently faced criticism on Twitter implying that she only got the job to fill a diversity quota due to her gender and race. Thankfully the response from Sky Sports and Lewis Hamilton reassured fans that this kind of ignorance is unwelcome. Both were clear that the attitude in the F1 community should shange. Hamilton responded via Twitter: "Naomi is an ex-professional racing driver and totally qualified to give her opinion as part of the Sky team, she’s been a great asset since joining & we should welcome more representative broadcasting with open arms. Still have a long way to go to change these attitudes in sport." In parallel, Sky released a statement showing their support: "Naomi has been an excellent addition to our award-winning F1 team. Her experiences as a driver and her passion for and expertise of the sport have been welcomed by millions of viewers so far this season. Hate won't win."

This support is certainly heartening to see, but the need for it yet again brings to the forefront the issue of diversity and inclusion in F1. In recent years F1 has seen more women on screen, including Natalie Pinkham, Lee Mackenzie, Rachel Brookes, and Naomi Schiff herself. Fans are growing used to seeing these women on most race weekends since about 2010. In 2021, Rosanna Tennant would also become the Lead Commentator on the F1 Pit Lane Channel, becoming the first woman to call an F1 race start on television. These examples show some hope for improvement when it comes to female representation in F1 broadcasting and media, but the trolling of Schiff suggests it may not be enough.

The Netflix series ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive’ is a perfect example that progress has been slow. Across the four seasons, women spoke for a total of 40 minutes compared to the 1,524 minutes (over 25 hours) spoken by their male counterparts. This alone suggests that there is both a lack of female representation, and that those representing are not given more air time to compensate. The women that do feature in the series are labeled simply as; “wife”, “mother”, “girlfriend”, rather than women who work in the field. Given that “Drive to Survive" has been praised for bringing new fans in, the fact that there is so little female presence in the series does not bode well for the perception of women in motorsport.

Aside from revealing the lack of representation in F1, ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive’, the series itself has been used to undermine new fans, and in particular female fans. A common thread to insult female fans is to correlate their love for F1 with the new series, in some way insinuating that they are not ‘real’ long time fans. Female content creators like Lissie Mackintosh, F1Toni, SheLovesF1 and Live.laugh.lyds, have all issued responses to trolling videos that have accused them of being ‘DTS fans’ in an attempt to undermine their content. This is incredibly disheartening given that these content creators are trying to make the sport less daunting to female fans, and make it more accessible.

Unfortunately this isn’t limited to social media, but is evident in the paddock too. When asked about the rise of female fans after “Drive to Survive” during a TalkSport interview, Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner stated that this was “because of all these great-looking young drivers”. Whether or not this was his intent, it left a poignant sting with female fans. This was a message from a team principal himself that seemed to suggest women cannot be interested or knowledgeable about motorsports simply for the sake of it.

The recent trolling of Naomi Schiff is no doubt a reminder that the long-standing sexism towards women in F1 still remains, but it’s just a reminder, not a setback. A recent survey estimates female fans to account for 18.3% of the F1 viewing fanbase, compared to just 10% four years ago. Women in F1 are appearing both in content creating fields, but also, like Schiff, in broadcasting. Given these trends one can only hope things will change for the better. Naomi Schiff’s response certainly made female fans optimistic, replying: “I won’t let anyone turn down my ambition or passion because they are uncomfortable with the volume”.


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