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Interview with Louise Goodman

Louise Goodman InterviewThe first woman to take part in a Formula One pit-stop and also the first to present the motorsport on television, Louise Goodman expresses her surprise that anyone should think that the only women in Formula One are ‘the dolly birds parading round the grid’.

Maybe I’m a bit naïve but I’m very surprised when people say motor racing is a man’s sport

It is a sport and it is a business and fundamentally both of these things are non-gender specific. In this day and age most women own their own cars, why shouldn’t they be interested in racing them? Looking around the paddock and the mix of fans that attend, ok, there are more men, but it is not an outrageously obvious percentage difference of men to women.

Admittedly, in the ‘80s, the only women in the paddock worked in catering

But it has changed. I was very conscious in the Formula One paddock first time. I could see eyes swiveling thinking, ‘good heavens! It’s a woman!’ When I first worked in 1988, there weren’t that many women working there.  They were mainly in catering! I was conscious of being careful about how I came across. Everyone knew I was there to work so I kept detached from the guys in the garage. I wanted to make it clear I was there to do a job and that we could have banter once they accepted I was there doing a serious job of work. There were a couple of comments but I have quite a steely stare… or so I’m told!

A lack of women in an environment can often come from where the experience started out

A lot of Formula One careers start off in karting (a motorsport racing small, open, four-wheeled ‘karts’). And a lot more boys than girls are taken karting by their parents and so arguably the seed is planted for a lot more young men to go into motorsport. If women do get into the sport at an early age, the lack of role models also suggests to them that this world is not their world. There is no one for them to base their dreams on. Young men can dream of being the next Jenson Button but girls don’t have those footsteps to follow in. Physicality can also be an issue, although not so much any more thanks to power steering! F1 cars used to be quite a beast and require a lot of physical strength to drive them.

Women tend to be particularly passionate in environments they don’t usually work in

And that’s usually because they have to prove their knowledge about that environment in order to be allowed their place there.

Working in Formula One is a way of life

It’s not just a job. You have to be dedicated, naturally competitive, precise, calm and collected in a very fast, dangerous setting. You have to handle kneeling on the tarmac in the pit as an F1 car comes at you at 60mph trusting that they will stop. It goes against all your instincts not to move, but you have to be steady and rebel against the instinct! Oh yes, in the past there have been incidents where a car has failed to stop.

This job is a fine balance between responsibility and the rush

I was on a high for ten minutes after working in the pit on a Formula One car. It was a huge rush of excitement – and fear. I was very aware of the massive ramifications of cocking up in the middle of a Grand Prix. I’d have let down the team. Afterwards, I think I was on a high for ten minutes. Then it was time to focus and get on with the rest of day!

With a lot of jobs men always do them simply because they happen to be the norm

Why so long before a woman was reporting in the pit lane? Men were just simply the norm. 30-40 years ago, my TV bosses considered it a boys’ world. ITV were the first to acknowledge the growing female audience.

Women bring patience and empathy to the pit interview

I’m dealing with sports and in this world, men and women are very often experiencing considerably heightened emotions – both positive and negative ones. Being able to empathise with them in those extreme states has been useful and enabled me to get things out of them that wouldn’t necessarily have come out if a man had posed the question with his different dynamic.

I’ve also found that male competitors can feel more comfortable talking about emotions with a woman. They can share how they feel about what they’ve done – not just talk about what they’ve done.

Formula One has taught me a lot about life

One:  don’t give up. Sport teaches you to reach for your goals and to be determined and dogged. Life is there for the taking. Two: I’ve ended up on a path I didn’t deliberately set out to follow so I don’t work to a plan – I wait and see what presents itself. You do need aptitude, but I’m horribly competitive and not very good at not being good at things – I don’t want to be found out! Even if I can’t do something, I pretend I can. So the third thing I have learnt is fake it ‘til you make it. Quietly watch others do it, work it out and then go in having educated yourself. I have often heard driving instructors say that a trait that many women tend to possess to their benefit is the ability to take instruction.

Competitive spirit is only useful if it’s not about achieving or having

But rather an instinctive drive that doesn’t need to be cultivated.

I would love to say that other women in this industry inspired me

But there were only men for me to learn from. There wasn’t a female mentor that existed. I now see that as a role I would step into and would do so happily for other women.

My parents let me go on adventures

Which in turn gave me confidence. At six years old, they would put me on a bus to travel down to Somerset to see my granny. Although that would never happen these days!!

I can count on one hand the episodes of sexism directed at me in my career

The perception that motor sport is sexist surprises me. Yes, there are dolly birds on the grid and I do not like the fact that this perpetuates the decorative role of women. However, that doesn’t reflect what is going on inside the sport. I can count on one hand the episodes of sexism directed at me in my career and they have never come from my peers.

Once, I was walking out to the grid and the Marshall assumed I wasn’t part of the team (my colleagues set him straight!) And on one other occasion, on one of my first jobs, a Formula One boss was told he had a woman coming along. He responded, ‘I’m not having a girl on the team. She’ll distract the lads.’  Oddly enough, we are still friends and he admits he underestimated how much I’d bring to the role. We laugh now that he is one of the few males who ever made a sexist comment about me!

Interview by Deborah Willimott


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