On the subject of honours

There is a danger if one makes any remarks about females in motorsport that one will instantly be abused by fervent feminists and self-righteous male do-gooders. Very often these people do not actually bother to read what is written and simply object to any suggestion that women and men are different. All I can do for these people is to point out the words of Michèle Mouton, arguably the most successful woman motorsport competitor at international level, and the first woman to win a World Championship rally. Today she is head of the FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission. Some years ago, in an FIA publication, she was asked whether women can race in Formula 1.

“Sure,” she said. “If it is the right girl, with the right skills and the right opportunities. It is a simple truth that women do not often get a chance with a top car; they do not get sufficient testing. You need all of that but I am sure that a girl can do that. That, though, is not the real question. The big question is whether a woman can win in Formula 1 and I am not so sure about that. Men and women are different. We are not built the same way and I think the biggest difference is in
terms of emotions and sensibilities. I never had a problem going at top speed with a 300ft drop right next to my car, but on a race track when you are doing 300kph down a straight you feel lighter, more exposed, or at least I did. I think that women have a stronger sense of self-preservation than men. It is an instinct that is more developed in the woman than in the man. And I think this is important when you come to that last hundredth of a second. A woman can work up to the top level but men will just do it. Boom. Flat out. I hope that I am wrong in my analysis and that it is not really like that, but that is what I think.”

It is interesting to note that history backs up Mouton’s opinion. Women have generally done better in rallying and drag races than they have in circuit racing. South Africa’s Desiré Wilson won a British Championship F1 race at Brands Hatch in April 1980, driving a Theodore Racing Wolf WR4. That was quite an achievement. Divina Galica, in the same era, achieved a series of podiums finishes in British F1 but never won a race. But no-one has ever claimed that British F1 was at the same level as the World Championship. It clearly wasn’t. Danica Patrick is probably the women with the most impressive track success with her IndyCar win at Motegi in 2008. In rallying Mouton was outstanding but Germany’s Jutta Kleinschmidt, for example, won the Paris-Dakar Rally, while Pat Moss-Carlson, Stirling Moss’s sister, was the most successful female British rally driver ever, winning outright on the Liege-Rome-Liege in 1960 and the 1962 Tulip Rally and a series of other strong placings. There was also the highly-successful Louise Aitken-Walker who achieved a great deal at British national level in the 1980s and was recognised with an MBE in 1992.

I am all for there being more women in motorsport, at every level, but I do not believe that they should be rewarded for anything other than their actual achievements. If one is to have a truly egalitarian sport, one must be even-handed in recognising achievement. Undeserved awards create false expectations. Winning women-only championships is all very well, but can one really compare such things to the major titles?

It is great that Claire Williams and Monisha Kaltenborn are running F1 teams, but does Claire really deserve more recognition from the British government than Lewis Hamilton, one of only two British drivers to have won three World Championships, who has won more Grands Prix than anyone else, apart from Michael Schumacher?

She has an OBE, he has an inferior MBE, the same as 2009 World Champion Jenson Button. Now they have been joined by Susie Wolff. Good for her. She has been doing great work in trying to encourage young women to get into the sport, but the programme is only very recent and it is hard to see any real results as yet. Is it right, therefore, that she has the same official recognition as Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button? I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that is fair and it has nothing to do with men and women. It is simply about recognition.

If you look back, British F1 World Champions have traditionally been awarded OBEs: Damon Hill (1997), Nigel Mansell (1991), Jackie Stewart (1971), Graham Hill (1969) and Jim Clark (1964), but when it came to Jenson and Lewis they were received only MBEs. Mike Hawthorn, James Hunt and John Surtees never received any recognition for their World Championships. Hawthorn died soon after winning the title, Hunt was highly anti-Establishment and Surtees had previously won an MBE for motorcycle racing in 1959 and, by bureaucratic logic, he could not win another similar award for a certain period of time. He was eventually made an OBE in 2008 – 44 years after his F1 title. He is the only man to have won World Championships on two and four wheels (an amazing achievement) but when the worthies of Whitehall decided to upgrade him to a CBE in 2016, it meant that he is unlikely to get a knighthood, unless he lives into his nineties. Or unless people make a fuss. I note that recently those rigid old rules seem to have changed a little with Sir Bradley Wiggins winning a CBE in 2009 and a knighthood in 2013.

When it comes to other sports, I feel that motor racing – one of Britain’s biggest success stories for more than 50 years – has been very badly overlooked. The tennis player Andy Murray has just been knighted. Good for him, he has won a few Grand Slams, but he does not figure in any of the all-time great lists one can find. Wiggins was knighted in 2013 after one Tour de France victory, but last year Chris Frome won his third Tour de France and is still just a plain old OBE. Where is the logic in that?

There have been nine British athletes knighted (three of them this year). There have been 14 British football knighthoods, 10 British cricket knighthoods, seven British horse racing knights and six British yachting knights. Ten British F1 racing teams have won 33 World Constructors’ Championships of the 56 awarded. Ten British F1 drivers have won 16 World Championship titles, including four in the last nine years, but there have been only four knighthoods for British motorsport: Jackie Stewart, Stirling Moss, Frank Williams and and Patrick Head.

One can argue that motorsport might include the two Land Speed Record holders who were knighted in the 1930s (Henry Segrave and Malcolm Campbell), but I don’t agree with that. In any case, there is no real logic in this either because George Eyston, Parry Thomas, Ernest Eldridge, John Cobb and Lydston Hornsted all set similar records but only Eyston was given an OBE. Richard Noble held the record in the 1980s and was recognised with an OBE, and his successor Andy Green has the same.

It seems to me that the British honours system needs to look again at motorsport and realise what a successful business it is and what great glory it brings to the country.