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The Shocking Truth about Women in Drive to Survive

Love it or loathe it, the hit Netflix show Drive to Survive seems here to stay. It’s brought a lot of new fans to the sport and reignited the passion of others who’d drifted away over the years. Millions of people form their view of Formula 1 by watching the show. However, women make up less than 3% of speaking time across Drive to Survive episodes.

Across the four seasons, women speak for a total of 40 minutes, compared to the total runtime of 1,524 minutes (over 25 hours), according to calculations by Females in Motorsport. There is little variation between the earlier and later seasons.

women drive to survive
How season one, episode three presents women (Image credit: Netflix)

In seasons one, two and three the former deputy team principal of Williams Racing, Claire Williams, features throughout. The Williams episode in season two, which detailed their failure to deliver a car for the start of pre-season testing, is where women have the most speaking time at just under nine minutes. This helped season two have the most time where women spoke – 13 minutes in total.

The addition of Jennie Gow, a broadcast journalist, to the show in season three helped give women more of a voice, but the total time where they spoke was still only 10 minutes out of the nearly seven-hour runtime. In total, there are seven episodes where women speak for less than five seconds.

Jennie Gow speaks in the highest number of episodes, 13 out of 40, followed by Claire Williams who features in 10 and Susie Wolff in six. Some of the drivers’ mothers, girlfriends or wives feature in the show for one or two episodes.

While there are more men than women in Formula 1, and you would expect to see male-dominated screen time due to the fact that all the drivers and team principals are male, there is a significant imbalance.

There are many women that work in Formula 1, as highlighted by Females in Motorsport. There are female engineers, communications officers, journalists and producers to name just a few roles that women fill. Charlotte Sefton, Communications Manager at McLaren until the end of 2021, and Silvia Frangipane Hoffer, Head of Communications at Scuderia Ferrari, are two of the women identified onscreen who work in Formula 1.

Also, something that people have commented on is the fact that the partners of the drivers are labelled on-screen as “x’s girlfriend” or “x’s wife” rather than by their own achievements or profession. In season four, Susie Wolff is the exception, referred to as “CEO and Managing Partner, Rokit Venturi Racing Formula E Team”.

This is a change from the earlier seasons when the women featured were often not identified by name on-screen. In season one, the only women named were Grace Ricciardo and Claire Williams. Geri Horner (née Halliwell) is not named until season three, despite being one of the women who features most throughout the series.

Tiffany Cromwell, an Australian road cyclist, features in seasons three and four of Drive to Survive and is referred to as “Valtteri’s girlfriend”. She told Females in Motorsport: “I never asked or had asked myself about how I would like to be referenced in Drive to Survive in the titles.”

tiffany cromwell formula 1
Tiffany Cromwell, season three episode three (Image credit: Netflix)

Cromwell is a professional athlete who currently races for the team Canyon//SRAM. She adds: “In this situation it didn’t bother me, because if you think about the storyline and where I fit into the story, then the audience needs to know how I fit into the story. If they made a storyline where it talked about our relationship and included cycling, then sure it would be nice if I was referenced to as a Professional Cyclist.”

Netflix has not released viewing figures for Drive to Survive so it’s unclear exactly how many people watch the show. McLaren CEO, Zak Brown, told Business Insider that he believes it has been watched by over 50 million people. All of these people are likely to have their opinion of Formula 1 shaped by what they see.

How Drive to Survive portrays women matters for young girls and boys watching at home who have aspirations to work in Formula 1. It also affects the perceptions of older fans of Formula 1. With filming of Season five in progress, Netflix has the chance to improve the representation of women and include their voices in Drive to Survive.

After all, we need more female representation. You have to see it to be it.

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