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Jeremy Clarkson on: women
Back in August, Top Gear boss Andy Wilman and I went to Edinburgh to give a talk to a room full of television types on how Top Gear was still breaking viewing figure records in its 14th series.
Actually, it wasn’t a talk because, truth be told, neither Andy nor I have the first idea why Big Brother and Wife Swap all wither, but Top Gear continues to solider on. So we decided to make it a question and answer session.
And here’s how the questions went. Why is there no woman presenter? Why are there always pretty girls standing around at the front of the audience? Why is half the viewing audience women? Why are there so few female stars in the reasonably priced car? Were we ever asked by the BBC to have a female presenter? Is the Top Gear office a club for boys or are there girls in there too?
There were, in fact, so many questions about girls, that we ran out of time before anyone had a chance to ask us about the environment.
The problem is that television executives have got it into their heads that if one presenter on a show is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed heterosexual boy, the other must be a black Muslim lesbian. Chalk and cheese, they reckon, works. But here we have Top Gear setting new records after six years using cheese and cheese. It confuses them.
And as the session plodded on, it started to confuse me too. This meant my mind started to wander and pretty soon, I found myself wondering: “Why do we not have any women racing in Formula One?”
Unlike furious thin-lipped feminists, I tend not to draw distinctions between men and women, apart from in bed where you really do need to spot the differences. At work, girls are just people. It’s the same story at parties and it’s especially the same on the road.
The worst driver in the world is Top Gear’s studio director. Put him on an airfield with one other car and he will hit it. I know. I’ve watched him do it. Put him in a car park with one pillar and he’ll hit that too. He cannot park without kerbing the wheels and he cannot get into his own drive without crashing into his house. And he has a scrotum.
Vicki Butler-Henderson, on the other hand, does not have a scrotum. You know Vicki as the sometime presenter of Fifth Gear. I know her as a mate. And last month, I got to know her as a driver.
Jesus, she’s good. I was in an Aston Martin DBS convertible. She was in a Ferrari California and we had most of Silverstone to play with. By rights, I should have kicked her arse. I had four more cylinders, a million more horsepowers and two more testicles. I didn’t though. I couldn’t even get close.
She could flick that big white Fezza into a corner and hold it in some of the most glorious tail slides while I lunged about in her rear-view mirror, sometimes going sideways, but as often as not going backwards across the grass, screaming.
Am I therefore suggesting that women make better drivers than men? No. I’m merely saying that there are men who drive like they have Tourette’s of the epilepsy and women who drive like Gods. And vice versa. So again, I ask the question: “Why is Formula One more male than the lavatories at a Turkish steam room?”
It was not always so. Back in 1958 Maria Theresa De Filippis entered five races, qualified for three and finished the year with no points at all. Fifteen years later, girldom had another go when Lella Lombardi turned up on the scene. She entered 17 races, qualified for 12 and finished the year with half a point. And that was the last half a point won by anyone with breasts.
Perhaps the most famous entrant was Divina Galica, a British downhill skier who was given a break by the Hesketh team - famous for signing James Hunt. She was entered for three races, qualified for none and, it’s said, caused a near mutiny among the team’s mechanics who couldn’t see the point of working round the clock to prepare a car for someone who was so off the pace you could take a picture of her on the hangar straight and it’d be pin sharp even if you were shooting at a quarter of a second.
The last girl to make it to F1 was Giovanna Amati in 1992. She was entered for three races, qualified for none and earned, in her short career, no points at all.
History, then, dictates that woman are not capable of racing an F1 car. But history is wrong. Women can fly airliners and they could fly fast fighter jets too, if they didn’t have wombs, which tend to come off in high ‘g’ turns. I’m not making that up.
What’s more, women can multi-task. I was once told by Ross Brawn that on one occasion, during a race where rain was forecast, Michael Schumacher came on the radio - while setting a fastest lap - to say that the clouds at the back of the circuit looked threatening. He’s racing a Ferrari and he has the time and inclination to do a spot of meteorology.
At other times, he would come on the radio mid-way through a race to ask for his jet to be made ready for an early getaway. Brawn reckoned this meant he could use very little of his brain to actually drive the car and a lot of it to win the race. It’s why he was so good.
And it’s why I’d be hopeless. I once took a multi-tasking test set by the RAF. In essence you have to play a simple version of space invaders while doing sums, answering questions, and remembering sequences of letters and numbers that flashed onto the screen from time to time. I was rubbish. All men are rubbish apparently. Only women can do it. Which means women would do well in F1.
And thanks to VB-H, we know that there are women who can drive. We know too that many are interested in cars. And that millions watch Formula One motor racing, not simply because they quite fancy Mark Webber.
Is it, then, that the cars require a physical strength that (most) women simply don’t have?
I very much doubt it. Sadly, I am too tall, too fat and, these days, too broken to fit into a modern racer, but let’s be honest shall we, it’s not a rugby scrum in there is it? It’s not basketball. It’s not the discus. Yes it can be a bit hot and you need to have big neck muscles to cope with the cornering, but in essence you sit down, and turn the steering wheel which is power-assisted. How hard can it be?
Perhaps the problem then is that women don’t have the hunter killer instinct that makes them want to pass the guy in front more desperately than they want their next breath. But do the guys? Well, judging by the pitiful overtaking display put on every other weekend, I’d suggest they have about as much desire to win as your average koala.
Whereas we only need look at Baroness Thatcher to know what women can be like when they want to get in front. Maybe that’s the answer. The Maggon. She’s small. She’s got the killer instinct. She could be just what the sport needs.