- Editor's comment
Don't write off DanicaMartin Williamson August 13, 2010
Few subjects this year - other than anything involving Michael Schumacher - have attracted as much feedback as that of suggestions Danica Patrick could be signed to drive for an F1 team in 2011.
While Patrick herself has previously denied any interest, it seems unlikely that were the right offer to be made she would turn it down. The boost to her profile as a driver and a celebrity/pin-up would be a strong reason for her to do a u-turn.
Despite all the disparaging feedback comments suggesting otherwise, Patrick can drive. However, while few seem willing to express the view publically, it cannot be denied that the level of media interest in her is largely because of her looks. It may be slammed as sexist, but we are talking about a sport where races at all levels are accompanied by a bevy of models and pit babes. Motor racing is about speed, excitement and glamour. On her day, Patrick ticks all three boxes.
True, her record is mediocre, and certainly were Patrick male or, dare it be said, not attractive enough to warrant the interest of a string of men's magazines for glamour shoots, then she would not even have registered on Bernie Ecclestone's radar. But she has won once - a middling IRL event on an Oval track in Japan in 2008 - and had a few other decent finishes.
Many experts believe the physical stresses and strains of driving in today's F1 preclude a woman from taking part. Most of Patrick's experience comes on Oval circuits in the USA which are physically less demanding. The transition could be the4 one thing that stands in her way.
Richard Branson admitted he had approached her with a view to driving for Virgin in 2010 but she had turned him down. "I would have loved to have had a looker like Danica drive," he said. "She is not only good and quick, she's a stunner."
His then team principal, Alex Tai, was more realistic, saying the team had looked but not found anyone. "There isn't really a female out there right now who could do it," he said. "This is a really physical and exhausting sport and they would find it hard to cope."
However, we are talking F1 where money rules - how else would the likes of Sakon Yamamoto get a drive? - and for all the ridicule, the idea of Patrick in F1 should not be dismissed. She would attract a level of interest wholly disproportionate to her ability and for a bottom-end team that would translate into vital sponsorship opportunities. If anyone doubts that watch TV coverage from the USA when she is racing and see how much exposure she gets even when not near the front.
One way or the other, we haven't heard the last of Danica Patrick.
Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA