Who drives better: men or women? This is a question that has been debated for years and is one that will never be settled amicably! And on many an occasion, remarks that have compared the genders’ abilities behind the wheel have proven controversial. This is especially so in the world of motor racing. It was just a year ago that a member of the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission drew flak for her comment that women drivers should pursue “less physical” racing opportunities.
While you can never categorically say that one gender drives better than another, there have been several studies that have tried to find answers over the years. One such study done by the Michigan State University has come out with a rather interesting report. According to the report published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, there is scientific proof that women drivers, even with 10 years less experience, react and respond just as well as their male counterparts on the race track.
“Heat strain is the primary stressor in racing. Women naturally have an elevated core temperature during a certain phase of their menstrual cycle,” says David Ferguson, an assistant professor who has spent 15 years studying the physiology of race car drivers. “The misperception was that they would potentially fatigue faster and become a safety risk to other drivers. Based on our results, I’m here to say that’s just not true,” he adds.
During three similar races, Ferguson tracked six male and six less-experienced female drivers in two classes of racing, closed and open cockpit. He analyzed heart and breathing rate, core body and skin temperature as well as heat-induced stress, which can lead to heat exhaustion.
“The luteal phase is when women can have higher heart rates, core body temperature and an increase in other physiological factors that are considered markers for fatigue,” Ferguson said. “Yet even during this time, these factors still were no different than what male drivers exhibited.” He added that the structure of the car, whether a closed or open cockpit, was more of a factor causing higher physiological stress in both sets of drivers than any hormonal changes.
The study found that there was no differences in the physiological responses to automobile racing between male and female drivers, and suggests that women, as they continue to get more experience, could become faster, increasing their performance.
“What we’ve shown now is that driving the race car is equally stressful for female and male drivers,” says Ferguson. “But as female drivers keep racing and building endurance, they won’t have to work as hard in the car, and this could potentially give them an edge over men.”