LONDON — The most powerful man in motor racing says women will never be taken seriously as drivers because they aren’t strong enough.
Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One chief executive, said women had their own strengths but would never be accepted into the world’s No. 1 motor sport.
Unlike American motorsports such as NASCAR, Formula One does not have an overtly macho culture. The reigning world champion—with back-to-back titles—is Lewis Hamilton, a well-groomed and well-spoken Englishman who weighs less than 150 pounds.
Speaking at an event in London, Ecclestone poured cold water on a growing campaign to welcome women into the sport. Ecclestone, who is 5-foot-2, has never been a professional athlete or driven competitively, even though he is the same height as Danica Patrick, the first woman to win an Indy series race.
Patrick has often claimed that the power of the car is more important than the outright strength of the driver. “No matter how good you are, how brave you are or anything, it comes down to that car so many times,” she said. “Not every time, but so many times.”
Ecclestone is in no mood to put that to the test in the sport that he runs. He cast doubt over their physical ability and appeared to suggest that none of the teams would be willing to give women the chance to prove him wrong.
“I don’t know whether a woman would physically be able to drive an F1 car quickly, and they wouldn’t be taken seriously,” he said Tuesday.
Away from the pressures of professional sport, he said he thought women would be able to crack the glass ceiling. Particularly as chief executives in business: “Women are more competent, and they don’t have massive egos,” he said.
One woman who proved an equal match for Eccelstone was his second wife, Slavica Malic, who is exactly a foot taller than him. When they separated, she secured a divorce settlement of more than $1 billion.
Alice Powell, a 23-year-old British racing driver, has previously criticized Ecclestone’s attitude to women drivers. “Someone needs to prove Bernie wrong.”
In previous decades, drivers like Michele Mouton, who came close to winning the 1982 World Rally Championship, and Shirley Muldowney, who won three drag-racing titles in the 1970s and ’80s, have proved that women can compete given the opportunity.
Ecclestone’s judgment has been called into question in the past, and some of his other remarks today raised further eyebrows. He was asked about the prospect of Donald Trump becoming president. “I think he’d be fantastic,” he said. “Putin would tell him what to do.”
Updated 4/19/16 2:00 p.m. to identify Danica Patrick as the first woman to win an Indy Series race, not the Indy 500. We regret the error.