Cricket is not an obvious source of inspiration for Formula 1 regulations. But the announcement today that the laws of cricket have been modified to replace the term ‘batsman’ and ‘batsmen’ with the gender-neutral ‘batter(s)’ is one that the FIA should take heed of.
While F1’s regulations don’t concern themselves with batting, or bowling for that matter, they do deal a lot with driving. So what should we make of the fact that the regulations regularly use the word “he” to describe the driver?
Clearly, it’s not an intentional attempt to exclude half of the world’s population from consideration. It simply reflects historical and cultural assumptions that means there’s no end of legislation, both within sport and in the wider world, that uses such language even when it doesn’t apply exclusively to men.
After all, while historically legal documents have used ‘he’ to apply to either gender, this is something that is gradually changing for the same reasons it should change in F1’s regulations. If you want something to be genuinely inclusive, language is something that needs to be addressed.
This unconscious use of ‘he’ is so common that after years spent regularly poring over the regulations, I only noticed it when a colleague, Jack Benyon, highlighted it while discussing the wording of a specific regulation at the Belgian Grand Prix earlier this month.
Open > F1 2021 Sporting Regulations > Find and Replace
“Him” ➡️ “The Driver”
— Devin Altieri (@DevinAltieri) August 29, 2021
That all the drivers competing in F1 currently are male is beside the point. This is not a case of the language used fitting the demographics of the competitors, which is proved by the fact it was unchanged the last time a female driver participated on a grand prix weekend – Susie Wolff’s (pictured below) FP1 outings for Williams in 2014/15.
F1’s sporting regulations feature 61 uses of the word “he”. The technical regulations have only four, all of which relate to the safety of the driver in the cockpit, as after all they are more concerned with the technology than people. A glance at the regulations for Formula 2, Formula 3 and Formula E reveals the same trend.
The newest addition to F1’s rules, the financial regulations, do a little better. There are five uses of the word “he” but two of those are within the context of “he or she”.
To cite one example, article 6.4 of the sporting regulations defines how points are awarded. Having laid out the points for the top 10, it states that “in addition to the above, one point will be awarded to the driver who achieved the fastest valid lap time of the race and to the constructor whose car he was driving, provided he was in the top 10 positions of the final race classification”.
Language is complex, encapsulating countless layers of meaning. Some of these are cultural, which is why the impact of words stretches beyond what might be termed the basic meaning. It would be absurd to suggest that any aspiring female F1 driver has seen the regulations and immediately abandoned her hopes and dreams because of it, but it’s part of a wider tapestry.
Effectively, it is a microaggression, a subtle and unintentional codification of discrimination. The fact that the rules are clearly intended to apply to drivers both male and female and that there is no regulatory barrier to female drivers is beside the point.
Given the effort required to make the change would be minimal, there is no excuse not to fix it. A simple ‘find and replace’ to use the gender-neutral ‘they’, followed by a check to ensure everything still makes sense, would solve the problem and should be done the next time F1 – or any other category for that matter – makes one of its regular updates to its regulations.
It’s a very minor thing and nobody would argue that changing the linguistic assumptions of something as dry and functional as the F1 regulations would do anything tangible to aid the cause of female participation in motorsport.
But that doesn’t render it meaningless.