A former Motoring Editor at the Telegraph, Erin Baker combines a bike licence and race licence with a love of high-speed cars and penchant for embarrassingly low-speed crashes. Now she has two sons, she’s largely put her leathers to one side, preferring the cut and thrust of automotive industry debates and wondering which cars have Isofix…
So Top Gear has a female presenter in its line-up. Big deal, or not? World Touring Car driver Sabine Schmitz is in, and sexism is out.
As Sabine is a far better driver than nearly every man driving on Britain’s roads today, there’s not a lot any critics can say, really. She’s clearly there under her own credentials, as Fifth Gear’s Vicki Butler-Henderson would also have been – I’ve driven with her before and she’s pretty handy behind the wheel…
A quick Google of all the speculation in December last year about which woman might co-present the show with Chris Evans brought up this Radio Times article. I’m flattered they included me on it, but of the possible women whose names are associated with cars out there, only the following should ever have been in the frame: Sabine, Vicki and Susie Wolff.
To pick a female presenter for a car show who has no serious background in motorsport would have done the show and women serious harm. To pick a woman for their looks or presenting skills would have given all scathing, sniggering men out there an absolute gift, and made any woman who cares about cars wince.
It’s no use a woman standing by a car, stroking its flanks longingly and talking about how powerful it is: that’s fine for a brolly dolly on an F1 grid or at a motor show, but Top Gear, for all its humour and entertainment, has always informed its audience about cars. If Clarkson et al had just stuck to boys-own adventures in Burma on scooters, the show would never have had the same endurance and audience that includes such a wide-ranging demographic of men, women, millenials, pensioners and families. And James May would have walked; the three of them (to varying degrees) know their stuff – cloaking it in gags and set-ups was the genius part.
Whatever a female presenter of Top Gear says about a car has to be backed up by unshakeable pedigree. She has to know what torque steer does to a car, and understand about weight transfer, understeer, electronic diffs, grip and apexes, she has to have done more than I did in terms of motorsport (one rookie season in the Caterham Academy). She has to be watertight in her views on cars, because we already have Matt Le Blanc for the eye-candy and entertainment – most people seem to have overlooked the fact that Top Gear has very cleverly ticked the bimbo box, but with a man, not a woman.
So Sabine is the right choice, and it is a big deal, not because it’s a woman co-presenting the world’s most successful car show, but because it’s a woman who can really drive. And, frankly, they’re as rare as hen’s teeth.
Lead image courtesy of Top Gear