|© AP Photo/John Raoux
Danica Patrick made history when she became the first woman to claim pole position in a NASCAR race, emerging as the fastest driver during qualifying for the Daytona 500 on Sunday.
It was a headline-grabbing event for the sport, and if Formula 1 needed to pump up its popularity in a similar manner, it needs to get a driver from the fairer sex to join the grid, according to Niki Lauda.
"For more than ten years I have told Bernie Ecclestone that he is dopey because he has not been able to introduce a woman (driver) in Formula 1,” the triple champion told the Bild. “If we could do get a woman in the top six, we would have twice as many fans in front of the TV, because even the women would sit and watch.”
However, the Mercedes non-executive chairman would not sign Danica Patrick, as the Austrian believed that drivers from the United States will not be able to adapt to F1.
"The last American who had success in Europe was Mario Andretti. And that was in my day," reasoned Lauda.
Reigning champion Sebastian Vettel pointed out that the motorsport scene across the Atlantic has “a different culture” to that in Europe, a view echoed by Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko.
"You have to look at Danica's results in road races. That's not enough," Marko told the Bild.
"We are looking for drivers of performance, not by quota," he added referring to the absence of a woman driver in the Red Bull motorsport programme.
Only two women have raced in F1, the last one in 1976 when Lella Lombardi drove for RAM. A few others have made an appearance but failed to qualify, the last one being Giovanna Amati in 1992.
Private F1 test sessions have featured several women drivers in the past with the latest additions in Williams’ Susie Wolff and Marussia’s Maria de Villota, whose racing career may now ended after being involved in a serious crash last year.