“I was born in Gera, 20 minutes away from the Sachsenring and when I was 13 my grandparents took me to my first Grand Prix,” says Milena Koerner. “I carried on going to races and someone asked me if I wanted to work in the sport but I was very young and still at high school. A few years later I decided to go for it. I was a promotional model and I worked in hospitality at the same time.”
From working as a grid girl, a position that has been in the news recently as Formula 1 has decided to end the practice this season, Koerner rose to become the only female boss of a MotoGP team, Team Forward Racing in Moto2.
As a trailblazer in a traditionally male-dominated sport, how did Koerner react to the news that the grid girls would no longer be a part of F1? “I don’t think it was a very sensible position,” she said during an interview with GPOne.com. “The problem isn’t the girls, it’s the ideas that men get in their heads, thinking they are available just because they are wearing a short skirt, heels and standing next to a bike. Maybe they are doing it to finance their studies or as a way to be a part of a world they are passionate about.”
Koerner a trailblazer in male-dominated sport
Koerner’s rise from hospitality was prodigious. She moved first to public relations and then worked as a coordinator before becoming press chief for Tech3, where she worked for five years before taking charge of Forward Racing.
“If you’re a woman people think you know nothing about bikes, as if you have to be an engineer to run a team. If you’re a man you’re automatically respected but if you’re a young woman you’re not. You face prejudice… the paddock is a kind of village and there are people who prefer to gossip instead of working,” Koerner says, adding that there are practical considerations as well: “There aren’t many women in certain jobs in the paddock and I don’t expect that to change. It’s a question of numbers. There aren’t many of us interested in the world championship and a team will always prefer a man over a woman if there are two equally qualified people. A woman can be a problem and also an expense: she needs different clothes, to sleep in a separate room… little things you might not think about.”
However, Koerner has earned her colleagues’ trust and respect. “I’m known as a bit of a pitbull, a general, and as I’ve had many jobs in the sport I know everything that goes on in a team so it’s difficult to get one over on me.”