• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

F1 academy addresses barriers for women in motorsport

ByElisa Vicencio Patiño

Mar 14, 2023

Formula 1, since its initiation in 1950, has been dominated by men both on and off-track. Only two women have raced in a Grand Prix in the history of the series, the last being Lella Lombardi in 1976. The fact that there are currently no drivers identifying as women on the F1 grid can be attributed to a number of factors, most notably the financial cost of racing in junior racing series. However, the F1 Academy, a new women-only junior racing series launched by Formula 1, is aiming to address the issues that have excluded women from racing in the pinnacle of motorsport for so long.

This all-new racing series will consist of fifteen drivers and five teams. All of these teams are experienced in the junior racing categories, including ART, who have aided the likes of Sir Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc to reach F1. Seven race events will be held in its maiden season, the first taking place in Spielberg on 28th April and the season finale in Austin, Texas, where it will be a support series to the F1 race weekend.

However, the F1 Academy is not the first of its kind. In 2019, the W Series was created as a free-to-enter women-only championship. Its major objectives were to give equal opportunities for women in motorsport and to eliminate the financial burden that comes with racing. However,  the W Series faced a multitude of issues, including funding falling through. This lack of funding led the series to its abrupt end last year just before its penultimate race of the season, and it looks unlikely to continue into this year. 

One of the main issues that faced the W Series was the fact that there was no progression from their series into the main junior categories, such as Formula 3 and Formula 2. As a consequence, drivers continued to race in the same series for multiple years. The most notable of these was British driver Jamie Chadwick, who became a three-time W Series champion.

This would have been impossible in other junior series, such as F2 and F3, where the champion is prohibited from re-entering the series within two years of being awarded its title, thus leading to a more natural progression up the ranks. This issue within the W Series can be attributed to a lack of funding opportunities available for progression into other racing series. It also indicated a lack of collaboration between the W Series and the FIA, motorsport’s main regulatory authority, as they were unable to structure a clear pathway between each championship. 

In contrast, the F1 Academy was launched by Formula 1 itself. It thus has been able to address the challenge of progression by providing clear structural continuity from the series into Formula 3. This is aided by the fact that all five teams taking part in the series are already established entities within F2 and F3. The teams are experienced in nurturing young talent and can prepare the drivers for the next stages of their motorsport careers.

In order to help with the high cost of racing, Formula 1 is also contributing half of each driver’s budget, leading to each driver receiving €150,000 worth of funding for their race seat. However, this does mean that the drivers still need to fund half of their budget independently. This might remain a challenge to aspiring F1 Academy Drivers without family wealth or a pre-existing sponsorship. 

Despite the challenges that the W Series faced and its untimely end, its main success was its ability to elevate the profiles of its drivers. Women like Jamie Chadwick and Abbi Pulling have become role models for many young girls, some of whom will surely be inspired to pursue a career in motorsport. It is hoped that the F1 Academy will build on this legacy and provide young women with the representation that has been missing for more than forty-five years.

Susie Wolff FW-36” by crazylenny2 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.