It has been 47 years since a woman drove in a Formula 1 Grand Prix, when Italy’s Lella Lombardi finished 12th at the Austrian Grand Prix in 1976.
In 2019 it started an all-female W Series in an effort to provide a way to get women behind the wheel, but it collapsed in June without ever seeing a woman close to a Formula 1 seat.
now, F1 Academy An all-female racing series filled the void I started with Formula 1 In April, 15 drivers competed in three races over seven rounds. The first six are in Europe and the last is in Austin, Texas.
But the show is about more than just trying to find the next female Formula 1 driver. It is also an effort to bring women into other positions in the sport, such as engineers and mechanics.
“The concept of the F1 Academy is to create a platform where women can be nurtured to progress up the ladder, but also to inspire the next generation and create opportunities, not only on the track, but also off it,” Susie Wolff, Principal of the Academy said in an interview.
“We’re not just focused on finding the next female Formula 1 driver; we want to become a movement that really has an impactful change in the sport and increases diversity in every field.”
Wolff has enjoyed a healthy motorsports career. After many years of success in karting, she raced in various classes before stepping up to Formula 1 as a development driver with the Williams team in 2012.
Two years later, she became the first woman to participate in a Grand Prix weekend since Giovanna Amati in 1992 when Wolff drove practice sessions at the British and German Grands Prix.
After founding the Dare To Be Different campaign, which aims to increase the participation of women in motor racing, Wolff was team president and then CEO of the Venturi Formula E team from 2018 to 2022.
“I feel really lucky because I’ve been a driver for 25 years,” said Wolff, who is married to Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff. “So I know what all these young drivers are going through and what the challenges are because I’ve been there.
“Now I’m with the F1 Academy, I’m not just raising the flag saying ‘I think it’s possible’, I know it’s because I’ve been there. It’s tough, but getting to the top of any sport is very difficult.”
The W Series spotlighted a group of young female drivers aiming to break into Formula 1. All of the competitors were supported by the series, with the overall champion winning $500,000. The program collapsed due to financial problems.
The F1 Academy is supported by Formula 1, which provides a budget of $160,000 for the driver. The fifteen drivers must match this with their own sponsorship, with the winner promoted to Formula 3.
“Credit where credit is due, the W Series started something,” said Wolf. Was that how I was going to do it? No, but they managed a lot.
“In the F1 Academy we would be naive not to learn from what they did well and what they did wrong,” she said, referring to its business model. “But I still applaud them for trying because anyone who gets down to business, and doesn’t just talk about it, deserves a certain amount of respect.”
There are five teams in the F1 Academy run by Formula 2 and Formula 3 teams: ART Grand Prix, Campos Racing, Rodin Carlin, MP Motorsport and Prema Racing.
Stephanie CarlinThe big difference between the F1 Academy and the W Series, said Rodin Carlin, team principal, was the academy’s focus “on correcting the female imbalance in motorsport.”
“It’s not just the drivers, but the F1 Academy is a shop window for female potential in all areas,” Carlin, who is also the vice principal of the Rodin-Carlin Formula 2 and Formula 3 team, said in an interview.
“A year ago we didn’t have female staff other than PR or accounts and we now have two women mechanics and an engineer who are training to be part of the F1 Academy team. They are here because there is such a drive to get women into motorsport.”
On the ambition of seeing a competitive female player in Formula 1, Carlin said, “The Formula 1 Academy is a real enabler of talent, a driving force that will help produce that star that will work all the way, but it won’t be the work of the moment. It’s a long process.”
Chloe GrantHe is 17 years old, and he is an aspirant. She drives the ART Grand Prix team founded by Frédéric Vasseur, Ferrari Team Principal.
Grant said she felt lucky to be one of the competing drivers in the first season.
“It’s a huge step for me,” Grant, who finished ninth in the GB4 championship last year, said in an interview. “Last year I was learning the basics of the single sit-up, but I really didn’t learn much.
“But after a few rounds of the F1 Academy, I’ve learned a lot more this year than I ever did last year, and you can see that in my progress through my time, my pace and my confidence in the car.”
As with every driver in the F1 Academy, the goal of getting to Formula 1 is clear, but money remains an obstacle. To advance up the motorsport ladder, from karting to Formula 1, would probably cost around $7 million.
Grant said: “Financially, to get to this point, to get to F3 and F2, at the moment, it’s just unrealistic for me, unless I get the backing and support.”
Wolff said it could take eight to 10 years before a woman leads a Grand Prix again.
“It pains me to say it, because there are obviously a lot of young girls racing now that might have been good enough,” she said, “but we always have to be realistic with our expectations. This is definitely a long-term project, which is why it’s so important to be Formula 1 is behind him, because we will see and reap the rewards, but it will take time.”