It’s 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, the all-female W Series began in an attempt to provide a way for women to get behind the wheel, but it collapsed in June without seeing a woman anywhere near a Formula 1 seat.
Now, f1 academy has filled the void, an all-female racing series started by Formula 1 in April, with 15 drivers competing in three races over seven rounds. The first six are in Europe and the last one is in Austin, Texas.
But the series is more than just trying to find the next female Formula 1 driver. It’s also an attempt to lead women into other roles 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 further up the ladder, but also to inspire the next generation and create opportunities, not just on the track, but off it as well,” said Susie. Wolff, manager. director of the academy, he said in an interview.
“We are not only 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 all areas.”
Wolff enjoyed a healthy motorsport career. After many successful years in karting, he raced in various categories before moving 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 in practice sessions at the British and German Grands Prix.
After founding the Dare To Be Different campaign, aimed at increasing the participation of women in motorsport, Wolff was team principal and then CEO of the Venturi Formula E team from 2018 to 2022.
“I feel very lucky to have been a driver for 25 years,” said Wolff, who is married to Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal. “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 waving the flag saying ‘I think it’s possible’, I know because I’ve been there. It’s hard, but getting to the top of any sport is incredibly hard.”
The W Series featured a group of young drivers aspiring to break into Formula 1. All of the competitors received subsidies from the series, with the overall champion earning $500,000. The program fell apart due to financial problems.
F1 Academy is supported by Formula 1, which provides a budget of $160,000 per driver. The 15 drivers must match that with their own sponsorship, with the winner moving up to Formula 3.
“Credit where credit is due, the W Series started something,” Wolff said. “Was that how I would have done it? No, but they still achieved a lot.
“At F1 Academy, we would be naive if we didn’t learn from what they did well and what they did wrong,” he said, referring to their business model. “But I still applaud them for trying because anyone who takes action and doesn’t just talk about it deserves some respect.”
There are five teams in F1 Academy run by established Formula 2 and Formula 3 teams: ART Grand Prix, Campos Racing, Rodin Carlin, MP Motorsport and Prema Racing.
Stephanie CarlinRodin Carlin’s team principal said the big difference between the F1 Academy and the W Series was the academy’s focus “on restoring the balance for women in motorsport”.
“It’s not just about the drivers, but F1 Academy is a showcase for the potential of women in all areas,” Carlin, who is also deputy director of Rodin Carlin’s Formula 2 and Formula 3 teams, said in an interview. .
“A year ago, we had no female staff other than in PR or accounts, and now we have two female mechanics and one female engineer who are training to become part of our F1 Academy team. They are here because there has been a huge push for women to get involved in motorsport.”
Regarding the ambition to see a female Formula 1 competitor, Carlin said: “F1 Academy is a real talent enabler, a driving force that will help produce that female star who will go all the way, but it will not be the work of Wait a minute. It’s a long process.”
chloe grant, 17 years old, is one of the applicants. He drives for the ART Grand Prix team founded by Frédéric Vasseur, Ferrari team principal.
Grant said she felt lucky to be one of the drivers who competed in her debut season.
“It’s a big step forward for me,” Grant, who finished ninth in last year’s GB4 Championship, said in an interview. “Last year he was learning the basics of single-seaters, but he wasn’t really learning much.
“But after only a few rounds in the F1 Academy, I have learned a lot more this year than last year, and you can see it in my progress through my times, my pace and confidence in the car.
As with all F1 Academy drivers, the goal of making it to Formula 1 is obvious, but money remains an obstacle. Progressing up the motorsport ladder, from karting to Formula 1, would probably cost around $7 million.
“Financially, even getting to that point, going through F3 and F2, right now is not realistic for me,” Grant said, “unless I get backing and support.
Wolff said it could take eight to 10 years before a woman drives in a Grand Prix again.
“It pains me to say that, because there are obviously a lot of young girls competing now who could be good enough,” she said, “but we always have to be realistic with our expectations. This is definitely a long-term project, and that’s why it’s so important that Formula 1 gets behind it, because we will see and reap the rewards, but it will take time.”