Formula 1 launches all-female junior driver series.
In 1976, Maria Grazia “Lella” Lombardi was the last female driver to sit behind the wheel of a Formula 1 racing car and this was only the second time this had happened in the history of the Grand Prix series. Last summer, Stefano Domenicali caused a stir when he announced in his distinctive way: “Realistically speaking, I don’t see a girl in Formula 1 in the next five years.” Those who accuse the Formula 1 CEO of a macho attitude are themselves guilty of being short-sighted. International experts largely agree that there is a lack of young female drivers. The GPblog sums it up in its column headline “Female talent pool is too small”, and goes on to note that there are very few female drivers even on the karting scene, where future drivers gain their first experiences on the track.
Formula 1’s F1 Academy is intending to change that in 2023. It is aimed exclusively at teams of teenage female drivers and aims to prepare talents for future careers in Formula 3 and even F2 and F1. In the first season, five international teams, which have competed extensively in F2 and F3 up to now, will compete in 21 races. The F1 Academy will use a standardised Tatuus T421 chassis from Formula 4 with Autotecnica engines delivering 165 horsepower.
Formula 1’s Head of Sustainability Ellen Jones considers the series part of their efforts: “In 2019 we launched our sustainability, diversity and inclusion strategy and made a commitment to build a more diverse and inclusive sport, breaking down the stereotypes associated with a career in motor sports and encouraging people from all backgrounds to get involved.”
Economic motives also play a role here. At the start of the year, Reuters journalist Katrina Hamlin wrote that “Female fans will fuel Formula 1 in 2023.” Her column argued that the Netflix series Drive to Survive has opened up Formula One to new fans, and more specifically to more female fans. She quotes F1 boss Domenicali as saying in November that roughly 40 per cent of F1 fans are now female – eight percentage points more than five years ago.
According to GPblog, the steps taken do not go far enough. The GPblog authors argue that female drivers should be sponsored even earlier and should be systematically prepared for daily life in the higher mixed-sex classes in racing.
The first season of the F1 Academy is scheduled for 2025 and its success will also be measured by spectator interest. In the latter half of this decade, fans will find out whether there is a new Lella to cheer for.