- Supa Sassy
When we think of motorsports, we think of Formula 1 racing. Considered the pinnacle of all motorsport, Formula 1 (also known as F1 or Formula One) is the highest level of racing across the world. While there are a few women who work as engineers, directors, in marketing, and in hospitality for teams, there are even fewer who get the chance to compete in behind the wheel.
Women Formula 1 drivers since inception in 1950
In fact, only five women have ever competed in Formula 1, and only two ever qualified and started a race:
- The woman who competed in the most Grands Prix is Lella Lombardi, with 17 entries and 12 starts.
- Desiré Wilson became the only woman to win a Formula One race of any kind when she won at Brands Hatch in the British Aurora F1 championship on 7 April 1980.
You might be interested to read about other women in motorsports and how they have smashed conventions.
Money has been and still remains the biggest obstacle why few women, if any, end up in the F1 driver’s seat. The difficulty in securing funding has been a long-standing issue for women hoping to break into the sport.
On the F1 circuit, there are only 20 spots available each season. To get into Formula 1 racing, drivers need to climb the ranks. It’s also essential to have a solid background and years of experience in competitive go-karting. In fact, most of the top F1 champions started karting at an early age, from as young as 3 years old.
Motor racing, in whatever form and at whatever age, is an expensive sport. All drivers, male or female, need an exorbitant amount of funding to make it up the F1 ladder, making the sport exclusive to the wealthy. Talent and skill alone is not enough, and financial support and sponsorship for drivers is difficult to obtain. But it’s much harder for women.
Alice Powell was the first woman to win a Formula Renault championship and in 2012 became the first woman to score points in the GP3 Series, yet she couldn't secure sponsors. Abbie Eaton’s racing career was also hampered by the struggle to get sponsorship and she became a stunt driver.
In honour of Women’s Month, we look to the present and take a brief view into two prominent women of today who continue to strive for females in motorsport: Catherine Bond Muir and Jamie Chadwick.
Modern Women in Formula 1
Catherine Bond Muir – W Series
Catherine Bond Muir is the founder and CEO of W Series, the world’s first international woman-owned and female-only motorsport racing championship. In a world of motorsport that is dominated by men, Muir’s mission is to change that by promoting women's place in motorsport.
She believes most drivers get into F1 through a demonstration of talent at an early age in go-kart racing or being fortunate enough to have parents able to afford the costly training. The best ones progress up the ladder from F4, F3, F2, and for the talented drivers with the most resources, F1. Muir says that girls are rarely given the same opportunities (training, karts, money) at the same young age as boys.
As part of her research before launching the women's single-seater series, she found that the number of women competing in single seaters had been declining year-on-year over the previous eight years. She believes that this trend was due to lack of sponsorship and the willingness to fund female drivers, with the sponsorship money being targeted solely at young male drivers.
One of the main differences between Formula 1 and the W Series is that the W Series covers all costs for its drivers, allowing the most talented female drivers to compete – regardless of their monetary status. This was an important criteria because what mattered most was to identify the best and fastest female drivers, regardless of their monetary situation.
The W Series mission is:
- To build the world’s most popular and inclusive female sporting series that inspires and empowers females to be a part of motorsport on equal terms with men.
- To create a platform to accelerate gender equality the world over.
- To see women from all over the world racing in the upper echelons of motorsport, including in F1.
- To achieve acceptance that female and male racing drivers can compete with one another on equal terms, when given the same opportunities.
Who says nobody watches women’s sports?
In the first season that took place in 2019, W Series had six races in Europe. They were the second most watched motorsport in the UK after Formula 1. Muir says fans don’t care whether it’s men behind the helmets or women. It just has to be entertaining.
W Series in partnership with Formula 1
2021 saw the W Series race alongside Formula 1 at eight Grand Prix weekends. A great achievement for Muir. Ross Brawn, Managing Director of Motorsport, Formula 1, said of W Series: “… They have been a beacon to many since they began racing in 2019. We believe it is incredibly important to give everyone the chance to reach the highest levels of our sport and their partnership with Formula 1 shows our determination and commitment to showcase their exciting series and the importance of building greater diversity across the sport.”
“If you can see it, you can be it” – Catherine Bond Muir
Jamie Chadwick – W Series champion
British racing driver, Jamie Chadwick, is the dominant force of W Series that was established in 2019. The two-time W Series defending champion is believed to be the next hope for a woman driving in F1.
David Coulthard, chairman of the W Series advisory board says Jamie Chadwick sets the benchmark. However, no amount of exposure and wins will automatically bring about funding. Still, the 24-year-old hasn’t given up her goal to compete in Formula 1. She believes it’s only a matter of time when big sponsors will get involved in women’s motorsport.
Chadwick hopes there will be a woman on the grid in F1 within the next five to 10 years: "I definitely think there's a whole crop of young talent coming through that, if a pathway is paved a bit more for them and they know what route to take, I strongly believe it'll be possible."
Rac(H)er – Forward thinking in Formula 1
Car manufacturers and F1 teams are leading the way for women F1 drivers.
Alpine, the French car manufacturer and F1 team have launched a programme aimed at discovering a female Formula 1 driver. The programme will span eight years and include training and support for the young drivers to help them develop from go-karting to the heights of Formula 1. Alpine also aims to increase the female workforce in the company to 30% from the current level of 12% by 2027.
Alpine CEO, Laurent Rossi, said the intent is to “debunk all the myths that women can’t” by giving women equal opportunities as men. The myths that women are not capable, physically, mentally, or physiologically to race have been built over time and companies like Alpine are pioneering a new path. “We want to prepare the women the same way that men are prepared… by doing so we will multiply the probability of women achieving."
“By launching Rac(H)er, this long-term transformation programme, we hope to be joined by all the players in the sector, because it is only by uniting that we will be able to make real progress. And that would be our real success.” – Laurent Rossi
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