The finale of the F1 Academy season in Austin brings female racers one step closer to the main grid.
With the Formula One season concluded, the excitement and pressure of a title race will be noticeably absent at this Sunday’s US Grand Prix. Nevertheless, another championship will be determined in Austin as F1 strives to bring a woman back to the starting grid for the first time at the Circuit of the Americas. This race serves as the final event for the all-female F1 Academy and also sets the stage for their future aspirations.
The managing director of the series, Susie Wolff, is excited about bringing her drivers to the F1 undercard and is pleased with the successful outcomes of the Academy’s first season.
“Our presence in Austin signifies our arrival and our determination to make a strong impact. We will boldly stand out and not simply serve as a minor support series. Our goal is to inspire and bring about change. We have been innovative and have faced obstacles from those who are used to the traditional ways. However, we firmly believe in our vision for the future and will continue to move forward with it.”
This weekend, the last three rounds of the season will occur for the 15 drivers in the Academy. Marta García from Spain is currently in the lead to win the title. She holds a 48-point lead over Léna Bühler from Switzerland and a 56-point lead over Hamda Al Qubaisi from the United Arab Emirates. The first and third races in Austin will award 25 points to the winner, with 10 points going to the winner of the shorter second race. Additional points can be earned for achieving pole position and setting the fastest lap.
Racers are vying for victory while also contributing to a larger goal of increasing female representation in motorsport and ultimately F1. This event has not seen a woman start a grand prix since Lella Lombardi’s participation in Austria in 1976.
Wolff, a former Williams development and test driver, is frank about the scale of the task that still lies ahead and how her role goes far beyond simply putting 15 women on track: “When I spoke to a lot of people in the sport, including the F1 team principals, they said they would get involved but asked: ‘You are just putting a plaster on the problem, how are you going to solve the problem?’
The issue is a low level of involvement. Only 5% of women have participated in any type of motorsport. My main goal, along with managing the series, is to utilize this platform to challenge preconceived notions and demonstrate that there are opportunities for women in the world of motorsport.
As we strive towards our ultimate goal, the initial season has already achieved significant progress. While participating in a complete F1 weekend may be unfamiliar to most Academy drivers, it is a necessary adjustment. In the upcoming year, all seven rounds of the series will take place during F1 race events. Additionally, the series is set to announce a finalized agreement for live television coverage beginning in 2024.
The Academy has successfully convinced all 10 F1 teams to collaborate with the series, resulting in each team having a designated driver representing them and using their team branding for the upcoming season. This is a significant milestone in altering perceptions.
Important for Wolff, who sees separation from male competition as a means to an end, the focus has been on ensuring advancement. The champion of the tournament will be awarded a fully funded opportunity to compete in another series – a higher step on the career ladder – which will be revealed next week.
Wolff cautioned before the start of the season that it could potentially take up to ten years to see a woman in F1 again, but the advancements made thus far have prompted her to reconsider. The end of the championship in Austin will mark just the start of what lies ahead for women in F1.
She states that she has altered her perspective. Despite it being a significant obstacle, she believes it is achievable, especially with the support of F1 teams. However, she wants to manage expectations and clarifies that it will not happen within the next three years, but it is definitely within reach.