Sports Gazette

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F1 Academy and the rise of women’s motorsport

Attempts to break up the boys’ club that is top level motor racing have had mixed results.

Abbi Pulling racing at Spielberg in F1 Academy in 2023
Abbi Pulling racing at Spielberg in F1 Academy in 2023 – credit: Lukas Raich

Of the 776 individuals to have raced in F1, only two have been female.

The last woman to enter a Formula One race weekend was Giovanna Amati in 1992. However, she failed to qualify for any of her three races.

The 1976 Austrian Grand Prix was the last time a woman started an F1 race, with Lella Lombardi finishing 12th – four laps down and the last finisher of the race.

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Lombardi also holds the accolade of being the only woman to have ever scored a championship point in F1, earning half a point for her sixth placed finish at the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix.

To help amend this historic absence, W Series was launched in 2019 as an all-female Formula Regional-level racing series, aimed as a pathway for women to eventually return to the pinnacle of motorsports.

Originally supporting Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM), W Series became formally tied with F1 and appeared on several of their race weekends.

Despite this, the series collapsed after just three seasons, with the final three races of 2022 cancelled due to financial constraints.

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With W Series lying dormant, November 2022 saw the launch of F1 Academy as an all-female Formula 4-level series – a step below from where W Series had operated.

Where W Series had been free to enter, drivers in F1 Academy are asked to contribute €100,000 towards team costs, down from the €150,000 requested before 2024. This is still significantly cheaper than most conventional routes into formula racing.

It was announced in March 2024 that F1 Academy had secured a broadcast deal seeing its races shown across 23 broadcasters in over 160 international territories, with each qualifying and races streamed on YouTube and X worldwide. 

As a result, the profile of women’s motorsport is growing like never before.

Motorsport is synonymous with sponsorship. From the days of Marlboro Ferrari to Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber today, it is the lifeblood of the sport.

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For the second season of W Series, the drivers were nominally split into teams, the most notable being Caitlyn Jenner’s sponsoring Jenner Racing for the 2022 season. 

This has only furthered with F1 Academy, with every F1 team is represented on the series’ grid this season. Each of the ten F1 teams sponsoring one driver for the 2024 season and having their liveries run on track.  

The remaining five drivers are supported by the series’ other sponsors, such as Lola Lovinfosse’s Charlotte Tilbury branded car.

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The progress is obvious. Jessica Hawkins became the first woman in five years to test a modern F1 car in September 2023, when she drove Aston Martin’s 2021 AMR21, for 26 laps around the Hungaroring in Budapest.

As a W Series graduate, Hawkins is now Aston Martin’s Head of Racing for F1 Academy, working directly with 17-year-old Tina Hausmann.

Evidently, there has been significant progress with raising the profiles of these drivers.

McLaren’s F1 Academy driver Bianca Bustamante currently has 1.2 million followers on Instagram. This is more than current F1 drivers Zhou Guanyu with 1.1 million and Logan Sargeant with 810,000 followers.

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This also far outshines the three-time W Series champion Jamie Chadwick by nearly a million followers.

F1 teams seem to value their F1 Academy drivers greatly, with some even included in F1 team season launches alongside their primary drivers.

Taking Bustamante as an example, McLaren have used her as a marketing tool. Knowing that they have a youthful fanbase following their young line-up of 24-year-old Lando Norris and 22-year-old Oscar Piastri, they have included her in much of their marketing to help expand this following.

It is smart. Why exclude such a large demographic when women are increasingly becoming engrossed in the world of motorsports?

Sophia Flörsch is the sole woman competing in this year’s Formula 3 Championship, while Tatiana Calderón became the only woman to ever drive in Formula 2 in 2019.

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The hope is that F1 Academy can become a series that streams female talent into these championships and beyond.

While the irony should not be lost that the 2024 F1 Academy season began in Saudi Arabia, a country where women could not legally drive just six years ago, F1 Academy is clearly achieving off-track.

Despite the positives, there has been the odd bump in the road. The bankruptcy of W Series clearly impacted this growth.

More recently, managing director of F1 Academy and former Williams test driver Susie Wolff has filed a criminal complaint in France against the sport’s governing body, the FIA, this week.

This follows the FIA’s now-dropped investigation into Wolff after an alleged breach of confidentiality with her Mercedes F1 boss and husband Toto supposedly benefiting.

As well, Mercedes Junior Team member Doriane Pin was stripped of her win after the second race in Saudi Arabia in March this season, she was handed a 20-second time penalty for ignoring the chequered flag signalling the race’s end.

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With F1 Academy in just its second season, its legacy is yet to be seen, with Wolff admitting it may be eight to ten years before we see a woman on the F1 grid.  

However, this is progress. There seems a genuine possibility that F1 Academy could produce a steady stock of future drivers to end the near-50 year wait for women to compete again at the pinnacle of motorsport.


  • Henry Ollis-Brown

    Henry is a sports journalist with a passion for rugby and motorsports. He is a keen supporter of Harlequins and England rugby. He can normally be found researching an obscure fact to put into an article.