Formula 1 racing has been the pinnacle of men’s racing sports for more than 30 years.
And since its inauguration it has remained just that, a male-dominated sport.
While women have been involved in racing through programs such as W Series, a free-to-enter championship intended to provide experience for women drivers, there have been few opportunities for advancement in the field for them.
Last November however, Formula 1 announced the arrival of an all-new, all-women’s driver series called F1 Academy.
The goal of F1 Academy is to further develop the skills of young women drivers with the intention of helping them work their way up to higher levels of competition.
F1 President and CEO, Stefano Domenicali, said in a media release that F1 Academy will give aspiring women drivers a chance to fulfill their ambitions.
“Everyone should have the opportunity to follow their dreams,” he said. “Formula 1 wants to ensure we are doing everything we can to create greater diversity and routes into this incredible sport.”
Jessica Edgar, the second confirmed driver with Rodin Carlin racing for the upcoming F1 Academy program, has been driving since she was four.
Edgar said women in this sport are incredibly talented, and they deserve the same recognition afforded to the men.
“Girls are just as good at driving, it’s just that it’s a man’s world,” Edgar said.
The Academy will offer more than just a chance for advancement within Formula series racing. It has also created an equal opportunity from a financial standpoint for people wanting to enter the sport.
According to Crash, a motorsport media group, drivers in Formula 1 pay an entry fee of anywhere between €10,000 and €900,000 (C$14,359 and $1.29 million), depending on the drivers’ success in previous seasons.
But for F1 Academy, Formula 1 will subsidize the cost of participating up to €150,000, which amounts to over $200,000 in this new league. The remaining costs are covered by the driver.
This new league will feature 15 aspiring drivers, spread out across five teams.
Stephanie Carlin, Deputy Team Principal at Rodin Carlin, said that every woman she has ever met in racing has had the same ambitions as their male counterpart, and F1 Academy was the chance to continue to inspire young hopefuls.
“F1 Academy is a great option for women who want to progress up the junior motorsport ladder,” she said. “It’s a sensible budget for drivers, subsidized by F1 and promoted by the same organization that run the F2 and F3 championships, so it has all the right people involved.”
Carlin said that with the teams participating, being among the leaders in the Formula 2 and 3 categories, there was a “high level of experience and expertise that the drivers can benefit from.”
Having these well-established teams facilitate this program have also bred an element of competition, which in turn created a sense of investment from the teams to accelerate the development of the drivers, she said.
On a similar note, Edgar said she hoped F1 Academy could strengthen the skills of women in racing and see them eventually compete against the men currently dominating in Formula 1.
She said she has already noticed a shift in representation in the sport since the announcement of W Series and F1 Academy.
“Since W Series started in 2018, a lot more girls have been coming into karting,” she said. “When I started out it would be me and maybe a couple other girls, but now when I go watch my little brother in karting there’s more and more girls in the pits, starting off in karting, so it’s good to see.”
But Carlin said increasing visibility of women across the sport as a whole will not happen overnight.
“The drivers that will mostly benefit from F1 Academy are probably not even racing yet or are many only just karting,” she said. “But what F1 Academy will do is inspire the women drivers coming up through the ranks, hopefully motivating and inspiring girls to take this up as a sport.”
So far, six drivers have been confirmed. The remaining women participating in the program’s inaugural season have yet to be announced.
The introductory teams will compete until at least 2025, contingent on the series’ success.