What is F1 Academy?

It’s a female-only race series designed to provide a platform for women drivers to progress through to higher levels of competition. When it was launched in November 2022, organizers said they wished to: “give more access to track time, racing and testing, as well as support with technical, physical, and mental preparations.”

Unlike in F1, this series has two races at each venue, which means this season the drivers will compete at just seven tracks, but complete fourteen races in the process. The 15 drivers are split among 5 teams – Rodin Motorsport, MP Motorsport, Campos Racing, ART Grand Prix and Prema Racing.

Spain’s Marta Garcia won the inaugural championship in 2023 for Prema Racing, who took the team title. Garcia has since won a fully-funded drive in the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine (FRECA), a series below Formula Three.

What is different in F1 Academy this year?

The relationship with F1 is much closer than in the last campaign, with every F1 team supporting a driver and running a car dressed in its livery. Races will now all be run in conjunction with F1 grand prix weekends, starting on March 8 in Saudi Arabia, where women have only been able to drive since 2018. F1 is also providing F1 Academy with some funding.

Drivers must be between the ages of 16 and 25 and can now only compete for two seasons before moving elsewhere.

Other than the 10 F1 teams having a driver on the grid, five companies – Puma, Tommy Hilfiger, Red Bull and Charlotte Tilbury – are also supporting drivers.

There will also be regional wildcard entrants at select races in 2024, such as Reema Juffali who is the wildcard for the opening race in Jeddah. A new broadcast deal has also been signed, with races shown on YouTube and on various channels in different countries.

Are there any drivers who could graduate to F1?

This is the big question for many involved in the F1 Academy. British driver, Jamie Chadwick, a triple champion in the now defunct W Series, recently agreed with comments by Williams boss James Vowles that a female driver on a grand prix starting grid remains a distant possibility.

“I think he’s right,” Chadwick, 25, told Reuters. “I think what we’re doing is growing the amount of participation and that’s increasing the talent pool. Naturally that’s just going to increase the odds of female drivers filtering through to the top, but what we are lacking now is performance at the feeder series level.”

Fellow W Series competitor Naomi Schiff, of Rwanda, told Sky that, while getting female drivers up to that level required a “generational change”, the link up with F1 promises plenty.

“If they bring them into the team, I hope they’ll be doing a lot of development with the drivers, whether that’s on the simulator, working with the engineers that they have access to, maybe even with some of the F1 team’s drivers. Hopefully these teams are passing on skills to the drivers as well as branding.”

Has there ever been a female F1 driver?

There has, but it was a long time ago now. Lella Lombardi’s last race was in 1976 and the Italian won her only race points a year earlier when she finished sixth in the Spanish Grand Prix. Indeed, Lombardi and Italian compatriot Maria Teresa de Filippis are the only two drivers to have started an F1 race in the sport’s 72-year history. More recently, driving for Williams, Susie Wolff took part in a practice session at the 2015 British Grand Prix where she finished an impressive 13th out of 20 cars. She is now managing director of F1 Academy.

Has there been support from F1?

Initially, this was a struggle, with Wolff frustrated by the lack of support male drivers showed the emerging format.

“It’s a little bit sad that it’s always Lewis (Hamilton),” she told Sky Sports F1 in 2023. “He’s always the one offering support.”

But with closer relations between F1 and the F1 Academy, a few other drivers have started to at least speak about the female circuit.

“It’s like me as a Mexican thinking that I’m going to make it into F1. It’s a crazy dream,” Sergio Perez, one of only two Mexican drivers ever to race in F1 told The Athletic. “I think the first girl that makes it into the sport, into Formula One, it will make a lot of other girls realize it is possible.”

Ahead of the opening race in Jeddah, McLaren’s Lando Norris also showed his support to McLaren’s F1 Academy driver, Bianca Bustamante.

What are the criticisms of the F1 Academy?

Last year’s lack of a broadcast deal has been resolved, although some aspects of media coverage remain tricky.

The greatest concern though, is that it follows the same route as the W-Series, a racing series that ran for three seasons before it was liquidated due to a lack of funding. That is unlikely to happen to the F1 Academy given the support it has from F1, but it too must prove that it has both a sustainable business model and is also a genuine launchpad for women in the sport and not just a token gesture.

So far, the F1 Academy has made steps to show it is in it for the long term. F1’s place in the pyramid shows that the aim is to have successful academy drivers move up to F3, then F2 and, ultimately, F1. The likelihood of that remains unclear, but unlike the W-Series, progression is at least clear here.

What is the F1 Academy season schedule?

From the season starter in Jeddah on March 8 and 9, the F1 Academy will go to Miami on May 4 and 5, Barcelona on June 22 and 23, Zandvoort on August 24 and 25, Singapore on September 21 and 22, Lusail on November 30 and December 1, and Abu Dhabi (UAE), where the last two races take place on December 7 and 8.

Edited by Jonathan Harding


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