*Written by Kruthi Ravikumar
While there are no official regulations barring women from participating in Formula 1, the sport's current line up comprises exclusively male drivers. In principle, motorsport should ideally exhibit a more equitable gender representation. However, the statistics speak for themselves: only five women have ventured into Formula 1 races. This exclusive list includes Maria Teresa de Filippis from the 1950s, Lella Lombardi and Divina Galica in the 1970s, Desire Wilson who had a single opportunity in the 1980s, and Giovanna Amati's three races in 1992.Remarkably, it has been nearly half a century since a female racer last took part in a grand prix , with the most recent instance occurring in 1976 . Susie Wolff, currently serving as the Managing Director of the F1 Academy, marked the last instance of a woman taking part in an F1 Grand Prix weekend in 2015, where she had several practice sessions while serving as a test driver for Williams.
The main Challenges faced for women racing in Formula 1 are as follows :
· Underrepresentation and Lack of Role models : The most glaring issue is the historic underrepresentation of women in Formula 1. The lack of female drivers on the grid has persisted for decades, making it difficult for women to break into the sport at the highest level. The absence of prominent female role models in Formula 1 makes it harder for young aspiring female drivers to envision a career in the sport.
· Funding and financial barriers : Motorsport is an expensive sport, and securing sponsorship and funding can be more challenging for female drivers due to the lack of representation and exposure. For example, the lack of funding resulted the W series facing an abrupt end .
· Limited Development Opportunities: There are fewer development programs and pathways for female drivers compared to their male counterparts. A significant challenge that the W Series confronted was the absence of a clear pathway for drivers to progress from their series into the primary junior categories, including Formula 3 and Formula 2. Consequently, many drivers found themselves competing in the same series for extended periods without a clear route to advance their careers. In contrast to other junior series like F2 and F3, where the reigning champion is restricted from re-joining the same series within a two-year period following their title win, this kind of progression was unattainable in the W Series. This rule in other series fosters a more organic upward transition through the ranks of motorsport. It also signalled a lack of co operation between the W Series and the FIA, the principal regulatory authority in motorsport, as they struggled to establish a well-defined pathway connecting the two championships.
The presence and progress of women in Formula 1 represent an ongoing journey filled with both challenges and opportunities. While significant strides have been made to promote gender diversity and inclusion in the sport, there is still work to be done. However, initiatives like the Women in Motorsport Commission, the W Series, F1 Academy and partnerships with Formula 1 teams are helping to break down these barriers and provide women with more opportunities in various roles within the sport. With the commitment of various stakeholders and the determination of talented female drivers and professionals, the future holds the promise of a more equitable and inclusive Formula 1, where women can continue to make their mark and inspire the next generation of motorsport enthusiasts.
SOME OF THE EFFORTS MADE TO ADDRESS THE ISSUE ARE AS BELOW :
1) WOMEN IN MOTORSPORT COMMISSION 2009
This commission was established in 2009 by the FIA with the motive to promote women's participation through a multifaceted approach. Governing bodies acknowledge and embrace the inclusion of women in all aspects of the sport, be it as competitors, officials, team managers, engineers, or mechanics. To promote women through extensive media coverage, international events, partnerships, and collaborations with stakeholders. Additionally, social, and educational programs to be developed to encourage greater female engagement in motorsport, with a particular focus on nurturing young women's talents and raising awareness about road safety issues among emerging drivers, officials, professionals, and customers alike. This comprehensive strategy aimed to foster diversity, inclusion, and road safety within the world of motorsport. The Women in Motorsport Commission has more than 70 national representatives in the world appointed by their National Sporting Authorities. Their mission is to help implementing the WIMC initiatives in their respective countries to create a motorsport culture that facilitates and values the full participation of women in all aspects of motorsport.
They also came up with an initiative called “FIA Girls on Track” in 2018 and 2019 to create a competition model for promoting motorsport for women in grassroots level . 
Apart from the Women in Motorsport Commission, Formula 1 teams have also actively embraced initiatives to advance diversity and inclusivity. In 2020, the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team initiated the Accelerate 25 program, dedicated to fostering diversity within motorsport by creating pathways for aspiring young drivers from underrepresented backgrounds. One notable component of this program was the provision of a scholarship, specifically designed to support a talented female driver in the competitive F4 British Championship.
2) W SERIES
The W Series, a groundbreaking women's motorsport championship, burst onto the racing scene in 2019 with the aim of providing a platform for female drivers to showcase their talent on a global stage. The series had a total of three seasons – 2019,2021 and 2022 with Jamie Chadwick dominating the championship for all three seasons . As the 2022 season concluded prematurely, cut short by two races due to insufficient investment and subsequently entering administration, the mission to reintroduce a woman to Formula 1 since Lela Lombardi in 1976 has faced criticism, labelling it as an unsuccessful endeavour. However, reducing the series to mere failure oversimplifies its impact. It’s true measure of success lies in the transformative effect it had on lives, discussions, and, notably, the perception of women in the world of motorsport.
3) F1 ACADEMY
F1 Academy is an initiative by Formula 1 to pick up where W series left . It is an all-female driver Category , aimed at nurturing and equipping young talents for advancement in higher tiers of motorsport, encompassing W Series, Formula 1, Formula 2, and Formula 3. This new series will feature five teams, managed by existing F2 and F3 teams, with each team fielding three cars, thereby constituting a formidable 15-car grid. Within the F1 Academy, a total of five teams are in operation, all of which are overseen by established Formula 2 and Formula 3 teams. These include ART Grand Prix, Campos Racing, Rodin Carlin, MP Motorsport, and Prema Racing.
The series extends its purpose beyond the quest for the next female Formula 1 driver; it also serves as an endeavour to usher women into various roles within the sport, including those of engineers and mechanics. Sussie Wolff is the current managing director of the academy .
Starting in 2024, a collaborative effort is also set to be established with the Champions of the Future (COTF) karting class. This new junior class is designed to provide a pathway for emerging female karting talents to progress to the F1 Academy. James Geidel, the President of COTF, will closely collaborate with Toto Wolff in this endeavor.
Following six rounds of intense racing, the first-ever champion of the F1 Academy finds its conclusion during the weekend of October 20-22, coinciding with the 2023 FORMULA 1 LENOVO UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin. Marta Garcia secured the inaugural F1 Academy title by capturing a thrilling victory in Race 1 at the Circuit of The Americas.
Notably, this marks a historic moment as 18 international broadcasters offered live coverage throughout the entire weekend. The debut of the first live international broadcast signifies another significant achievement for the series, building on the recent announcement that it will join the F1 calendar in 2024. Additionally, all ten Formula 1 teams have committed to selecting one driver and contributing to the design of a car that will compete in the F1 Academy starting from the upcoming season. The F1 Academy also confirmed their calendar in October earlier this year and is also set to back seven Grand Prix events during the 2024 season, spanning across three continents, commencing in Saudi Arabia and culminating in Abu Dhabi, with every round held alongside the F1 season .
*The author is a legal scholar from India
(The image used here is for representative purposes only)
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