“Realistically, unless there is such a thing as a meteorite, I don’t see a girl coming to Formula One in the next five years,” according to Sky News. “This is very unlikely.”
Domenicali is not the first F1 executive in recent years to suggest progress will come slowly in a sport where only two women have competed at the Grand Prix level. It saw its popularity increase with the 2019 release of the Netflix documentary series “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” but has struggled to shed its reputation as a boy club.
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In Formula 1, 20 drivers compete in Grand Prix races around the world to accumulate points, which determine the winners of the World Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship. Only drivers in the top ten earn points. Each team races with two cars and two drivers.
There has always been a Formula 1 World Championship Grand Prix – over 70 years ago – only two women, both Italian, have successfully started the race. In the 1950s, Maria Theresa de Phillips competed in the Grand Prix in Monaco and Belgium, and in the 1970s, Lella Lombardi became the only woman to score a point in a Grand Prix, even though it was actually half a point.
Some industry executives say that women are as physically unable as men to race dangerous, high-speed cars at competitive levels; Others say the female drivers will not be taken seriously by the fan base – or the sponsors, whose funding supports the capital-intensive sport. Bernie Ecclestone, the 91-year-old British billionaire who raced Formula 1 Until 2017, he said something similar in 2016.
Some efforts are taking shape to address the gender imbalance. In 2018, a group of private investors launched the W Series, a women-only motor racing competition with the goal of “attracting more females to the sport’s grassroots”. The idea was to create a free pipeline of access to female motorsport talent, so it wouldn’t be another 40 years before a woman had the experience and qualifications to start a Formula 1 Grand Prix championship again. Olympic and transgender rights advocate Caitlin Jenner bought the W Series team in 2022.
W Series drivers race in Formula 3 Tatuus T-318 cars over the weekends at the Grand Prix in partnership with Formula 1. The important difference is that F3 cars are less powerful than F1 cars. Formula 3 is the sport’s third-tier racing category – the pipeline through which young talents are trying to make it to Formula 2 and Formula 1.
“We are very happy to collaborate with Formula W. But we believe that in order to be able to give girls the opportunity to be at the same level of competition with the guys, they have to be of the same age when they start fighting on the track at the Formula 3 and Formula 2 level,” Domenicali said on Wednesday.
“We are working on it to see what we can do to improve the system. You will soon see some action.”
Formula One star Lewis Hamilton who drives a Mercedes recently expressed his frustration with the lack of clear “progress” from the W series to Formula 3 or Formula 2, according to racing news site PlanetF1.
“I feel it’s great that we have the W Series, but as a sport we need to do more for the young girls entering the sport,” Hamilton was quoted as saying during a July meeting with the W Series team in Hungary.
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Female racing drivers have spoken about the issue for years — despite reservations from some about the prospects for more gender-balanced grids.
The first and so far only W Series champion, British driver Jimmy Chadwick, said in June that while she had set a “goal to compete in Formula 1,” she did not know if it was possible for women drivers to race at that level in the current conditions – because Mostly it is not done.
“To get into Formula 1, you have to go through the nutrient chain – Formula 3 and Formula 2 – which is very physical,” Chadwick told the Palestinian News Agency. “We don’t know exactly what a woman can do in this sport. If you are 15 or 16 years old, and you go to car racing, without electric steering and driving big heavy cars, a lot of women struggle, even though they are successful in karting.”
Chadwick said the sport should study whether changing car bodies – for example, wider cockpits and thinner steering wheels – would help female drivers’ performance.
Abby Boling, a W Series driver and member of the Alpine F1 team’s affiliate programme, disagreed with Chadwick in an interview with the Guardian in July. “That’s Jimmy’s opinion, but…we definitely think a female can be fit enough to race at those levels,” she said. “I think it is possible that she will be a female in Formula One in the next five years.”
Susie Wolff, who in 2014 became the first woman to race a weekend grand prix in more than 20 years, has cast doubt on the recurring notion that women have less muscle mass than men and therefore cannot compete in Formula One championships.
Wolff said that when she drove to Williams Racing for practice sessions at Silverstone in Northampton, England in 2014, she realized it wasn’t as big a hurdle as she thought. “I already knew on my first lap of drilling that it was going to be manageable,” she said, according to CNN.
Wolff said at the time: “I think we’re at a bit of a disadvantage in terms of physical strength, but that’s something that can be overcome and something that won’t stop us from being successful in Formula One.”
Besides technical questions, there is an issue of perception, according to Toto Wolff, CEO of Mercedes-AMG Petronas, one of the top three teams in Formula One, and husband of Susie Wolff. “Her last chance was denied,” Wolf said this month in an interview with the Financial Times. “She was a few tenths away from [Williams driver] Felipe Massa,” he said, but the Formula One team “didn’t dare make that call.”
Cindy Boren contributed to this report.