F1 CEO doesn’t see ‘girl coming to F1 in next five years’

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The Formula 1 chief cannot foresee a scenario where a woman drives an F1 car in the next five years – unless a “meteorite” hits Earth.

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Stefano Domenicali, head of the Formula One Group, told a news conference on Wednesday that the motor racing body was making progress in fostering a talent pool for female drivers to enter the male-dominated grid, but urged patience.

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“Realistically, unless there’s something like a meteor, I don’t see a girl coming into F1 in the next five years,” he said, according to Sky News. “That’s highly unlikely.”

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Domenicali is not the first Formula 1 executive in recent years to suggest that progress will come slowly for a sport in which only two women have competed at Grand Prix level. Its popularity soared with the release of the Netflix docu-series Formula 1: Drive to Survive in 2019, but it has struggled to shed its reputation as a boys’ club.

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In Formula 1, 20 drivers compete in Grand Prix races around the world to accumulate points that determine the winners of the World Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships. Only drivers who finish in the top 10 earn points. Each team competes with two cars and two drivers.

Since the F1 Grand Prix World Championships have been in existence – over 70 years – only two women, both Italian, have been on the starting grid of the race. In the 1950s, Maria Teresa de Philippe competed in the Monaco and Belgian Grands Prix, and in the 1970s, Lela Lombardi became the only woman to win a Grand Prix point, although it was actually half a point.

Some industry executives say women are not as physically capable as men to compete in dangerous high-speed cars at a competitive level; others say female drivers would not be taken seriously by fans – or the sponsors whose funding fuels the capital-intensive sport. Bernie Ecclestone, the 91-year-old British billionaire who ran Formula One races until 2017, said something similar in 2016.

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Some efforts are being made to correct the gender imbalance. In 2018, a group of private investors launched the W Series, an all-female motor racing competition with the aim of “bringing more women into mainstream sports”. The idea was to create a free line for female motorsport talent so that it wouldn’t be “another 40 years before a woman has the experience and qualifications to start a Formula 1 Grand Prix championship again”. Caitlyn Jenner, an Olympian and transgender rights advocate, has bought a W Series team in 2022.

W Series drivers race Tatuus T-318 Formula 3 cars during Grand Prix weekends in partnership with Formula 1. The crucial difference is that the F3 cars are less powerful than the F1 cars. Formula 3 is the sport’s third-tier competitive level – the pipeline through which young talent tries to reach Formula 2 and Formula 1.

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Domenicali said on Wednesday that “we are very happy with the collaboration with Formula W. But we believe that in order to give the girls a chance to be at the same level of competition as the boys, they should be at the same age when they they are starting to fight on the track at the level of Formula 3 and Formula 2.”

“We’re working on it to see what we can do to improve the system. And you will see some action soon,” he added.

Lewis Hamilton, a Formula 1 star who drives for Mercedes, recently expressed frustration that there is no clear “progression” from the W Series into Formula 3 or Formula 2, according to racing news site PlanetF1.

“I feel it’s great that we have the W Series, but we as a sport need to do a lot more for young girls coming into the sport,” the site quoted Hamilton as saying during a July meeting with the W Series team in Hungary.

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Female race car drivers have been speaking out on the issue for years – though some with reservations about the prospect of more gender-balanced grids.

The first and so far only W Series champion, British driver Jamie Chadwick, said in June that while she had set herself a “goal to compete in Formula 1”, she did not know if it was possible for female drivers to compete at that level in the current conditions – because in most cases it was not done.


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“To get into Formula 1 you have to go through the feeder series – Formula 3 and Formula 2 – and it’s extremely physical,” Chadwick told the PA news agency. “We don’t know exactly what women are capable of in sports. If you’re 15 or 16 and you’re into car racing, without power steering and driving big heavy cars, a lot of women struggle even though they’ve been successful in karting,” she added.

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Chadwick said the sport should investigate whether changing car structures – for example, wider cockpits and thinner steering wheels – would help the performance of female drivers.

Abby Pulling, a W Series driver and member of the Alpine F1 team’s partner program, disagreed with Chadwick in an interview with the Guardian in July. “That’s Jamie’s opinion, but… . . we definitely believe a woman can be fit enough to compete at these levels,” she said. “I think it’s possible for a woman to be in F1 in the next five years.”

Susie Wolff, who in 2014 became the first woman to take part in a Grand Prix weekend in more than 20 years, cast doubt on the oft-repeated idea that women have less muscle mass than men and therefore cannot compete in championships F1.

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When she drove for Williams Racing in practice sessions at the Silverstone circuit in Northampton, England, in 2014, Wolff said, she realized it wasn’t as big of an obstacle as she thought. “Even on my first lap out of the pits, I knew it was going to be manageable,” she said, according to CNN.

“I think we’re at a bit of a disadvantage in terms of physicality, but that’s something that can be overcome and it’s not something that’s going to stop us from being successful in Formula 1,” Wolff said at the time.

Apart from the technical issues, a perception issue is also at play, according to Toto Wolff, chief executive of Mercedes-AMG Petronas, one of F1’s top three teams, and Susie Wolff’s husband. Her “last chance was denied,” Wolff said this month in an interview with the Financial Times. “She was within a few tenths of [Williams driver] Felipe Massa,” he said, but the F1 team “never dared to make that call.”

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