Heels on wheels

Motorsport has long been dominated by men but it looks like that’s all about to change.

By Em Hudson | @_emilycarol_ Image by Jake Archibald Wiki Commons

Formula 1 is known to many as the “pinnacle of motorsport” where millions of young drivers have dreamt to race in and 20 of the worlds best drivers compete every year to win the Formula 1 world championship, an accolade that makes up a third of motorsport “triple crown” alongside winning the 24 hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500. 

Formula 1 has been around for 72 years and has seen thousands of drivers make their dream a reality and has turned names such as Prost, Senna, Hill, Hunt, Schumacher, Hamilton and Vettle into names millions can recognize but looking at the drivers behind these names and you notice one similarity. 

They’re all men.

I bet if you asked someone to describe an F1 driver they would probably say they’re a man. 

But this isn’t new. Since the first official Formula 1 race held on 13th may 1950 at Silverstone, UK the majority of drivers have been men. In fact only 5 women have attempted to qualify for a grand prix with only 2 actually competing – Maria Teresa de Filippis and Lella Lombardi. Filippis took part in 3 races during the 1950’s but it wouldn’t be for another 25 years when Lella Lombardi would race in F1 and become the first woman to score points in F1 when she finished sixth in the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix. 

47 years later she’s the only woman to do so. 

However a new generation of drivers are determined to change that. 

In 2019 the W-Series,a new category similar to Formula 3, was created to give women in motorsport a platform to show off their racing skills supporting F1 grand prix across the world. This gave up and coming female drivers an area to show off their racing skills and get them one step closer to fulfilling their dreams of F1. One person who looked to be on her way to F1 was Tatiana Calderón who became the first woman to race in Formula 2. As well as being a development driver for Sauber/Alfa Romeo F1 team many thought her to be F1’s next breakout female star. Three years later those dreams seem to be an afterthought. Calderón had lost her seat with F2 team Arden – now HWA – for the 2020 season and choosing to race in Super Formula then during the 2020 season it was announced that she was no longer a development driver for Alfa Romeo. 

So why aren’t female drivers progressing into F1?

Well for starters, being a racing driver is not cheap.

Imagine you want to be an F1 driver one day and like many drivers you’ll start your career with karting. Although it’s the “gateway to motorsport” on average you’d be spending ~£6500 on the kart alone with another ~£800 going towards all the gear. Factoring in you’ll need to fuel the kart and get new tires you can quickly see how this adds up. If you’re talented enough to move on from karting, you’ll go into single seat racing where you start driving cars. This is where young drivers can be entered into the formula categories. This is where the costs start ramping up. To race in F4 you’ll be looking at paying between £130,000 – £250,000, F3 is around £500,000 – £850,000 and finally F2 it gets a lot dearer at around £1.2M – £2.5M. 

This doesn’t need to be paid out of your own pocket. 

If you happen to come from a rich family or your parents own a multi million dollar company you shouldn’t have much to worry about. If you are a part of the 99% that aren’t then your dreams aren’t quite over yet. You have two choices. Option 1 – be really talented and catch the eye of an F1 Boss or talent scouter, become a part of a driver’s academy and race for their junior teams until you’re ready for F1. Option 2 – get a sponsor or several. Many companies around the world use motorsport as a way of advertisement. IF you are a promising up and coming driver they may be willing to invest in you, giving you some money to pay for you to race in exchange for advertising from your team.  

Even with the funding, talent or being a part of a driver academy you’re not guaranteed a seat.

This is when I introduce you to Jamie Chadwick

Since starting her racing career at the age of 11, Chadwick became the first woman to win the MRF challenge in 2018-19 as well as becoming the inaugural W-series champion in 2019 and retaining her title, becoming a 2x champion in 2021. For the 2022 season Chadwick looked set to drive in F3 with reports saying she was in talks and a drive was on the horizon but in February 2022 Chadwick announced she had joined Jenner racing to compete in her third season in the W-series. When speaking to Autosport Chadwick said: 

“The reason I’m not racing in Formula 3 is quite simple – I didn’t secure the budget.”

Jamie Chadwick

“ The next step is still four times the budget I have. It’s just one of those things, it hasn’t worked out this time.”

Like the champ she is, Chadwick isn’t letting this overshadow her season – “I’m not seeing it as a missed opportunity, because I think there’s still an opportunity with the W Series and a lot to achieve here. Hopefully, I’ll go again next year and see what happens.” 

Financial struggles are a known factor for inhibiting young drivers – “Competitive seats cost an extortionate amount of money. It’s not an issue just for me, it’s an issue for a lot of young drivers coming through that don’t necessarily have the financial support that they need to progress.”

“It makes it quite funnelled, especially with the number of people getting into the sport now, it’s become a lot more popular.”

So what does this mean for our future female formula 1 drivers?
It’s obvious that a lot has to change within the sport from finding ways to keep prices of junior formula categories lower, possibly by the FIA giving more funding to teams so that they can focus on bringing in talented drivers and not the richest. Also Formula 1 needs to break away from its misogynistic roots and needs to inspire more women into the sport. With only 1.5% of all motorsport licenses being held by women globally introducing a project like Formula E’s “Girls on track” to get more women into the sport and make a change.


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