Ever since its inception, Formula 1 has been known as a man’s world. In the long history of the sport, there have only ever been six women who have taken part in a Formula 1 race weekend, and even fewer who have participated in a race, but why is that the case?
There are no female F1 drivers because women were never really encouraged in any area of the sport until recently. The lack of female role models and the elite nature of Formula 1 meant that there have been few who made it through the ranks. However, that might change in the future.
With the introduction of the W series as a support race, Formula 1 has become more focused on developing female drivers and promoting their presence in the sport. This could lead to us seeing a female Formula 1 driver in the near future, but let’s take a closer look at this issue.
Can F1 Have Female Drivers?
There is nothing in the rules stopping a woman from competing in Formula 1. In fact, there have been female drivers in the past, even though they have not seen the success that male drivers have seen in the world of Formula 1.
We see many female drivers in other branches of motorsport. From Danica Patrick to Sophia Flörsch and Alice Powell, there’s no shortage of female racing drivers in the world. However, making it to the pinnacle of racing is a challenge on its own.
Despite what many people believe, the physical and demanding aspect of driving a Formula 1 car can be overcome by a female racing driver. After all, we often see female fighter pilots – undergoing similar if not more physical strain than F1 drivers – in our modern society, which shows the flaws in the argument of the sport being too physically demanding.
A Challenging Environment
That said, the nature of driving a Formula 1 car is brutal, and it is an extremely challenging environment to be in, not only physically but also mentally. Thus, Formula 1 drivers are extreme athletes who need to be super fit and have to be able to withstand massive amounts of G-forces consistently.
Any driver that enters the sport, not just female drivers, must undergo a lot of training, both physically and mentally, in order to be successful in it. This racing fitness comes with years of experience in motorsport, climbing through the ranks of junior levels.
Starting From The Bottom
Formula 1 drivers start out in motorsport from an extremely young age. In the majority of cases, most modern Formula 1 drivers started their racing careers no later than the age of 6. There just hasn’t been as much of a push for getting young females into the sport at this young an age as there has for males, historically speaking.
It’s therefore not that females aren’t up to the challenge by default, but it’s that they aren’t encouraged in as large numbers as males are. A male trying to get into F1 with just a year or two in motorsport faces the same challenges a female would, it’s therefore just that more males are introduced to motorsport from a younger age.
Modern society has changed significantly in the past 10 years. In the past it would be frowned upon to see a female driver in karting or any other form of motorsport. However, these days it is encouraged, and there is more support and ‘acceptance’ around the concept of female racing drivers. This means more and more females are getting involved in motorsport from a young age.
Why F1 Has No Female F1 Drivers
There are several reasons behind the lack of female Formula 1 drivers. It mainly stems from the history of the sport and it being known as a “man’s world”. This has created stumbling blocks for women who aspire to make it to the pinnacle of motorsport, and we often see them turning their backs on Formula 1 and furthering their careers elsewhere.
The first reason there is a lack of female Formula 1 drivers is that there hasn’t been a major role model for women in Formula 1, in terms of someone actually competing in the sport. The most recent example is Susie Wolff, who was a test driver for Williams between 2012 and 2015.
Although she never entered a Formula 1 race, she drove in the first free practice session of the 2014 German Grand Prix and became the first woman to patriciate in a Formula 1 weekend since 1992. She ended the free practice session just two tenths behind a much more experienced teammate in Felipe Massa.
Susie Wolff drove in two more practice sessions in the 2015 Spanish and British Grand Prix before ultimately announcing her retirement from her role as the Williams development driver. She states that she had gone as far as she could go in the sport but set out to help other women in motorsport.
Other than Susie Wolff, there are some female drivers in the junior levels of single seater racing. However, since the majority of people focus more on Formula 1 than grassroots motorsport, they don’t get the exposure that F1 drivers do, making it inherently more difficult for them to be seen by as many people as role models.
Another challenge that women face in getting to Formula 1 is getting sponsors onboard. Despite the changes in society and more of a focus on gender equality, sponsors are still reluctant to support female racing drivers.
In pursuit of a Formula 1 seat, your budget is arguably the most important factor that you need to consider. The majority of racing teams, no matter what level of motorsport you look at, require a massive budget just to secure a seat. Without sponsorship backing it is impossible to make it through the motorsport ladder.
Lack Of Interest
Another potential reason we don’t see many female Formula 1 drivers could be down to a lack of interest in the sport. In order to get to Formula 1, you need to start from a young age. This requires the driver to have a passion and interest in the sports from a young age, as well as the support of their parents.
One report from September 2021 suggests that just 3% of females in the USA are ‘avid fans’ of F1. 84% of those asked weren’t fans at all. Contrast this with the 14% of men asked who were avid fans, with just 61% saying they weren’t a fan. This illustrates that, for F1 in America at least, females are less likely to be fans of the sport than men.
But no driver can step foot in a kart to start their career if their parents aren’t onboard with it. The first element of this is that many parents may have a more traditional mindset in the sense that they believe that motorsport in general is a “man’s world” and that women should not be driving racing cars.
While clearly not a useful or correct mindset, this means that many parents would prevent any opportunity for a young female driver to get their career started at the right age.
The Odds Are Against Everyone
Finally, it all comes down to statistics. It’s clear that there’s a very slim chance of anyone becoming a Formula 1 driver, regardless of gender. With only 20 Formula One seats available on the grid, and millions of drivers across junior racing categories, you need to be an exceptionally great driver and have sponsorship backing to make it.
Consider the vast number of karting drivers there are around the world for example. A tiny percentage of those drivers will make it to a single seater car in a junior series. An even smaller percentage make it past F3 and into F2, and even fewer make it from Formula 2 into Formula 1.
You then need to consider how many of those drivers are females compared to how many are males. Even at the F4 level only one of 20 drivers was female in 2021, with Abbi Pulling leaving at the end of the season due to lack of sponsorships. Because of the low percentage of female drivers, it makes it even more unlikely for them to make it all the way to Formula 1, purely on a statistical basis.
List Of Female F1 Drivers
The list of female F1 drivers includes:
- Maria Teresa de Filippis (1958-1969) – 3 starts, 0 points
- Lella Lombardi (1974-1976) – 12 starts, 0.5 points
- Divina Galica (1976-1978) – 0 starts (DNQ)
- Desiré Wilson (1980) – 0 starts (DNQ)
- Giovanna Amati (1992) – 0 starts (DNQ)
- Susie Wolff (2014-2015) – 0 starts (DNQ)
The list of female Formula 1 drivers is short. The total list of all Formula 1 drivers in the history of the sport reaches 770 as of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. This only counts drivers who have started a Grand Prix (not test drivers or drivers who have participated in a free practice session).
With the same rules applied, there have only been 2 female Formula 1 drivers to start a Grand Prix. In other words, in the 72 years that Formula 1 has existed as an official championship, only 0.25% of the drivers have been female. In total, if you count free practice sessions, there have been 6 female drivers, and many more male drivers to add to the total, so it’s still a tiny number.
Maria Teresa de Filippis
Maria Teresa de Fillippis was the first ever female Formula 1 driver. Considering the fact that the sport got its official start in 1950, Formula 1 didn’t have to wait long to see a female driver. However, she retired due to the sport’s high fatality rate at the time.
As the first woman in a “man’s world” she faced a lot of sexism, which was sadly normal at the time. The director of the French Grand Prix even prevented her from competing in the race. However, this shows that, even during very different times towards the beginning of F1’s life, women were and still are very capable of driving an F1 car.
Lella Lombardi was the most experienced female driver in Formula 1’s history, with 17 race entries, and she is also the first and so far only female driver to score world championship points (albeit half a point) in Formula 1. She showed that women can compete successfully in Formula 1 despite the prejudice and stereotypes.
Lombardi was not only the first female Formula 1 driver to score points in a Grand Prix, but she was also the last female Formula 1 driver to start a race. Four others have participated in a Grand Prix weekend after her, but none have made the starting grid since then.
With only two women ever starting a Formula 1 race it is easy to see why people believe that female drivers can’t be in Formula 1. However, there are no rules against it. Simple driving a Formula 1 car is an achievement, and making it to the grid of a Formula 1 race is incredibly difficult, regardless of whether you’re male or female.
So, what is being done to improve gender equality and promote more female drivers into Formula 1? There are procedures in place to promote female drivers, however these elements are still new and will take time before they are capable of actually producing a female Formula 1 driver.
What Is The W Series?
The W Series is a single seater racing series just for women. The W Series started in 2019, so it is still very new to the world of motorsport. It’s a surprise that it took so long for a women-only racing series to be started, but it is now a support series for F1 itself.
In 2021 it was announced that the W Series would become a support series to Formula 1. This is a massive stride forward for such a young motorsport category, as becoming a support series for Formula 1 gives it a much bigger platform to work with and to promote female drivers.
The F1 Support Series
The series travels with Formula 1 to many of the races (8 in 2021), and the drivers get to race on the same tracks as the Formula 1 cars in between Formula 1 sessions. This not only brings the female drivers closer to Formula 1, but it also brings more spectators to the W Series and grows its base of support.
Much like Formula 2 and Formula 3, the drivers are given equal (or ‘spec’) cars, which aims to separate the best drivers from the rest. This has proven to develop young drivers and ultimately allow the drivers who have the best abilities to rise to the top.
The W Series has a $1.5 million prize fund, which is exactly what young drivers need. Winning the W Series could help a young female driver to support her career even further by using the prize money to get a seat in another series.
The W Series did not go ahead in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, in the two seasons that have been held (2019 and 2021), Jamie Chadwick has won both. Since then, she has moved on to Extreme E and joined the Williams Driver Academy, and she has been awarded with 15 Super License points for her second victory (none were awarded in 2019), which are a requirement to get into Formula 1.
While the W Series has been a great leap forward for female drivers, it has not come without criticism from the motorsport community. The act of segregating the female drivers from male drivers is not considered to be optimal for their development.
While the series creates opportunities for female drivers to showcase their talents and have a platform to use, it ultimately prevents them from competing against other drivers who they are sure to come up against in the future, be it in Formula 1 or other junior single seater series.
Criticism Of The W Series
British IndyCar Series driver Pippa Mann said: “What a sad day for motorsport. Those with funding to help female racers are choosing to segregate them as opposed to supporting them. I am deeply disappointed to see such a historic step backwards take place in my lifetime.”
In addition, Charlie Martin (a transgender racing driver) said: “This series is founded on segregation, and while it may create opportunities for some female drivers, it sends a clear message that segregation is acceptable. We don’t discriminate in sport based on race, so it is particularly jarring that we feel it is acceptable to do so based on gender in 2018. As racers, we want to compete against the best drivers – regardless of age, race, sexual orientation or gender – and prove we are the best at what we do.”
Clearly, the W Series has created a new opportunity for the best female racers to gain some exposure alongside the F1 race weekends. However, given that they are only competing against other females, and that it is yet to produce a female F1 driver, it’s not without its issues. It will therefore be interesting to see how the W Series develops in the future.
There are no female F1 drivers for a variety of reasons. Although there have been female Formula 1 drivers in the past, many of them have been unsuccessful. It is extremely difficult for women to make it to Formula 1. However, systems are being put into place to help promote females in motorsport.