In 1975, driver Lella Lombardi, a 34-year-old Italian woman made history in Spain by becoming the first woman to finish in the top six of a World Championship. Before her, Maria Teresa de Filippis, a compatriot, was F1's first female contender in 1958. She and Lombardi are still the only two women who have ever qualified for a Formula One race.
It has been 46 years and no other woman has scored points in the Formula One Grand Prix. Except for the two things that matter the most-money and opportunity-nothing technically stops women from reaching the top rung of the sport.
With a record seven championships, 96 wins, and 99 pole positions, Lewis Hamilton stays at the social vanguard of motorsport, speaking out on Black Lives Matter and voicing human rights concerns over the Bahrain Grand Prix. Lando Norris of McLaren became the youngest British podium finisher in history at the age of 20; in March, Yuki Tsunoda, a 20-year-old rookie, became the first Japanese driver to win points since 2012 with a ninth-place finish.
Hamilton, Norris, and Tsunoda are all well-known names in Formula One, and each has had a significant impact on the sport. Other trailblazers, though, are fast infiltrating from the periphery. Now, the legacy of de Filippis and Lombardi is being carried on by a group of talented female drivers who are revolutionizing the sport as we know it. Each, forming the future female face of F One.
What is the W series?
On October 10, 2018, the W Series was unveiled to the public. In November 2017, rumours about the formation of a female-only racing series began to surface. It was founded in response to the absence of female drivers making it to the top levels of motorsport, particularly Formula 1.
W Series drivers are chosen solely on their skill, and the vehicles in the series are mechanically similar, which means that the most capable drivers, not those with the most money, will win W Series races and championships. W Series believes that the more high-profile female role models it can generate, the more young girls will be inspired to pursue karting, bringing more females into the sport's grassroots. The premise that if you can envision it, you can be it is at the heart of the W Series' aim. Their aim is to create the most popular and inclusive female sporting series in the world, one that motivates and enables women to participate in racing on an equal footing with men. They also intend to build a platform in the process that will help to expedite gender equality around the world.
Which drivers are reigning the W series?
Jamie Chadwick has emerged as one of the most talented racers in the W series. Her ascension through the ranks of motorsport has been nothing short of spectacular. She was the youngest driver to win the British GT Championship at the age of 17 (which Chadwick described as a "huge moment"). She was the first woman to win a British F3 race at the age of 20. She won the inaugural W Series, the sport's all-female championship, at the age of 21.
Chadwick says she stumbled upon racing by chance! It’s a happy coincidence given her talent.
"I'm not from a racing background," she says "I started go-karting when I was about 12 years old. It was all just a hobby-really something I did once a month for fun, for at least the first two or three years."
History of participation by women
Women have had a brief history in Formula One. It has been a man's sport for decades, with few women in key positions or behind the wheel. Only six women have driven during grand prix weekends, and only two of them have actually competed in the race, the most recent being Lella Lombardi of Italy. That was nearly four decades ago.
Racing is a game of numbers. Thousands of children all over the world participate in karting each year, but there are only 20 drivers at the top of the international single-seater racing pyramid in Formula One, making success tough for either gender.
Female competitors were far more common in the early years of grand prix racing, when admittance to motorsport was as constrained by financial means as it is today. In the 1920s and 1930s, motor racing as a sport for the higher classes produced a tiny group of accomplished female racers, and the manufacturers of the time were not ignorant to the promotional prospects. Violette Cordery, a racing driver and distance-driving record-holder, was hired by Invicta to market its cars with stunts, proving their durability by driving from London to Monte Carlo in third gear and completing a 1927 round-the-world trip in five months.
Danica Patrick of IndyCar and Nascar had demonstrated how marketable a woman in the driver's seat can be. Patrick's reputation may outshine her racing accomplishments, but her involvement in the sport has raised Nascar's global profile.
Increasing participation of women
Women have been rising through the ranks of engineering roles behind the scenes. Bernadette Collins of Force India (now Aston Martin) spoke to Reuters on the growing number of women pursuing successful jobs outside of motorsport.
When Monisha Kaltenborn took over the Sauber team, she became the sport's first female team principal. Despite the fact that she stepped down in 2017, a new generation of female leaders is emerging.
"Formula One is getting quite exciting," says Chadwick. "They're trying to encourage closer racing, for it to be more cost effective for the teams, and for there to be a more open field for more people to be given the opportunity to win races... It's a really exciting time to be watching [Formula One] and obviously from my perspective being part of the women's team, to be able to see it first-hand, and play a small role."
However, this industry still needs to be worked upon. Little was done when sexual assault charges against Haas' Nikita Mazepin appeared before the start of the 2021 season-a half-hearted apology on Instagram; a half-hearted statement from Haas.