BusyFormula #031: Will we ever see a female driver get behind an F1 wheel on Sunday again?

“I would be happy to see a girl in Formula One. Not just because she is a girl but because she is talented enough. I think there are some very talented women that can be in Formula One in the next few years.” – Charles Leclerc, speaking to Mission Winnow in October 2021.

For the longest time, several sports have been promoting the women’s game at the highest level. However, when it comes to the pinnacle of motorsport, chances for women competitors have been few and far between.

In fact, it has been close to 50 years since a woman started on the grid of a Formula One race. Lella Lombardi made 12 starts between 1974 and 1976, representing March Engineering, RAM Racing and Williams.

But perhaps the more impactful woman was the one who paved the way for Lombardi 16 years prior – fellow Italian Maria Teresa de Filippis. She had five race entries and qualified to start three of them on the grid.

Divina Gallica, Desire Wilson and Giovanna Amati followed in their footsteps, sharing seven race entries between 1976 and 1992.

Since then, women have been involved in F1 racing off the race day track in management, practice, and car development.

However, some women are waiting in the wings to take their shot at fighting for position at turn 1 in various countries behind a bonafide F1 wheel.

Who among the current crop of women drivers can cut the mustard in Formula One?

F1 racing comes off as a rich man’s sport. After all, a significant portion of the current grid comes from money. In fact, many fans and pundits alike believe that some of the drivers have a seat solely due to the sponsorship money they bring along.

The result? Some deserving and more talented racers are left on the wayside, plying their trade in other iterations of motorsport in Europe or across the pond in the U.S.

Many women who shine during their karting days find opportunities more challenging to come by. And this isn’t helped by the fact that society deems it unfitting for women to pursue careers in what’s considered a male sport.

However, the Women & Motor Sport Commission has advanced women’s involvement in the sport by leaps and bounds. A few names have become recognizable through their participation in the W Series and other racing organizations like Indy500 and endurance racing.

Here are a few of the current racers who can make it as F1 drivers should financial backing, opportunities and a bit of luck flow their way.

Jamie Chadwick

Ms.Chadwick perhaps has the most potential to make it to the upper echelons of motorsport in F1.

Like most drivers, Jamie started out in karting, collecting numerous race victories before participating in the British GT championship. She was the youngest person and the first woman to win.

With an unsated hunger for winning, Jamie made more history as the first female to win a BRDC British Formula 3 race and the MR Challenge Championship.

In 2018, the W series was created to discover and elevate talented women racers. Jamie was the cream of the crop in a 2019 field racing the same car and devoid of financial backers. She went on to win the subsequent championship as well, putting the racing world on notice of her exceptional talent.

“The opportunity the W Series gives us all, but especially me now as a double champion is huge,” she intimated. “I’m going to relish that, take as much as I can, and hopefully step forward into bigger things.

“What’s going to come with this season’s win is going to be amazing. I’m so excited for what’s next – I don’t know what’s next, but it’s been a really important leg up in my career to have that double championship.”

As a development driver for the Williams F1 team, Jamie Chadwick seems poised to try her hand at the bleeding edge of motorsport. She has 25 points towards her super license, necessitating another 15 to move from just early weekend practice sessions to actually being eligible to race.

Alice Powell

After traversing the usual karting route in her young career, Alice Powell made positive waves when she stepped up to Formula Renault UK Championship aged 16. When she showed her chops behind the wheel, she became the youngest winner of any Formula Renault race.

The following year, she followed this up with another record, becoming the first woman to win a Formula Renault Championship outright.

In 2012, she participated in the GP3 series, setting another monumental record as the first woman to score points in the racing competition. Powell followed this up in 2014 with the Asian Formula Renault gong, paving the way for entries into more competitions.

Unfortunately, a lack of financial backing saw her drop out of racing altogether, forcing her to return to her father’s tradesman business.

Alice is of the opinion that “racing has been the sport of privileged billionaires for years, and it’s hard for women to get sponsorship.”

She continued, “Despite writing hundreds of letters to businesses and race teams my funding dried up in 2015. Companies used to say things like: ‘We’re not sure that a woman in motor racing is the right positioning for us.’”

Fortunately for Powell, the W Series beckoned in 2019. Again, she dusted off her talents, taking the third spot in the championship at the end of the year. In her short W Series career, Powell has stood on the podium in nine of the 14 races she has entered.

Moving forward

Jamie Chadwick and Alice Powell are just the tip of the iceberg for female talent that can cut up the track just as good – or even better – as the next guy. They have the winning mentality and have also been around Formula One in various capacities (development driver and commentating for F1 TV, respectively).

Casting an eye away from F1’s feeder W Series, we can find other potential in Tatiana Calderon and Sophia Flörsch. Currently part of an all-woman endurance racing team, Calderon and Flörsch have garnered experience that can translate into F1 if adequately nurtured.

But until then, the 20 seats at the height of motor racing still remain occupied by men. And it looks like they will be for the foreseeable future.

Mark B. Mugaanyi has spent the last 10 years crafting content on a variety of topics including eCommerce, health, auto, technology and startups. Away from pounding on the QWERTY, he enjoys getting engrossed in a thick tome or getting first downs on Madden. To learn more about Mark’s freelance writing services, reach out here.