Motor racing’s Formula 1 (F1) has announced the launch of its all-female development category, F1 Academy, aimed at preparing young drivers to one day compete in the top-tier series.  

F1 said the series will start in 2023 as an “extra route” up the motorsport pyramid for young women alongside W Series, the international women’s championship that is targeting a return for a fourth season next year after having its 2022 campaign cut short due to financial difficulties.

The series said it hopes the F1 Academy will accelerate the timeframe for female drivers to progress up motor racing’s pyramid and into the top tier of the sport.

The last woman to race in F1 was Italian driver Lella Lombardi, who competed in 17 grands prix from 1947 to 1976.

F1 president and chief executive Stefano Domenicali said: “Everyone should have the opportunity to follow their dreams and achieve their potential, and F1 wants to ensure we are doing everything we can to create greater diversity and routes into this incredible sport.

“That is why I am delighted to announce the F1 Academy that will give young female drivers the best chance to fulfill their ambitions through a comprehensive program that supports their racing careers and gives them everything they need to move into F3 and hopefully F2 and then the pinnacle of F1.

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“The more opportunity there is the better and this is designed to provide another route for the drivers to succeed.”

The F1 Academy will be managed by Bruno Michel, chief executive of Formula Motorsport Limited, and feature five teams, run by current second-tier Formula 2 and third-tier Formula 3 teams, with three cars each to make up a 15-car grid.

The inaugural season will have 21 races, with seven three-race events which will include at least one F1 weekend. There will also be 15 days of official testing, with the final 2023 calendar to be released soon.

Like W Series, all drivers will compete in the same Formula 4 chassis, with Autotechnica to supply the turbo-charged engine and Pirelli to provide the tires.

F1 said they will provide funding of €150,000 ($153,650) for each car, which will need to be matched by the drivers – a fraction of the usual costs provided by drivers in similar series. Teams will provide the rest of the budget.

Michel added: “I am very excited to launch his new category. Diversity is extremely important in motorsport, and with the F1 Academy, we will prove that female drivers have what it takes to compete at high levels.

“I am absolutely convinced that if young women are given the same amount of experience as any other driver, they can successfully make their way through the pyramid.

“Our goal is to see female drivers on the F3 grid in the next two to three years, and for them to quickly challenge for points and podiums. The aim is to increase the field in the near future because we hope this category will inspire more young girls to compete in motorsport at the highest levels.”

The announcement comes a month after the new series was first touted by F1 and following W Series being forced to cancel its last three events for the 2022 season amid mounting financial difficulties.

W Series, which also aims to be a feeder for women drivers to enter F1, was due to hold its penultimate round of the year as a support race during the US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, on October 23 and end its season with a doubleheader at Mexico City’s Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez but financial issues forced it to end its season early.

The confirmation came after The Telegraph reported in September the last three races were at risk of being pulled due to W Series owing “significant sums” to creditors amid funding issues that have been compounded by the financial crisis and devaluation of the pound.

The report said the series’ funding issues were also exacerbated when a multi-million-pound deal with a US investor collapsed after contracts were signed.

At the time, former F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton criticized F1 for not stepping in to help W Series financially before its collapse.

However, the series’ founder and chief executive Catherine Bond Muir has said she is confident the series will return for the 2023 season, adding: “While we aren’t in a position to make a formal announcement yet, there are many positive conversations ongoing, and all parties share our passion for and belief in our mission to provide our incredible field of women drivers a platform to showcase their talents and to race in front of enthusiastic fans all around the world.”

Image: Clive Rose/Getty Images