Women are a rare species within Formula 1. There is nothing to stop men and women racing against each other at the pinnacle of motorsport.

But we all know that unofficially, there are some gargantuan obstacles in front of every woman who has aspirations of making it to the top of the sport. So sizeable are the obstacles, in fact, that it has been impossible for all but a select few to break through.

The reasons for such overwhelming male dominance remain opaque. Is it overt sexism? Or is it more subconscious bias? Are women incapable of coping with the physicality of Formula 1? Or have their opportunities been so restricted, that has been an even bigger challenge to overcome?

Whatever the reasons, they have been proved almost insurmountable. Only the second, and most recent, bone fide female F1 driver was almost half a century ago, when Italy’s Lella Lombardi competed in the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix. Since then, a few more have been within touching distance.

Divina Galica in 1976, Desire Wilson in 1980 and Giovanna Amati in 1992 all entered qualifying but failed to reach the actual F1 race, while the most recent woman to take part in an F1 weekend, and the most recognised name within this country, is Susie Wolff, who was a development and test driver for Williams from 2012 to 2015, driving in several practice sessions.

Since then, there has been a couple more female development drivers but neither have made it into an F1 car for anything other than testing.

All of which makes F1’s latest initiative so interesting. Next weekend will mark the beginning of the F1 Academy, an all-female series aimed at helping women drivers progress through the motorsport ranks and ultimately, it is hoped, into F1.

It is an intriguing project, and it is going to be fascinating to follow its progress. The results of this F1 Academy are going to give us the clearest idea yet of whether women can, in fact, compete alongside men at the top of motorsport.

It is clear that through the years, sexism within F1 has been rife. The examples are numerous. Stirling Moss claimed that women lack the “mental aptitude” to succeed.

When a reporter asked current Red Bull driver Sergio Perez in 2014 what he thought about potentially racing alongside a woman, he responded that women were “better to stay in the kitchen”.

The following year, Max Verstappen said women drivers “lack something when it comes to physical strength” and are “perhaps…more easily afraid in a racing car”. Bernie Ecclestone, when he was Formula One’s chief in 2016, declared that women are “not physically” able to handle fast cars and said they would “not be taken seriously” in F1.

F1’s latest CEO Stefano Domenicali said last year that “unless there is something like a meteorite, I don’t see a girl coming into F1 in the next five years”.

And during a press conference for the Austrian Grand Prix last year, Lewis Hamilton said: “There has not been enough focus on women in sport for the whole of Formula 1’s life, and there is not enough emphasis on it now.”

There are testimonies from countless female drivers at various levels of motorsport of the sexism they faced, particularly if they have beaten male drivers.

So it will be fascinating to see if the F1 Academy can make inroads in a sport that has been an almost entirely closed shop for female drivers.

That Scottish driver Chloe Grant has a seat in one of the 15 competing cars makes things even more interesting from a Scottish perspective.

What will be the real test in the long run, however, will not be if the odd female driver can break though into the F1 ranks, but if female drivers getting the opportunity to claim a seat in F1 becomes far more normalised.

Despite the indisputable physical element of driving an F1 car, at least one of the barriers preventing women from reaching the top must be the lack of opportunity.

The F1 Academy perhaps doesn’t entirely break down this barrier in one fell swoop but it certainly makes a dent in it.

There are, I’m sure, women who are physically and mentally capable of competing in F1 and it is disheartening that they have been prevented from breaking through the glass ceiling.

Will the F1 Academy be the answer? It won’t be a quick fix. But perhaps the increased awareness that something must be done to help women reach the pinnacle of motorsport is the biggest positive that will come out of this new initiative.


There is nothing quite like a good old fashioned cheating story to pique everyone’s interest.

It emerged last week that Scottish ultrarunner Joasia Zakrzewski used a car for 2.5 miles of a 50-mile race she came third in.

It was, she claims, a huge misunderstanding, with the 47-year-old accepting a lift in a support car due to an injury but on completing the race, she crossed the finish line and accepted the third-placed trophy.

I’d like to give her the benefit of the doubt and accept her explanation that she wasn’t thinking straight on finishing the race.

But whatever the case, there is something weirdly refreshing about a cheating story that doesn’t include performance-enhancing drugs for a change.