As the all-new F1 Academy gets underway, ATRL’s Immy Cousins takes a look at the current perceptions of the series and explains why it may be doing a lot more for the women competing than first thought.
Having witnessed the rise and fall of the W Series, many are sceptical about the benefits of the new F1 Academy to the progression of women in motorsport. In the run-up to the first round held at Austria’s Red Bull Ring, there was increasing concern about the seeming lack of live coverage for the series. F1 Academy responded by providing information that race highlights would be released days after the weekend, much to the disapproval of fans anxiously waiting to see how the series will perform.
The current social media perception is that the series is failing the women competing in much the same way they perceive W Series to have done; however, from the drivers’ perspective, this is not necessarily the case. Considering how women in the motorsport industry can often be treated on social media, leaving young women exposed in the formation of a new series could be detrimental to their futures. Any teething problems that may be faced could lead to young, underexposed women being left at the forefront of any criticism meant for the series. Therefore, by keeping the series somewhat lowkey on an entertainment front initially, all focus can be had on the actual seat time and driving rather than dealing with any social media backlash.
Given that this initial season is almost a test run for the series and the speed in which it was set up after the assumed collapse of W Series, there are things which will likely change and develop throughout the year as they grow accustomed to promoting women in motorsport. The level of social media coverage from the series themselves has been quite spectacular. Despite the lack of live coverage of the series, the admins are doing everything in their power at this time to promote and share the series across social media. However, much like the case of when the FIA started producing women in motorsport publications but only promoted them within motorsport networks, Twitter user Amelia (@formulaAmelia) makes the point that how F1 Academy is currently being run and promoted means that anyone not on social media is likely unaware of even the existence of the series. Whilst currently, this could be perceived as harmful to the image of the series, with the intended attachment to the F1 calendar in 2024, this low exposure will likely change as coverage expands past its current restrictions.
A key progression made from W Series to F1 Academy is that there are now key feeder teams involved in the series that were not present in W Series. The presence of well known junior teams such as Rodin Carlin, PREMA and ART Grand Prix means that whilst we remain to see a young woman progress from a female-only feeder series into F3 or F2, the teams that are often well-regarded in those series are now working directly with the young women to aid this transition.
Not only is there potentially a more natural ladder within the FIA system that has been created for the series, but F1 Academy has successfully picked up where W Series left off in creating a better focus on the drivers rather than the event as a spectacle. While getting W Series on the map was beneficial to show that there were young women on the ladder to Formula 1, it failed to give them enough track and seat time to make this goal achievable. The major key benefit to F1 Academy being kept lowkey for its inaugural season is that there is much greater freedom over the weekend format and a vast increase in the time the young women spend on track practising, refining and racing – the very reason they are there. While W Series was excellent at the promotion of the series and the drivers, their lack of seat time compared to their competitors was a negative for the drivers’ future prospects.
“Any opportunity to get more seat time for junior drivers in general is the best thing that you can really do, and especially to open up more spots for female drivers, which will then inspire new generations of female drivers to do the same thing. It’s really difficult to go from karts straight to a Formula Regional spec car and so to have a Formula series that bridges that gap will be very beneficial.”
– Former W Series driver Chloe Chambers to Along the Racing Line on the new F1 Academy
So whilst it is easy to criticise the new series for some of its initial shortcomings, it’s essential to understand that even if it’s potentially not yet seen by the wider public, there is a vast number of benefits for the young women currently competing in F1 Academy. Over time the series will likely become more of an entertainment spectacle for the viewers’ benefit, given the announcement of the partnership with Hello Sunshine to create an F1 Academy docuseries and the series becoming attached full-time to the Formula 1 calendar next year.
There are many uncertainties with the future plans for F1 Academy, and spectators are not wrong to be sceptical of the future for their talented young women in yet another women-only series. However, with the FIA now involved and more valuable seat time confirmed, their trajectory changes to be more inclusive of these drivers in the traditional F1 Feeder Series ladder and opening more avenues for success. These changes will be be exceedingly beneficial to the representation of women in motorsport and will hopefully encourage more young women to strive for success on the track.
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