This week, 14 girls from all over the world are participating to the 1st phase of the 3rd edition of the FIA Girls On Track at Circuit Paul Ricard. F1 Feeder Series spoke to Winfield Group President, Frédéric Garcia, about developing promising young talent and reviving the prestigious F4 Volant.
By Perceval Wolff
Performances on track, mental and physical assessment, media training… all the young drivers taking part in the FIA Girls on Track programme are being tested by the Winfield Racing School. In the last few years, the school has developed some of the most promising current drivers such as Théo Pourchaire, Arthur Leclerc, Caio Collet and Isack Hadjar thanks to the Volant Winfield. After three years of interruption due to the pandemic, the French company now wants to revitalise the Volant.
From Alain Prost to Isack Hadjar
Alain Prost, Patrick Tambay, Didier Pironi, Jean Alesi, Olivier Panis… these were some of the winners or finalists of the Volant Elf-Winfield in the 70s and 80s. After the retirement of the French petrol company Elf at the end of the 90s, Winfield couldn’t afford continuing its mission of scouting and developing young talent.
In the last decade, Winfield was resurrected as a company by organizing some track activities such as F1 Driving Experiences, coaching services for gentlemen or young drivers and simulator sessions. In 2018, for the first time in more than 20 years, the Volant Winfield was back. The first winner of this new-look competition was Caio Collet, who then went onto race in French F4 thanks to the financial support of Winfield. Collet’s domination in French F4 led him to earn a spot at the Renault Sport Academy. At the same time, the ‘Trophy Winfield’ was created for drivers under 14 years old with a certain Théo Pourchaire triumphing in this category – 8 of the top 10 being representatives of the Winfield Racing School. In 2019, fellow countryman Isack Hadjar finished the season as champion.
In support of the FIA Girls on Track
The COVID pandemic hit the world hard two and a half years ago and Winfield Racing School was no exception. The economic consequences of the crisis forced Winfield pause its F4 Volant series. “Since we don’t have any major sponsors, we couldn’t afford any longer to carry on the Volant Winfield,” revealed Frédéric Garcia.
As restrictions have started to lift Winfield has tried to rebuild itself. In the meantime, the FIA Women’s Commission in Motorsport and the Ferrari Driver Academy decided to put their faith in Winfield to test, coach and judge equally all the FIA Girls on Track drivers for 2020. Within two years this initiative has already produced fledgling talents Maya Weug, Doriane Pin and Laura Camps Torras, and the 3rd Edition is now undergoing its first stage this week at Le Castellet, once again with Winfield’s expertise.
“Track walks, onboard camera debriefings, stress management, nutrition, reactivity, strength and balance tests, media training and of course, driving with equal material,” this is the programme for the 14 young female drivers aged between 12 and 16 (8 Junior drivers, 6 Senior). The budding talents all hoping to participate in the finale in November where four drivers from each category will be selected. Unlike some other competitions, the pure pace on track isn’t the only parameter to be taken into account to select the winner.
Developing the complete driver
Winfield doesn’t want to settle for just hosting the FIA Girls on Track. The dream would be to bring back the Volant Winfield. Speaking to F1 Feeder Series, Frédéric Garcia explained his plans for the future:
“Our absolute dream would be to organise once again the Volant Winfield. It had been a success when we started it back in 2018. We are slowly recovering financially, but without the help of a main sponsor we are still do not have enough funds to organise it this year. We want to do it, but we want it to be the best and that can only be achieved with the help of a partner,” he summarises.
We are slowly recovering financiallyFrédéric Garcia
At the start of the month, just before the FIA Girls on Track, Winfield organised its first F4 Summer Camp, a 3-day training course to help young drivers without single-seater experience to discover Formula 4.
Like the former Volant Winfield, driving wasn’t the only focus for all these young guns mostly coming from karting. Physical assessment, simulator sessions, driver-engineer relationship presentation, marketing introduction were some of the workshops of this training course.
“It was a good way to show that we are still able to welcome these kind of events on our own. It was a success, and we are thinking about doing another similar training camp, probably at the end of Autumn.”
“The most difficult thing for these events is to find a date in the calendar that suits everybody. Karting is held nearly during all the year, and the rare holidays are quite precious for the drivers, so we have to adapt to find the best days.”
In a realistic world, our objective for the future Volant Winfield would be to welcome 50% of foreign driversFrédéric Garcia
Even though most graduates of the Volant Winfield have been French, Frédéric Garcia hopes to welcome more international drivers in the future. “You know, it’s probably much harder for a Uruguayan or a South Korean driver to enter F4, compared to a French driver. Winfield’s popularity is more established in France, for sure, that’s why there are more French drivers joining our school. So, in a realistic world, our objective for the future Volant Winfield would be to welcome 50% of foreign drivers.”
For now, the 1st stage of the FIA Girls on Track takes place from August 17th to 21st. The drivers selected for the Finale will then go to Maranello in November.
Header photo credit: Winfield Racing School
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