A close-up of a black and orange car leaving the pit lane at Silverstone, viewed from above rear

F1 Academy: What we know so far

In November, Formula 1 announced the launch of its F1 Academy, an all-female category beginning in 2023. The Formula 4–level series aims to provide female drivers with a stepping-stone into Formula 3 and beyond. Feeder Series explains what we know so far and assesses whether F1 Academy has been set up for success.

By Charlie Widdicombe

F1’s all-new series will host 21 races across seven rounds, in addition to 15 days of official testing. Whilst the calendar is yet to be released, a support slot to an F1 race for a single round has been heavily mooted.

Five of motorsport’s most successful junior teams – ART Grand Prix, Campos Racing, MP Motorsport, Prema Racing and Rodin Carlin – will race with three drivers each. Formula 1 will subsidise each entry with €150,000, whilst each driver must provide the same amount and the teams will cover all remaining costs.

F1 Academy will use the Tatuus T421 chassis raced in European F4 championships like British, Italian and Spanish F4 as well as Autotecnica engines and Pirelli tyres. The series will be run by Formula Motorsport Limited and its CEO, Bruno Michel.

Two drivers have been confirmed so far. Swiss driver Léna Bühler will race for ART whilst Filipino driver Bianca Bustamante, who took part in W Series in 2022, is entered with Prema. Both drivers are currently competing in the F4 UAE Championship, with Bustamante lying 24th and Bühler 30th in the standings.

What are F1 Academy’s key objectives?

Through F1 Academy, Formula 1 hopes to ‘maximise the opportunity and potential of young female drivers to reach the highest level in motorsport [and] to provide young talent currently in go-karting or other junior categories with access to the fundamental level of experience needed before racing in F3 and joining the pyramid to Formula 1’.

In an interview with F1’s Lawrence Barretto, Michel referred to the lack of track time female drivers tend to have in relation to their male counterparts and how F1 Academy is a step towards addressing this. More tangibly, Michel is ‘very confident’ a female driver will enter Formula 3 from F1 Academy within the next two to three years.

Sophia Floersch is the only female driver to make the FIA F3 grid since 2019, though Tatiana Calderón did appear in F2 in 2019 and briefly in 2022. Calderón and Alice Powell are the only female drivers to score points in F3’s prior iteration, GP3 Series, in its nine-year run from 2010–18.

How does it differ from W Series?

There are concerns that F1 Academy will dilute the impact of W Series, which took place in 2019, 2021 and 2022 but had to curtail its most recent season because of financial issues.

Whilst F1 has clearly outlined that F1 Academy’s intention is to complement W Series, it’s evident that it has been designed to address some of the shortcomings of the existing series. W Series had a maximum of 10 races each season and only 90 minutes of track time per round compared with a planned 200 for F1 Academy – a sacrifice made in favour of a higher profile through F1 support slots.

This approach appears to have benefitted some W Series drivers. Jamie Chadwick was welcomed into Williams’ driver academy in 2019, and Alice Powell took on the role of talent identification and development mentor for the Alpine Academy, into which fellow W Series driver Abbi Pulling has been recruited. But for the vast majority, the additional track time is far more valuable to their long-term development.

Add in the financial support and the prospect of working with the very best junior teams in single-seater motorsport, and it’s likely that Bustamante will be far from the only driver to move from W Series to F1 Academy for 2023 despite the former’s use of a more advanced Formula Regional car.

Will it be a success?

F1 has learned from W Series and taken direct action to address what it perceives to be the key issues at this level for female drivers. A success, therefore, would be providing experience and guidance to more upcoming talent than before.

Change, however, will not happen overnight, and the motorsport fraternity must be patient to see the impact of F1 Academy as it finds its role in the junior categories, which will in part be defined by W Series sorting its financial struggles and continuing, or not. As described by Michel, the true impact is likely to be seen only in a few years’ time. It will then be obvious whether it has achieved the critical goal of guiding a female driver into F3 and beyond.

Its medium- and long-term success will be largely dependent on grassroots investment, enabling enough women to access opportunities and hone their skills in karting, before F1 Academy can serve its purpose. F1 must therefore ensure that it invests heavily in this area through other initiatives in addition to F1 Academy.

Header photo credit: W Series


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