Lella Lombardi in 1974. She was the last woman to start a Formula One race, in 1976.CreditCreditKeystone, via Getty Images
Published in The New York Times, on Oct 10th, 2018, By Ian Parkes
LONDON — A new international motorsport series for women will begin next year, with the goal of finding the first female Formula One champion.
Motorsports remain heavily dominated by men, not only behind the wheel but also in the pit lane, garage, workshop and laboratory. While women have had modest success in the top levels of Nascar and IndyCar racing in the past two decades, a female driver has not started a Formula One race since Lella Lombardi in 1976.
The new W Series will be free to enter and aims not only to promote female drivers but also to steer girls and women into engineering and science careers.
The series is the brainchild of Catherine Bond Muir, a British sports lawyer and corporate financier. She conceived the idea while on maternity leave three years ago.
“Many sports in which women and men compete equally also run segregated events purely to increase the numbers of women who participate,” she said in a news release. “Until now, motor racing has been the only sport in which there were no separate series for women.”
She added: “There has never been a female Formula One race winner, let alone a world champion. Our mission is to change all of that.”
W Series will begin next May and feature six 30-minute races on some of the most famous circuits in Europe, most of which have staged Formula One grands prix for many decades. In coming seasons, the series will include races in North America, Asia and Australia.
The cars will be the Tatuus model used in Formula 3, a steppingstone series to F1. There is a total prize fund of $1.5 million, with the overall winner collecting $500,000. There will be prize money awarded down to 18th place in the final standings.
The anticipated field of 20 drivers will be chosen during a process involving on-track testing, simulator appraisal, technical engineering tests, fitness trials and media training.
“There are just too few women competing in single-seaters series at the moment,” Bond Muir said. “W Series will increase that number very significantly in 2019.”
The series has the support of many motorsport figures. Two of its advisory board members are David Coulthard, a winner of 13 grands prix during a 15-year career in Formula One, and Adrian Newey, the most successful design engineer in British motorsport history, contributing to 20 Formula One drivers’ and constructors’ world championships with Williams, McLaren and Red Bull Racing.
“In order to be a successful racing driver, you have to be skilled, determined, competitive, brave and physically fit, but you don’t have to possess the kind of super-powerful strength levels that some sports require,” Coulthard said in a news release. “You also don’t have to be a man.”
He said female drivers tended to reach a “glass ceiling” at the Formula 3 level on their learning curve, often as a result of a lack of funding rather than a lack of talent.
Stéphane Kox, 24, a female driver currently competing in the GT4 European Series, sees the W Series as an invaluable steppingstone.
“W Series sounds like it’s going to be a really positive addition to the global motorsport scene, and it’ll clearly be a big help to ambitious female racing drivers everywhere,” she said.
“Having spoken to the W Series organization, it’s clear they understand that we women drivers aspire to race. Speaking for myself, I want to be a racing driver at the highest level possible and to be able to race against the best drivers, men and women.
“In order to be able to do so, it’s important that first we gain the kind of experience the series will provide.”
Courtney Crone, a 17-year-old American who won a championship in the Formula Car Challenge Series this year, said: “To be a success in racing you need natural ability, but you also need the opportunity to learn. W Series will give young female drivers that opportunity.”
Kevin Magnussen, 26, a Danish driver for Haas in Formula One, said he would be watching the W Series closely.
“When I was karting as a boy, I raced a few girls who were talented and quick,” he said. “But there weren’t many of them — a lot more boys than girls go-karting and that’s a fact — so I welcome W Series and I hope it’ll help female racers progress their careers.”