A new all-women single-seater series will start next year, with the aim of helping female drivers find a way into Formula One.
With a prize fund of $1.5 million (£1.14 million), the format will feature 18-20 competitors following a pre-selection process, racing identical Tatuus T-318 Formula 3 cars with four-cylinder 1.8-litre turbocharged engines.
The inaugural W Series will begin in Spring 2019 and take place across Europe at circuits with F1 heritage, being run by the British Racing & Sports Car Club (BRSCC).
Former F1 driver and C4F1 presenter David Coulthard is one of the team of experts behind the series, along with Red Bull’s design guru Adrian Newey, ex-McLaren and Manor race director Dave Ryan, sports lawyer Catherine Bond Muir and veteran motorsports journalist Matt Bishop.
You've heard our mission, now hear from some of the people behind #WSeries. We believe anyone with talent, passion and commitment should have a chance in motorsport. We're here to create those chances. #RethinkRacing pic.twitter.com/Bk2DiMKxJU— W Series (@WSeriesRacing) October 10, 2018
The main tenet of the series is that female and male racing drivers can compete with on equal terms given the same opportunity. However, only two women have ever taken part in an F1 race, the last being Lella Lombardi in 1976, while none have competed in junior series F2/GP2 since it started in 2005.
“Women racing drivers tend to reach a ‘glass ceiling’ at around the GP3/Formula 3 level on their learning curve, often as a result of a lack of funding rather than a lack of talent,” Coulthard said.
“That’s why an all-new, all-female single-seater motor racing series is required to establish a competitive and constructive motorsport habitat in which our drivers will be able to equip themselves with the necessary skill-set eventually to move on up to existing high-level mainstream racing series and compete with the best male drivers on equal terms.”
This creates opportunity rather than taking it away and that’s why I believe it’s a day my sister Lynsay would have loved to be part of #ifyouwantafundamentalchangeintheoutcomeyouneedafundamentalchangeintheprocess https://t.co/XdFgYVOww5— David Coulthard (@therealdcf1) October 10, 2018
The series will be free to enter, with $500,000 going to the winner and prize money given down to 18th place in the final standings.
Newey, who has created some of the most successful cars in F1 history and worked with some of the greatest drivers, said the reason so few women have raced at the highest level could be “a lack of opportunity rather than a lack of capability”.
“That’s why I’m so pleased to be involved in W Series, to contribute to creating a platform on which women drivers can improve by racing one another and from which they may then springboard their careers forward and, yes, ultimately race successfully in F1,” he said.
Some female drivers have disagreed with the concept, with Britain's Pippa Mann calling it a “sad day for motorsport”.
“Those with funding to help female racers are choosing to segregate them as opposed to supporting them,” the 35-year-old, a regular competitor in the Indianapolis 500, said on Twitter.
One more tweet on this subject.— Pippa Mann (@PippaMann) October 10, 2018
For the record, I stand WITH those who feel forced into this as their only opportunity to race.
I stand AGAINST those who are forcing the above mentioned racers into this position as their only solution to find the funding to race.
However, Jamie Chadwick, the first woman to win a British Formula 3 Championship race, said the new series will give female drivers another platform in which to compete.
“I will still race against men in other championships but W Series is the perfect supplement to help me develop and progress further through the junior motorsport ranks,” the 20-year-old Brit said.
Many divided opinions, but personally I feel that any additional opportunity to race is positive ✅ As long as I can continue to live my dream and fulfil my ambition to race at the highest level of motorsport, then I’m happy! https://t.co/M5ceEGKe7G— Jamie Chadwick (@JamieChadwick55) October 10, 2018
Tatiana Calderon, who has a test role with Sauber’s F1 team, also backed the concept.
“Having raced for more than a decade in karting, Formula 3, GP3 and World Series among others, but having been a very small minority in getting that far in motorsport, I know how difficult it is for female drivers to get opportunities to progress their careers,” the 25-yer-old Colombian said.
“Hopefully this series will help provide those opportunities to some young rising female talent and eventually allow the best to prove that we can compete at the same level as men.”