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F1 Academy: A springboard for women racers?

April 30, 2023

The F1 Academy celebrates its world premiere in Austria this weekend. The newly founded Formula 1 women's series is primarily intended to be a career springboard — including for German driver Carrie Schreiner.

Carrie Schreiner, surrounded by teammates, smiles into the camera
Carrie Schreiner is the only German racer set to feature in the new women's seriesImage: Michael Memmler/Eibner-Pressefoto/picture alliance

"Everything at once," answers Carrie Schreiner when asked by DW whether she feels more anticipation or tension before the first race. "The tension is rising. It's definitely a mix of joy and excitement, but also nervousness." 

This weekend, the F1 Academy, the new women's racing series under the Formula 1 umbrella, kicks off its inaugural season. Five teams, each with three female drivers, will be competing — and Carrie Schreiner is the only German to have landed one of the coveted 15 seats.

The 24-year-old from Saarland enjoyed major success in karting early on and has been at home in sports cars for several years now. Schreiner last sat in a race car under competitive conditions in 2016, driving against Mick Schumacher. Since then, she has been driving "under a roof," in contrast to her 14 Academy opponents. 

Now, she is swapping that car seat for a more narrow cockpit. The difference in her new 174-hp race car, which weighs around 585 kilograms (1,280 lbs.), was clearly noticeable, says Schreiner: "I imagined the switch would be a little easier... but I simply had to take this opportunity... the series, the team. I will give everything to succeed in the series."

Schreiner: 'An important step'

During final testing last week on the southern French circuit in Le Castellet, it was already clear that Schreiner was by no means lagging behind. The entire field ended up within 1.3 seconds of one another — proving that the teams have probably managed to pick 15 of the world's best female Formula drivers for the new series. All five teams in the debut season are run by experienced Formula 2 and 3 racing teams. 

A total of 21 races are scheduled. They will be held at Spielberg in Austria as well as circuits in Valencia, Barcelona, Zandvoort, Monza, Le Castellet and Austin. "I think it's an important step for the promotion of women in motorsport," says Schreiner. "The visibility, a lot of driving time and experienced teams being involved are good prerequisites for a series like this."

Only a few overlaps with the 'top class'

The series won't get its start in the Azerbaijani capital Baku, though, where Formula 1 stars will contest their fourth race of the season this weekend, but 3,200 kilometers (1,988 miles) away, in Spielberg, Austria.  

In fact, the paths of the F1 Academy — which is designed as a youth series — and the established elite teams of F1 will cross only once in its inaugural year: at the end of October in Austin, in the US state of Texas. There are plans for more of an overlap in 2024, as Formula 1 boss Stefano Domenicali announced on the F1 Academy's website. "I can confirm that next year F1 Academy will be on the racing weekend with Formula 1. Of course, not everywhere, but that will be part of the plan to promote F1 Academy." 

However, the structure of the race weekends for the new women's series will differ significantly from that of the men's Formula 1: three races will be contested at each venue, two over 30 minutes, plus a "sprint race" over 20 minutes.

"F1 took the lead on this to do something, to invest, believing that if we focus attention on this project we can have a girl, a woman, in F1 as soon as possible. That’s our hope and that’s why we are really investing a lot," Domenicali said. The premier class subsidizes each F1 Academy race car with €150,000 ($165,636).

Only two women have ever made it to Formula 1

The Formula 1 World Championship has been held since 1950. Since then, just two women have competed in Grands Prix: In the 1950s, Italian Maria Teresa de Filippis qualified for three races. Her compatriot Lella Lombardi even managed to score points in 1975, when she finished sixth in an aborted race.

Formula 1 boss Stefano Domenicali stands in front of an illuminated sign with the words 'Las Vegas 2023'
Formula 1 boss Stefano Domenicali hopes to see a woman in Formula 1 soonImage: John Locher/AP Photo/picture alliance

Is the F1 Academy now a serious attempt to break through the male domination at the highest level? There are some critical voices. After all, the F1 Academy, with its 170-horsepower standardized racing cars, is on a par with Formula 4 in terms of technology. 

Sophia Flörsch from Munich, for example, prefers to drive in Formula 3 so that she can also hold her own against men. In the past, she has been critical of series exclusively for women.

"Sure, there are critics," Carrie Schreiner tells DW. "On the one hand, I can understand it. But on the other hand, it's not the goal to only race against women forever. The goal is to train the girls for what comes next. And to filter out the best."

Could she, too, be one of the best and race at the elite level of motorsport in the future? "I don't see myself in Formula 1," Schreiner admits. "But I can well imagine there will be a woman there at some point, if she receives the right support."

This article was translated from German

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