Why the F1 Academy is bad for women in racing

Before the start of the 2023 F1 season, Formula 1 launched the F1 Academy initiative to be headed by Susie Wolf and get more girls into F1. It is a girl-only series racing on the same tracks F1 is racing. While this is a noble cause, it is my opinion this is the wrong thing to do and it is to the detriment of all girls and women in racing. It will show women as less than men in racing and ultimately achieve the exact opposite of what it wants to do.

Let me explain.

There are far less girls than boys that want to get into racing at an early age. Some of the reasons are just the difference in interests between boys and girls, others have more to do with culture and how boys and girls are raised differently by their parents. Some of these things can (and arguably should) be addressed. But they are not by the F1 Academy.

So lets assume for arguments sake that for every 10,000 boys wanting to get into racing each year, about 10% of that number is girls wanting the same thing. That’s probably not far off.

Let’s also assume that of all those boys and girls 1% has the drive to do whatever it takes to achieve their dreams in racing from 5-6 years old starting in karting, all the way through the classes until they are 18 and could be picked up by an F1 team.

That’s 100 boys vs 10 girls that have the drive to do what it takes. And this still does not take into account ability.

If you have maybe 1 or 2 seats available each year for someone that is perceived to be as good to potentially be the next Max, Lewis, Charles or Fernando and to be picked up by an F1 team, and assuming all of those fought hard enough to end up in the open wheel feeder series by age 18, the chance of that someone to be a guy is near 100%. And the chance of that someone being a gal is not zero, but that’s about it.

It’s just a numbers game.

Setting up a separate girls-only series together with F1 is not going to increase those numbers. What it does is pit girls against other girls that are not good enough to compete with their male peers for the same seat. Girls that have difficulty making the top 10 in F4. They’re not good enough for F3, let alone F1. And they are going to fail and burn out once they are pitted against the big boys in F1 because they are selected solely on their gender instead of their quality as a racing driver, assuming they would get a seat which is unlikely. Regardless, the perception is going to be that girls suck at racing compared to boys, which they don’t. But that will turn off girls from racing again, because they will feel they are not good enough anyway. They’ll give up before even trying. Which means less girls competing, instead of more.

F1 does not want boys. It wants talent. But having a girl would be marketing gold. So if the teams could pick up a girl that was at say 75% capability of a Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen or Charles LeClerc, they would be all over her like flies on poo and fighting to sign her. The fact that this isn’t happening, isn’t because F1 teams favor boys, but simply there not being enough quality left in the pool of hopefuls. There’s only 22 racing seats in Formula 1. Out of a global pool of racing drivers, you need to really stand out to even have a chance, regardless of gender.

To be in F1, you need to be good, really good, even if you are a pay-driver. The ones that get in and suck are still head and shoulders above the others, as is often demonstrated by their results in other classes after they are dumped from F1. If a no good pay-driver washes out of F1 because they are not up to snuff can continue their career in Indycar, Formula E, World Endurance Championship, etc and win (even championships), they are not lacking talent. They are really, really good drivers. They were just weighed in the balance of F1 and found wanting.

The only way to get more girls to have a shot of getting into F1 is to get more girls interested in racing at an early age. To get close to 50% participation to even the odds. To fight the stereotypes of boys = cars, girls = dolls when raising our children. To not only tell them they are equal, but raise them to be equal. To perhaps financially support girls that are showing to be good enough to grow into the role models needed to sustain the system on its own if they would otherwise be forced to drop out. But you can’t start in your teens and expect to catch up and compete with boys that have been racing their entire life. It just doesn’t happen.

But still, if there are not enough girls that want to race, you are not going to have enough quality persisting all the way to F1. Maybe we need to also accept that boys and girls are equal but not the same. That they have different interests and motivations. That, on average, boys are physically stronger than girls. That, on average, boys have more competitive drive than girls. That it’s ok to be different. And accept the numbers are stacked against girls because of it.

Equal opportunity does not necessarily result in equal representation. And that’s ok, as long the result is not skewed by discrimination of any sort.

But setting up yet another women-only class because there aren’t any women in F1 is not going to pull women up in racing. It will put them down.