F1 Academy, ambitious all-female series, starting this weekend

Columns: From Kart to F1
The new series designed to promote the fastest girls in Motorsport into professionalism kicks off next weekend, on the Spielberg circuit (Austria), with the aim of soon seeing one of them among them in none other than Formula 1.

The premise on which the series is based is to give girls a competitive platform in which to grow and gain the experience necessary to compete at the highest levels of motorsport. The girls will be provided with an absolute level of technical, mental and physical preparation. More time on track, more racing, more testing, according to the organizer's official press release launching the series. The single-seaters on track for the 2023 season will be the Tatuus T-421s with a new aerodynamic set, with new front and rear wings that will give the cars an appearance more similar to that of the Formula 1 cars of the last two-year period 2022-2023. The Italian manufacturer has made available to the 5 teams (Campos, MP, ART GP, Rodin and PREMA) the tried and tested technical package consisting of the second generation Formula 4 chassis, the Abarth engine prepared by Autotecnica Motori and the Pirelli tyres.

For all those who, in paying attention to this new Championship, have wondered what happened to the W Series, the only real recent Championship dedicated to female drivers, here is a brief summary of what they have in common and how they differ the two championships. What are the differences between F1 Academy and W Series? Let's start with the two main differences, namely the category of single-seaters used and the method of selecting participants, with the introduction of private teams.

Cars
The W Series used Formula Regional cars, a category that is placed between Formula 4 and Formula 3 in the pyramid of single-seaters preparatory to Formula 1. Specifically, the car used was a Tatuus T-318 (650 kg with driver) driven by a Alfa Romeo 1750cc turbo prepared by Autotecnica Motori, capable of delivering 270 hp. The F1 Academy, on the other hand, will use Formula 4 single-seaters, the entry-level category open to fifteen-year-olds who want to switch from karts to cars. The manufacturer chosen is always Tatuus, with the T-421 model (570 kg including the driver), while the engine, in this case, is a 1400cc turbocharged Abarth, also prepared by Autotecnica Motori, capable of delivering 185 HP. In simple words therefore, a girl who participated in the W Series in 2022, landing in the F1 Academy, takes a step back, returning to a lower category. The decision to use Formula 4 single-seaters, however, opens up the market to younger girls, given that, as mentioned, the category is open to fifteen-year-olds, while to compete in Formula Regional you need to be 16. The F4 is also lighter and less powerful than a Regional, which can go a long way in limiting any gap in physical strength, which can also be a possibility at this stage.

The drivers selection
The other big difference concerns the selection criteria of the girls. To enter the W Series, the girls had to go through a series of selection levels. In view of the 2022 season, to give a concrete example, a group of drivers was evaluated in a test with a Formula 4 single-seater. The best ones were then invited to Barcelona, to test the Formula Regional Tatuus for the first time. A second selection took place in Spain, and the chosen girls thus landed in the league together with those confirmed from previous seasons. The W Series was limited to 18 drivers, racing for free. The F1 Academy will also be limited in number, being reserved for 15 girls. These, however, will not be chosen by the organizer but have agreed with one of the five teams selected by Bruno Michel, former owner of Formula 2 and Formula 3. The French promoter, appointed by Formula 1 to manage the new category, as mentioned in opening has chosen five teams from the two top divisions, which will each field three single-seaters. These are ART Grand Prix, Campos, MP Motorsport, Prema and Rodin Carlin, some of the most famous teams in the preparatory formulas. Formula 1 will finance part of the budget, while the girls will have to cover the remaining part of around 150,000 euros.

What are the prospects for those who race in the F1 Academy?
The W Series was a turning point in motorsport and few single-seater categories have garnered the same interest and visibility, also considering the race weekends on the same circuits with F1. However, if there is a W Series before and after, it must be said that the series has never really launched any female drivers. Chadwick dominated far and wide during the series' three seasons, but never received the support initially promised to land in Formula 3, having to go independently to look for a sponsor in the USA that would allow her to move up the category and land in Indy NXT (the equivalent of European Formula 2). Only time will tell if the F1 Academy can bring a girl into the top flight. Comparing the average age of girls with that of F2 drivers (19 years), this is higher today, even if the age factor in the past hasn't stopped Maria De Villotta and Susie Wolff, among the last women to enter Formula 1 as a tester. Wolff was the last driver to drive in a Formula 1 weekend (in Free Practice 1 of the 2015 Silverstone Grand Prix) and was 31 when she made her debut in a single-seater in the top flight, almost double the age of 17 Max Verstappen.

There is no lack of perplexity regarding the new FIA proposal to put an end to one of the greatest taboos in the history of Formula 1 (a winning female driver), but the curiosity for a sports laboratory that declares such a specific objective is still a lot: we'll see.


Follow the F1 Academy here: https://www.f1academy.com/ 

Created by: fmarangon2 - 25/04/23

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