Are women the future of men in Formula 1? In any case, Ella Stevens hopes to become the one who will fill a long void.
Several barriers to overcome
If we put aside the Italian Giovanna Amati, who failed to qualify in 1992 (her Brabham-Judd at the end of her life did not help her either), we must go back to Désiré Wilson at the 1981 South African Grand Prix or, if we exclude this “pirate” race organized outside the FIA World Championship, to Lella Lombardi in 1976 to date the last female presence on a starting grid in F1.
In our current time, marked by the resonance of the #Metoo movement and the problems of representation of diversity, both ethnic and sexual, the absence of a female driver in F1 continues to be debated, although this question has taken a back seat behind that ethnic diversity in F1, thanks to the #Blacklivesmatter movement and initiatives spearheaded by Lewis Hamilton. If the small number of places available, ultra-selectivity and the need, above all, to have large financial resources are all barriers to their entry, others readily accuse cultural barriers and a priori "sexist" such as blocking factor. F1 – and motorsport in general – may well have a macho image, the figure of the "racing driver" having been often associated with virile virtues, let us not forget, however, that it is a sport where women are in direct confrontation with men, except for a few categories (sometimes criticized) such as the W Series, which is not the case for many other sports. Still, F1, the pinnacle of motorsport, is a poor student, compared to disciplines like Indycar or Endurance and GT races where women have succeeded in breaking through – and obtaining results. significant, like Danica Patrick in the States, Sabine Schmidt in Germany or Katherine Legge in IMSA GT3. And how can we forget Michèle Mouton in the 80s, who narrowly missed out on the WRC world title? Who can say that the Audi Quattro was not very "physical" to drive?
Are things going to change? If we focus on the single-seater, we know today that it is very difficult to break through without having big sponsors, to be the offspring of a billionaire or to be integrated into a sector, or "Academy" headed by a manufacturer, and this applies to both male and female pilots! Their presence today is quite limited. The most prominent, at least the one that evolves in the highest categories, remains Tatiana Calderon, development driver for Alfa Romeo Racing. After an honorable debut in F3, she struggled to move up to GP3 and then F2 last year, not having achieved much. She is trying out Formula Nippon this year and has had the opportunity to test in F1 a few times, but often in somewhat dated cars due to current restrictions on private testing. If we go down one step in F3, we find in the FIA international championship Sophia flörsch, the miraculous of Macao, who sails at the back of the pack, and Jamie Chadwick, who competes in the Regional Formula F3 within the prestigious Prema team, alongside Arthur Leclerc. Chadwick was the first ever female-only W Series championship winner. So that's about it.
An official commitment
The FIA has become aware of the need to support and promote motorsport more strongly among women to increase their presence, because it is more a question of promotion, sectors, financial and institutional support than of physical abilities. If women are fighter pilots or astronauts – which all the same induces serious capacities – why not in F1? Thirteen-year-old Ella Stevens probably dreams of breaking the ice. The young Briton, who won Karting titles (the Birel UK Cadet Series in 2017), is one of 25 young drivers, aged 12 to 16, who will be shortlisted to enter the Scuderia Ferrari academy. Everything will be decided at the end of the year on the Paul Ricard, to win the Grail. " This is a great opportunity for me", Assures the teenager. " We have to perform, in the first phase, some physical condition and karting tests, so that they can see our driving".
Ella Stevens is supported in this quest by Rob Smedley, who worked as a Ferrari engineer for over a decade and now mentors the girl through his own. Electroheads Talent Academy which aims to facilitate the focus of young people in Karting. "To have a major player in sport, with a history as rich as Ferrari, we must applaud", he told CNN. "It is absolutely amazing that they want to do this and that they are taking positive steps to increase gender diversity in sport (…)" We felt we had to go the extra mile to expand our area of operation to include young women who want to get into motorsport.“, Declared for his part Mattia Binotto, in a press release.“Although there are no real barriers to their participation, we recognize that it is more difficult for women to progress in this area. "
This Ferrari initiative is part of the project "Girls on Tracks – Rising Stars", FIA labeled, which aims to identify talents and above all to help them structure a professional career. For the two drivers who are selected, there will be a four-year program at the end of which they can potentially compete for a season in the FIA Formula 4 Championship. The first step in a long honorum course.