Recently, reports have begun circulating that FIA is working towards the creation of an all-women feeder series to slot in towards the bottom of the Formula One feeder pyramid. Reportedly, this series would be targeted at women in their teens to prepare them for entry into F3 or F2 with a “realistic timeline” to have them develop to the point of being eligible to race in Formula One. This is an interesting step for the FIA in increasing inclusivity in a sport that has not seen a woman race in Formula One since 1976. But, before we congratulate the FIA on this rumored development, let's dive in a little bit deeper into the surrounding circumstances—and then decide if the FIA still deserves a pat on the back.
Looking at this from a global perspective, this move comes as a bit of a surprise. In 2018, the “W Series” was founded to be an all-women open-wheel championship, to promote opportunities for women in motorsports, acknowledging the difficulty many of them face when pursuing a career as professional drivers. As one can imagine, however, starting any new independent motorsport series in the 21st century requires extensive investment, and the W series has struggled since its inception to find the necessary financial backing, even having it to postpone the remaining three races of the 2022 season due to expected funding falling through.
According to reports, the FIA is not considering partnering with the W Series because it considers the competitors “too old” to be viable options for development in F3 and F2. Essentially, this would mean the FIA is saying that they view the competitors in the W Series as “not worth their investment.” Instead, the FIA's new series would target these younger talents and promote investment in them with hopes they would increase the presence of women in F3 and F2, the two primary feeder championships into Formula One.
On the surface, it seems confusing that the FIA wouldn't partner with the W Series, which already exists and could make very good use of the type of funding the FIA could provide. I don't buy that the reason for declining to partner with the W Series is because the drivers are “just” too old—with the type of stability and financial backing the FIA could provide, it could dictate requirements to be implemented to the W Series, instructing them to increase the number of younger drivers or developing a similar “feeder” program (to the FIA’s proposed ‘independent’ program) for women in their teens. This would 1) allow for the same development of young women, providing women a platform to use to get into one of the F1 feeder championships, and 2) provide the women who couldn’t/are already too old/do not make it to F1 and “age out” of F3 or F2 a platform to demonstrate their skills and compete at the highest possible level. The fact that the W series already exists (even though it is still in its infancy and financially unstable) and is being completely overlooked by Formula One speaks to deeper underlying issues with the FIA and its motivations.
If the FIA just wanted to increase the involvement of women in F3 and F2 it could just provide incentives to teams already competing in those championships (and teams in the world of carting, which is [I think] where the FIA is targeting this female series—before a competitor reaches the level of F3) and devote resources to directly make their open-wheeled series more inclusive, but instead they are contemplating making a separate feeder series. I am not arguing that this is not a step in the right direction towards a more equal and inclusive field, but is the “step” big enough, and does it have the right motivations?
Given the fact that the FIA is not looking to partner with the W Series—a series that is doing its best to actively promote women in open-wheel motorsports—and is only considering starting a low-level “feeder series” that will slot somewhere below F3, I don't think this is any meaningful progress that we should be congratulating the FIA over (assuming they follow through and create this rumored series). Given the resources that the FIA has, the need that the W Series has exhibited for funding and partnership, and the fact that the FIA is ultimately a profit-motivated entity, I think this potential proposal is just doing the bare minimum to be socially acceptable and punting the ball down the road, deferring an actual solution to the underlying issues within the sport for some point later when it makes “more financial sense” to do so.
Call me cynical, but I don't see this potential proposal by the FIA as any real meaningful progress. Instead, I think it’s more of an optical illusion allowing the FIA to defer actual investment into fostering equality. Women undoubtedly belong in Motorsports and deserve the same opportunities, and they shouldn't be forced to celebrate menial gains and half-baked attempts by the FIA of “increasing opportunities” that ignore available avenues of progress like the W Series.
Again, while a “step in the right direction” by the FIA, this proposal is just a baby step, and the least investment the FIA can think of that is going to be socially acceptable. Is it worth celebrating? Yes—anything promoting increasing women in motorsport competition is. But when celebrating, remember it’s just a baby step—and there is more that can, and should be done.
Zachary Bryson is a graduate of Wake Forest University with a B.A. in Economics and a Minor in Entrepreneurship. He is currently a JD candidate at Elon University School of Law, Class of 2023. You can connect with him via LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter at @ZacharySBryson.