Female drivers have been a rare thing in what’s normally regarded as the peak of open-wheel racing, Formula One, for a plethora of reasons. But there have been a few women in development ranks in recent years, and there may soon be a female driver in the program at F1’s second-best team as well: Ferrari.
Of course, “may” and “will” are two very different words. We’ll just have to see whether Ferrari is about talk or action with this one.
The news that Ferrari may add a woman to its Ferrari Driver Academy program, though, comes from ESPN and quotes by Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto. The story said Ferrari wants to expand the lineup in the academy, and that, in ESPN’s words, the program will “look to include a woman among its ranks for the first time.”
Aside from how it’s somewhat stunning that sentence ended with “for the first time,” given that it’s almost 2020, here’s more from ESPN:
“We are increasing the number of drivers in the Ferrari Driver Academy next year,” team principal Mattia Binotto said. “So, a few other drivers will join. I’m not in the position to tell you how many and who, but it’s something on which we are working on very hard. The driver academy is an important investment for us — we need to look at the future generation of talent for Ferrari.
“The Academy will also look for women in the future — women should be part of the Ferrari Driver Academy. That’s something we are working right now to make sure that it will happen very soon. Ferrari is always investing in the future to make sure that we can be stronger and stronger over the medium and long term.”
If Ferrari did add a woman to its development lineup, it would be one of several F1 teams to do so in recent years. Tatiana Calderon, who competed full time in Formula 2 this season but failed to score a point, became a Sauber test driver in 2018. The Williams F1 team added inaugural W Series champion Jamie Chadwick as a development driver in May of this year, before she won the title. But due to the huge performance gap in F1, Ferrari is levels up from Williams or Sauber.
Ferrari F1 driver Charles Leclerc, for reference, entered the Ferrari academy in 2016. He was in F1 with Sauber by 2018 and took Kimi Raikkonen’s seat at the big Ferrari team this season, where he has two wins and seven poles in 21 races with Ferrari. Leclerc also finished fourth in the 2019 standings compared to 13th with Sauber.
Ferrari, in essence, is good, which you likely already know. It’s one of the few shoo-in F1 teams, since there’s still a wide valley between the top organizations—Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull—and the rest of them. Because of that, adding a woman to the ranks for the first time would be a big deal, even if years late.
Barely more than a handful of women have actually driven during an F1 race weekend in the series’ history, and, via the New York Times, the most recent woman to start a race was Lella Lombardi more than four decades ago. (Driving during an F1 weekend and actually competing in the race are two very different things, as only two women have done the latter.) As of 2012, the BBC reported that compared to the single-digit number of women who had entered a grand prix over the roughly seven decades of F1, 822 men had. The number for the latter has only gone up.
Basically, there’s a lot of ground to make up when it comes to women in F1. If Ferrari does indeed go through with the commitment for its driver academy, it may help that cause.