Today, Formula 1 announced the creation of something called Formula Academy for 2023, a series will serve as a Formula 4-based championship designed to help young women break into the open-wheel ladder on the way to F1. Details are still fairly sparse, but it kind of seems like Formula Academy could work. Sort of. Maybe.
As per Motorsport, Formula Academy will be run using 15 of the Tatuus T421-chassis cars used in F4, and they will be split between five teams that will each enter three vehicles. The teams involved in the sport already exist in Formula 2 or Formula 3, and Formula Academy will be run by Bruno Michel, the CEO of the company that already oversees F2 and F3.
As a result, it sounds like Formula Academy is designed in response to many of the criticisms received by W Series — namely, that the women on the W Series grid had no guaranteed affiliation with any established team in the motorsport world, thus failing to remove one of the many, massive barriers that prevent women from moving up the F1 ranks.
Where W Series was a free-to-run championship, though, the seven-event Formula Academy will have slightly greater requirements of its drivers. F1 will subsidize each entry with a €150,000 (roughly $155,000), but each driver will be required to match that amount in order to guarantee a place on the grid. According to the Formula 4 US Championship website, estimated season operational costs run between $130,000 and $195,000 — but in Europe, one driver’s family reportedly spent over $750,000 to compete in two F4 championships. Formula Academy’s affiliation with established teams on the motorsport ladder, though, may make that price tag deeply attractive to young women looking for a series in which to compete.
According to F1, Formula Academy “aims to develop and prepare young female drivers to progress to higher levels of competition including W Series, Formula 3, Formula 2 and Formula 1.”
About the W Series, F1 continued, “The W Series continues to provide a great platform for drivers and the F1 Academy is intended to add an extra route for the next generation of young female drivers, who will race in an environment that will allow them to gain fundamental experience thanks to a great amount of track time.”
And that’s kind of the thing that makes me think Formula Academy has some potential. While prior open-wheel experience wasn’t necessary to compete in W Series, having that time behind the wheel absolutely made a difference. It would have been deeply challenging to jump from karting to a regional F3-chassis car. A Formula 4 chassis is the logical next step for karting drivers — and we desperately need that link between karts and legitimate open-wheel competition.
I remain deeply skeptical about Formula Academy, though. In many ways, it seems like a hastily applied balm designed to quiet the naysayers who asked what F1 is really doing when it comes to supporting or encouraging women in racing. Many sources I talked to during the United States Grand Prix weren’t convinced that W Series would return for 2023, in large part because F1 failed to help subsidize the championship as it hit financial difficulties. Not that it was F1's responsibility — W Series was the brainchild of an entirely different group of F1-adjacent people, and it therefore existed outside F1's traditional scope of interest. Formula Academy, at least, appears to be more deeply nestled within F1's ladder, largely thanks to its affiliations with already-existing junior teams, many of which have ties with Formula 1 teams and junior programs.
I want Formula Academy to work. I really want Formula Academy to work. But until F1 and the FIA prove themselves legitimate allies to women in motorsport, I’m not going to hold my breath.