One day a woman will be crowned the Formula One Drivers World Championship. While numerous women have competed in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship, there hasn’t been a female Formula One driver on the grid since 1976. Unlike the male-dominated paddocks of the past, there is an increase in female presence as women make further inroads and close the gender gap in motorsports.
There hasn’t been a female winner of a Formula One race. In fact, there have been very few women who have officially entered Formula One competitions. We’ll explore the women who have competed in Formula One, current female racing drivers and categories, and where women are making an impact in Formula One.
The Only Two Women On The Grid
With no female drivers on the current Formula One grid, and before we explore where women are making an impact in motorsports, we need to spotlight the two women who have sat on the grid for a Formula 1 Grand Prix start. Five women have entered a Formula One Grand Prix. However, only two have started a Grand Prix.
In 1958 and 1959, Maria Terese de Filippis was the first woman to enter and start a Formula One Grand Prix. In a very different era of Formula One, Teresa de Filippis entered five races, starting in three but only finishing the 1959 Belgian Grand Prix. She qualified nineteenth and finished tenth after nine other cars failed to complete the race.
Maria Grazia “Lella” Lombardi is the most active and successful female Formula One driver in history. Lombardi entered seventeen Grand Prix from 1974-1976, starting twelve races and capturing 0.5 points at the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix. Lombardi is the only Formula One driver to have finished their career with a total of half a point.
Three other women have entered Grand Prix but did not take the start: Desiré Wilson, Giovanna Amati, and Divina Galicia. In more modern times, women like Susie Wolff,
Tatiana Calderón and Jamie Chadwick have found various testing and development roles in Formula One, including Wolff being the first woman to participate in an official Formula One session in over 22 years at the 2014 British Grand Prix.
The W Series And Competitive Classes Of Racing
A significant issue for women getting onto the Formula One grid is space in competitive racing classes. To drive a Formula One car, a driver has to be granted a “super license” by the FIA. This is a system designed to keep people from quite literally buying their way into Formula One. Right now, a woman must compete in various European and regional junior racing categories, IndyCar, and other open-wheel racing competitions to acquire the necessary points for a super license.
There aren’t too many open spots in competitive machinery in these categories to give the current crop of female drivers the experience and opportunity. However, two women have been active in other categories and Formula One testing and development roles. Tatiana Calderón has competed in Super Formula, IndyCar, the World Endurance Championship, and Formula 2 while serving as a test and development driver for Alfa Romeo.
Jamie Chadwick is a development Driver for Williams and the reigning three-time W Series Champion. Chadwick will require successful seasons in Formula 3 and Formula 2 if she hopes to get a super license. This might be more of a pressing need for Chadwick and any Formula One hopes, as the W series is facing difficult financial circumstances and an uncertain future.
The W Series is an all-female category developed as a point of entry for women to make their way to the pinnacle of motorsports. The final two rounds of the 2022 W Series were canceled due to financial issues, with hopes that the series will retune in 2023.
One Day Will Come…
One day a woman will win the Formula One World Championship. One day will come, but there is no way to predict when that day will be. So, where are women making their presence felt in Formula 1?
The pit wall.
One of the stories of the 2022 Formula One season was Ferrari’s mistakes and blunders, including a long-standing organizational pattern of baffling strategy decisions. That has not been the case for Red Bull Racing, where drivers, cars, engineers, and strategists have been harmonious and nearly perfect. Red Bull’s Principal Strategy Engineer Hannah Schmitz has played a critical role in assisting Max Verstappen to the Drivers World Championship and the team to the Constructors World Championship.
Schmitz is one of the many female faces occupying seats on the pit wall that was once entirely dominated by men, changing the face of Formula One in the process.
One day a female strategist and a female race engineer with help guide a female Formula One driver to a world championship. Until that driver emerges, women like Schmitz will continue to lay the groundwork for increased female involvement in Formula One.