The Alpine team has launched a program aimed at discovering a competitive female Formula 1 driver within eight years.
The French carmaker wants to “debunk myths” about women in F1 as part of a wider diversity program across the F1 team and company.
Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi said F1 was “exact” and required “special skills and abilities”.
“There’s no way women can’t do it,” she added.
Alpine’s initiative will give girls and boys from the age of 10 the same opportunities to progress in motorsport all the way to F1.
“It’s a long road, an eight-year program, that starts now,” Rossi said, adding that the first four or five identified girls will start in the karts “in the next few weeks.”
The company is launching research programs aimed at fully understanding the physical, cognitive and emotional requirements of an F1 driver, in partnership with academic bodies including the Paris Brain Institute.
Current Alpine F1 drivers Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon will undergo physiological and psychological evaluations to give examples of the characteristics required.
The results of those studies will feed into the program to refine the training and development needs of aspiring drivers.
Rossi said: “We go so far as to think that we can have an influence on the way myths are constructed, and we want to debunk them: ‘Women are not capable physically’… ‘Women are not capable physiologically, mentally’ … ‘Women shouldn’t do that’ … ‘There are no role models.’
“The idea is: ‘Let’s take everything from the beginning and make sure we build the road, the same way we build the road for men.’ I am convinced that by doing so we will multiply the probability that women will achieve it”.
Why haven’t women made it to F1?
Rossi said the program would provide needed support that women drivers have lacked in the past.
“They never got the proper training, the environment, the support from the governing bodies, potentially, the stakeholders, to get there and that’s why it never happened,” he said.
“There are women flying jet fighters, women taking off in rockets and becoming astronauts. They endure an incredible amount of physical and intellectual constraints; they have additional capabilities. Then they could drive a Formula 1 car, I’m sure of that.” .
“It’s just a matter of providing the right environment. It’s like also changing perspective and bias, basically destroying those biases to make it more accessible.
“Right now, I guess 99% of women don’t think it’s feasible for them to get there.
“We target only a very small portion of women, whereas if you suddenly open the doors, who knows? Statistically, there will be a lot more women who want to do it and then we’ll train them and hopefully there will be more women who are able to reach out.” over there”.
Is the barrier social or physical?
Only two women, both Italian, have started an F1 World Championship grand prix.
Maria Teresa de Filippis competed five times in the 1950s, and Lella Lombardi entered 12 races in the mid-1970s.
Lombardi is the only woman to score points, earning half a point for finishing sixth in the truncated 1975 Spanish Grand Prix.
Since then, three others have entered the grands prix: Britain’s Divina Galica and South Africa’s Desire Wilson in the 1970s, and Italy’s Giovanna Amati in 1992, but failed to qualify.
And in the last 30 years, only one woman has entered a grand prix weekend: Scottish Susie Wolff He participated in three free practice sessions in his role as a Williams test driver during the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
A key unanswered question as to why a woman has not yet succeeded in F1 is whether it is due to societal issues (prejudice, lack of opportunities and role models, for example) or whether it will turn out to be a sport in which, as many others, women cannot compete equally with men for specific physical reasons.
Rossi said: “We don’t know yet. I have my own personal opinion. I’m happy to be proven wrong. I don’t think it matters.”
“Looking at all the drivers, they’re not built the same. They don’t do the same training. They’re very different. I don’t think it’s raw physical strength that’s used in F1 and that’s why we segregate some disciplines.
“It’s a bit of a stretch, but you look at Fernando Alonso and everyone wonders why he drives a Formula 1 car over 40 years old. I think it’s because it’s not that important to be super athletic. Because he’s No. He’s incredibly fit. , but it’s not like an Olympian, and if she can drive an F1 car at 40, I don’t see why a 30-year-old super fit woman wouldn’t.
“I’m pretty sure a 30-year-old woman with great fitness would outperform Fernando in most physical activities, because I’m 40 too and I know what it does to you. So if he can drive an F1 car pretty good now, it’s a good example that I don’t think physical strength is the key.”
Segregation or inclusion?
In recent years, the women-only W-Series has emerged as a path for women to try and make a name for themselves in motorsports.
But although Britain’s Jamie Chadwick has won both of his championships and has followed in Wolff’s footsteps to become a Williams test driver, he is nowhere near becoming an F1 racing driver.
Rossi said he believed separating men and women on the race track was the wrong approach.
“The W series is a form of segregation,” he said. “One thing [to promote inclusion across motorsport] It would be to recognize that you don’t necessarily have to have parallel series to show the talent of women, and simply open yourself up to that a little more.
“What we need is people like us, and I know other teams do too, to take up the cause, embrace it and decide they want to move forward.”
“Stakeholders shape the future of the sport and the industry. We are a stakeholder; we believe in it. So our role is to shape it, and together with others we will shape it.”
“I think segregation or the lack of it should be the first step. And then we can establish a step-by-step progression to get there.”
Alpine’s Broader Diversity Program
The search for a female F1 driver is one aspect of a broader program at Alpine aimed at increasing diversity across the company.
“F1 is the emerging part, the visible tip of the iceberg,” Rossi said. “For me as a CEO, cynically speaking, it’s about growing the talent pool that I’m tapping into.
“Right now, it’s like I’m addressing the top 50% of the talent pool and women generally don’t think of the auto industry in general or F1 in particular as a career path. And that’s wrong. By doing so, I deprive myself, Alpine and Groupe Renault of half the talent and more than reasonable chance of success.
“The idea is to correct that.”
Rossi said the company would soon announce that women make up half of its executive committee.
When asked why the show focused on gender rather than ethnic or racial diversity, Alpine’s vice president of human resources, Claire Mesnier, said, “Women are the largest untapped pool of talent in the automotive industry and of motorsport”.
“Secondly, if we spread out too much, we won’t achieve anything, so at Alpine we decided to focus the inclusion program on women and social diversity.
“It’s about meritocracy and performance — we need to get the best talent where it’s at.”