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15 talents for the inaugural F1 Academy crown

The all-female F1 Academy championship is set to kick-off its inaugural season at Red Bull Ring this weekend. Here's our ultimate guide to its protagonists.


Photo credits: F1 Academy Limited

Around five months after being officially announced, the first ever edition of the all-female F1 Academy championship is set to get underway at Red Bull Ring, Austria, this weekend.

The series, promoted by F1 itself and run by the same organization behind FIA F2 and FIA F3, will have in Susie Wolff a competent and relevant Managing Director.


While the concept has been pioneered before by W Series - which was launched in 2019 alongside DTM - F1 Academy will have several important differences and peculiarities.

Unlike W Series, F1 Academy has a more traditional team-format, with five of the most elite feeder series teams being selected for the inaugural season.


Campos Racing, MP Motorsport, ART Grand Prix, Rodin Carlin and Prema Racing will line up three drivers each, in what is looking like a highly competitive grid.

F1 Academy positioned itself at Formula 4 level, in order to lower the average age of the entries and therefore providing them with better chances to move up the single seater ladder.


When W Series selected its drivers via a free-to-entry shootout, F1 Academy is taking a more traditional approach and, while the drivers will have to cover a budget, the series has limited the costs to € 300,000 per car. Half of this budget per each seat will be subsidized by F1 itself - resulting in one of the most affordable Formula 4 championships on the market, unbeaten for the driving time.


Undoubtedly one of the most interesting features of the series is in fact its track time: 15 collective test days, 7 race meetings and 21 races. Each weekend format includes two practice sessions of 40 minutes, two 15-minute qualifying sessions and three races – two of 30 minutes + 1 lap and a reverse grid race of 20 minutes + 1 lap, for a total of 190 minutes of track time per race meeting. Over twice as much as W Series after the series joined the F1 support bill in 2021.


F1 Academy will visit some of the most propaedeutic racing venues in Europe - plus one North American round, alongside the US Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas. F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has already announced that F1 Academy is set to run in conjunction with F1 as a support series in 2024 - but this move will have to guarantee sufficient track time in order to maintain its current competitive advantage over the mixed-gender F4 championships.


The brand-new series is aimed to provide a pathway for young female drivers making their way up the ranks of junior formulae and offer a cost-effective entry step after karting.

The inaugural entry list includes several interesting drivers with F4 experience, a few drivers with experience of Formula Regional machinery, as well as a rookie making her race car debut - in a very interesting mix. Let's discover the protagonists that will battle out for the first ever F1 Academy crown.


Photo credits: F1 Academy Limited

CAMPOS RACING

The Valencia-based team will rely on a highly promising mix of young talents for its first season in F1 Academy: the #1 car will be in the expert hands of Valencian Nerea Martí. The 21 year old driver was one of the protagonists of the W Series championship, scoring three podiums and one pole position over two seasons. She was the rookie of the year in 2021, where she finished fourth in the standings.


Martí raced in Spanish F4 in 2019, at her debut in single seaters, securing a second place at Navarra. She improved significantly throughout the season and was selected for her first season in W Series in the following year, thus stepping up to Formula Regional machinery.


Martí has often showcased great speed and there will be little doubt that she will be fighting for at least the top five. Despite a few unfortunate races, she was up to pace in a one-off appearance in Formula Winter Series at Valencia and, in pre-season testing, Nerea stood out particularly at Paul Ricard, where she got increasingly closer to the top two.


Nerea Marti / Photo credits: F1 Academy Limited

Lola Lovinfosse will drive the #2 Campos machine; the 17 year old Frenchwoman was considered one of the most exciting female talents in international karting, having raced at the top end of European and World Karting level before stepping up to single seaters.


She was part of the first FIA Girls On Track - Rising Stars selections, shortlisted in 2020. She would join Drivex School for her first season in formula cars, in the very competitive Spanish F4. At her second race event in the series, Lovinfosse secured her first top-20 result and had her best finish of the season with a P13 in Portimao, close to her first overall point-scoring result.


A second campaign in F4 Spain was unfortunately cut short for funding issues, but Lovinfosse returned behind the wheel towards the end of 2022, when she joined the Indian Racing League - claiming a podium finish. In a one-off round in Formula Winter Series, at the wheel of the current Tatuus T421 with Campos Racing, she showed good racecraft and had good battles in the midfield at Barcelona. At Paul Ricard, second collective test in Formula 1 Academy, Lola looked well in the mix for a top five.


Her prior experience of the second gen Tatuus might give Lovinfosse a good boost, as she also proved to have done a good step forward.


Lola Lovinfosse / Photo credits: F1 Academy Limited

In the third Campos car, Uruguayan Maite Cáceres will make her European full-time racing debut, having raced Stateside until last year. Cáceres, 20, is one of Uruguay's brightest hopefuls in single seaters and will enter only her second season in open wheel racing.


In 2022, Maite took part in the W Series selections in Arizona, and then joined the Formula 4 US championship as well as a partial campaign in the USF Juniors series. Her progression was notable throughout the year and secured a P12 and P11 as personal best finishes in over 20 car fields.


At her very first ouring in the Tatuus F4 car, she had a very positive debut in Formula Winter Series in Valencia, grabbing her first top ten finish.

Pre-season tests have been very positive for Cáceres, who seems to be making leaps every time she steps in the car. A realistic goal for the start of the season would probably be the top-10, having limited experience of the tracks and of the car compared to most of the pack. But the Uruguayan - who is one of the two drivers from the American continent in the inaugural season of F1 Academy - is certainly going to climb the order quickly.


Maite Caceres / Photo credits: F1 Academy Limited

MP MOTORSPORT

While it will initially feel a bit strange not to see her sporting her number 88, Hamda Al Qubaisi will drive the #4 MP Motorsport car, in a traditionally orange livery. Hamda, 20, is one of the big names of this F1 Academy season - a driver with experience of F4, FRECA and Formula Regional Asian Championship, as well as the most successful female driver in the history of F4.


Hamda has in fact won six races and finished twice fourth in the drivers' championship in F4 UAE, as well as stepped on the overall podium in the uber-competitive Italian F4 Championship - becoming the first woman to ever do so.


Al Qubaisi returned to F4 machinery in this year's F4UAE season in order to familiarize with the new gen car - and was immediately up to pace, finishing twice in the top ten in a +40 car field that included the most promising single seater talents worldwide.

Unfortunately, though, she was injured in a crash on the final lap of the final race of the season at Abu Dhabi, ending up with a wrist fracture.


The injury disrupted her preparation ahead of the F1 Academy season and pre-season testing has been mainly a matter of building back the strength in her arm. We have in fact certainly not seen yet Hamda's true potential and, once in full form, we can expect the Emirati talent to be battling at the front.


Hamda Al Qubaisi / Photo credits: F1 Academy Limited

Emely de Heus makes her return to MP Motorsport after contesting the 2021 Spanish F4 championship with the Dutch team.

De Heus, 19, made her debut in single seaters two years ago, scored 13 top-20 finishes and claimed 8 wins in the Female Trophy to eventually secure the class title. She was then selected for the W Series championship in 2022, after impressing in the Arizona F4 test and then in Barcelona in Formula Regional machinery.


In W Series, de Heus scored points at her first race at the Miami street circuit, with a tenth place that would remain her best result of the year.

With the aim of preparing for the following season, de Heus joined the Formula 4 UAE championship with MP Motorsport, collecting crucial experience in the new Tatuus.


De Heus made steady progress across the opening three rounds and particularly had good qualifying sessions, then consistently approached the top-20 in the 40-car field.

She was the driver to complete the highest amount of laps across pre-season testing and continued to reduce the gap to the front session after session.


Emely de Heus / Photo credits: F1 Academy Limited

Two sisters on the podium? This could be a realistic aim for the Al Qubaisi sisters, as Hamda is joined at MP Motorsport by her sister Amna Al Qubaisi.

Amna and Hamda shared the track on a few occasions in Italian F4 (2019) and in Formula Regional Asia (2022), and are ready to make some more history.


Amna famously won the F4 Trophy round at her home track in Yas Marina Circuit, in support of the 2019 Abu Dhabi F1 GP - becoming the first ever Arab woman to win a single-seater race. The two sisters are in fact the only two drivers on the grid to have already won a mixed-gender F4 race.


Amna had positive seasons in the highly-competitive Italian F4, then stepped up to Formula Regional - first in the Asian championship, where she scored points in her home race at Abu Dhabi - then in FRECA.


Al Qubaisi has always showed great pace in Formula 4 machinery and it wouldn't be much of a surprise to see her back in the positions where she belongs, despite a few challenging years where she hasn't been able to race full time. In pre-season testing, Amna proved just that.


Amna Al Qubaisi / Photo credits: F1 Academy Limited

ART GRAND PRIX

Léna Bühler is one of the two drivers on the grid supported by a F1 Team's young driver programme: the Swiss 25-year-old is in fact part of the Sauber Academy and will sport a Sauber-inspired livery.


Bühler might be one of the most experienced drivers of the inaugural F1 Academy season, having already raced in Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine. But, with her return in F4, she might have unfinished business and is likely to be one of the drivers to watch.


Despite having started her racing career quite late - she was competing in BMX before - Bühler emerged as a big name in European karting, before making her debut in Formula 4 in Spain in 2020 – consistently scoring points and claiming two top-5 finishes.


She then made the step up to Formula Regional European Championship, where she contested the full 2021 campaign and a partial 2022 season. Almost eight months later, she made her return to the track at the F4 UAE Championship, where Bühler had the opportunity to get back in the rhythm and learn the new Tatuus T-421 car.


Unlucky rounds aside, Léna has always been fast in F4 and the F1 Academy pre-season testing proved that. At Paul Ricard, Bühler was well within the top five, with sessions in the top three. Definitely a driver to take into account for the title.


Léna Bühler / Photo credits: F1 Academy Limited

The announcement of Carrie Schreiner returning to single-seaters after seven years came as a surprise to many, but the German racing driver is eager to make the most out of the opportunity that the series is offering - and is adapting to the new F4 car at a speedy pace.


Schreiner, an expert GT3 racer, has in fact switched to GT racing early in her career and has since then climbed the ranks in some of Europe's top GT series, including ADAC GT Masters, Italian GT, NLS, 24H Series, GTC.


She last raced in F3 in a double program in the German and British series in 2016, before making a name for herself in GT competitions, with a podium in ADAC GT Masters and a class win at the 24 Hours of the Nurburgring, as well as the title in the GTC GT60 by Pirelli in 2022.


The adaptation to a whole different form of racing could have been complex, but Schreiner progressively shortened the gaps and, by the end of the second test at Paul Ricard, she was within a second to the top: a promising start ahead of the season opener.


Carrie Schreiner / Photo credits: F1 Academy Limited

Scottish racer Chloe Grant is one of the least experienced of the field, with only one season of single-seater racing under her belt. Yet she is a realistic contender for the top-ten.

Grant graduated from karting in 2020 after winning the CKRC championship, and secured the Junior Saloon Car Championship Scholarship.


Grant stepped up to the new GB4 Championship in 2021 and had significant improvements throughout the season. She would score two top five finishes at Brands Hatch, finishing ninth in the points' standings. Having been selected for the third edition of the FIA Women In Motorsport's promoted Girls on Track - Rising Stars, Grant impressed in the F4 selections at Paul Ricard and advanced to the FDA stage at Maranello, where she drove the new gen Tatuus F4 car for the first time.


In pre-season testing, Chloe has completed over 1,100km, mainly focusing on understanding tyre management.


Chloe Grant / Photo credits: F1 Academy Limited

RODIN CARLIN


Abbi Pulling, 19, is highly regarded as one of the most exciting talents in single seaters and is part of the Alpine Academy programme. For the French team, she has already driven F1 machinery, in demo runs in Saudi Arabia and at Silverstone.


Pulling is one of the top profiles of the F1 Academy season, and one of the strongest contenders for the title on the eve of the season opener.


A multiple-time karting champion in the UK, the young driver made her debut in British F4 in 2020, claiming podium finishes and marginally missing out on her first win after a really strong campaign. Having committed to a second full season in British F4 with the clear aim of fighting for the title, funding issues left the young British talent without a seat mid-way through the year and she was picked up by W Series. With only half the races, she scored points, a podium and a pole position, and would gain automatic entry to the following season.


In 2022, Pulling continued to impress and enjoyed a very strong first part of the season; she was one of the only three drivers to score points at each round and eventually finished fourth in the standings.


Without a great amount of mileage in the Tatuus T421 car ahead of the season, Pulling was a clear front-runner in the collective tests.

Her pink BWT-sponsored car will also be unmissable on the grid among the other 14 cars.


Abbi Pulling / Photo credits: F1 Academy Limited

At 17 years of age, Jessica Edgar is one of the youngest drivers of the series and, when the cars will hit the track at Spielberg, she will enter her second season of car racing.


Edgar - who is cousin of FIA F3 driver Jonny - started karting at 6 and moved up the ranks of the Mini X30 categories. In 2021 she was part of the Girls on Track Rising Stars program, and then graduated to formula cars in 2022, as part of the inaugural season of the GB4 Championship.


Jessica was a consistent presence in the top-ten, claimed a podium at Oulton Park in only her second round, and – after a big development through the season – she secured several top five finishes. At the wheel of the #11 Rodin Carlin car, Edgar will have the chance to further develop with a competitive team, and with one of the series' top drivers as teammate to likely help with references.


At Paul Ricard, Edgar impressed with a big improvement and was a steady presence in the top ten - and with a very strong final day. While she had a few testing outings before the collective ones, Edgar remains one of the least experienced on the grid and therefore there are good chances of seeing the young Brit coming up the field as the season progresses.


Jessica Edgar / Photo credits: F1 Academy Limited

A well known driver to followers of W Series, Megan Gilkes is Rodin Carlin's third driver for the 2023 season. The 22 year-old Canadian was the youngest driver on the field in the inaugural W Series championship and famously won the spectacular Assen reverse-grid race.

She had previously raced in the Canadian Formula 1200, Formula 2000 Championship and SCCA Formula Vee - and returned to home soil in the pandemic-affected 2020 season, when she collected 11 podiums and 2 pole positions to secure second in the standings in F1600 Ontario.


Also an engineer, Gilkes had at the same time work experiences at Mercedes F1 Team and, more recently at Aston Martin F1 Team, where she currently holds the position of trackside support engineer for her placement year out of university.

In 2022, Gilkes had a very strong season in the brand-new GB4 Championship: the Canadian claimed a victory in the opening round at Snetterton, and added one more win at Donington and a third place at Silverstone, finishing sixth in the drivers' championship.


Her GB4 clearly proves that Megan has the speed to fight at a good level.


Megan Gilkes / Photo by: Racers - Behind the Helmet

PREMA RACING

The Italian team - one of the global benchmarks in junior formulae and dominant outfit in the Italian Formula 4, features a very interesting driver line up. At the wheel of the #14 Tatuus will be 16-year-old Chloe Chong, the youngest driver of the grid.


Chong, of dual British and Canadian citizenship, is the only driver to make the step up from karting to formulas. She raced in the British Karting Championship as well as the IAME Ladies Cup in France in the Junior X30 and Senior X30 classes, after a season in Rotax Max Euro Trophy. She was then selected as one of the finalists for the FIA Girls On Track - Rising Stars programme in 2022, and made it to the Paul Ricard test as well as the Maranello training camp, impressing the jury for her quick development despite being one of the least experienced drivers.


Chloe is a fast learner. After her first tests in F4 - and with the expert help of the Prema team - Chong made huge steps forward in a very short time frame and showed a massive potential. While she has time on her side - and this first season will be firstly a learning-oriented year - Chloe Chong appears to be one of the most interesting prospects after testing.


Chloe Chong / Photo credits: F1 Academy Limited

Ahead of the first round, Marta García vs Abbi Pulling is shaping up to be one of the biggest stories of this inaugural season. The Spaniard, 22, is clearly aiming to lead the Prema outfit to the crown - but will have to face some serious competition.


García had a remarkable karting career, which included numerous international titles, including the CIK FIA Karting Academy Trophy. Aged 16, she was signed by the Renault F1 Driver Academy, but was soon dropped without a proper chance to develop and showcase her talent. She would revamp her career in W Series, where she took a win and four podiums, finishing fourth in 2019.


While she last raced in F4 in 2017, García has immediately been on pace in pre-season, undeniably presenting herself as one of the leading contenders.

In W Series, Marta García has proved she can battle at the front; with the help of Prema Racing, the Valencian will have to aim for consistency.


Marta Garcia/ Photo credits: F1 Academy Limited

Filipina racer Bianca Bustamante, 18, will drive the #16 Prema - in only her second full season of formula racing.

One of the six drivers to make the switch from W Series to F1 Academy, Bustamante made her step up from karting last year in the all-female series, straight into Formula Regional machinery.


Bianca was chosen as one of the two Academy drivers, who should have gained a two-year entry in the series. She scored her first top ten at her W Series debut, with a highly positive ninth place finish at Miami that gained her 2 championship points.

While she had good improvements throughout her rookie season, Bustamante offered a glimpse of her real potential in 2023, when she joined Prema Racing for the F4 UAE campaign.


In the Emirates, the Filipina had a brilliant development round after round, battled for the top ten and scored her first points on only her third race weekend.

With the team's guidance and proper track time, Bustamante has been thriving and continued her progression in pre-season testing - suggesting that she is likely to be a constant presence in the top-five.


Bianca Bustamante / Photo by: Racers - Behind the Helmet

ROUND 1

The 4.318 km Red Bull Ring is located in the Styrian mountains, surrounded by a scenic backdrop. While not a difficult layout, the Austrian track features several high speed sections alternated by heavy brakings - which could offer good passing opportunities - as well as a more technical second sector, with a few fast corners (T6-7-8).


Drivers that have previously raced at the track include Nerea Martí, Hamda Al Qubaisi, Amna Al Qubaisi, Léna Bühler, Carrie Schreiner and Marta García.

The two practice and the two qualifying sessions will be contested on Friday, while the three races that will launch the season will get underway on Saturday. The official weekend will be preceded by a further collective test day on Thursday.


The 30 minutes long Race 1 and Race 3 are set to award 25 points to the winner (with F1-style point system for the top ten), while the reverse grid race will be 20 minutes long and will award points to the top eight, with 10 points to the winner - using F1's point system used from 2003 to 2009. One extra point for the fastest lap will be awarded if the driver finishes within the top ten.

Finally, weather may play a role in the season opener, with rain potentially forecasted for Saturday.


Schedule (local time):

Friday 28th April / Free Practice 1 - 08:15

Friday 28th April / Free Practice 2 - 10:40

Friday 28th April / Qualifying 1 - 15:10

Friday 28th April / Qualifying 2 - 15:30

Saturday 29th April / Race 1 - 10:45

Saturday 29th April / Race 2 - 14:05

Saturday 29th April / Race 3 - 17:20

1 comment

1 Comment


tisign
tisign
Apr 27, 2023

Thank you!! Have fun and good luck to all drivers! 🙏🏼🥰

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