FIA launches "Girls on track - Rising Star"
The FIA Women in Motorsport Commission launched the "Girls on Track - Rising Star" project in cooperation with Ferrari Driver Academy.
The topic of gender equality in motorsport has finally acquired a central importance in the last couple years at the Federation International de l'Automobile, with the creation of several initiatives to facilitate the access of young girls in motor racing and to increase the visibility of the ladies competing globally.
The FIA Women in Motorsport Commission, under the leadership of former rally star Michéle Mouton, has so far played a vital role, financing ambitious projects and embracing an action-driven policy.
It was December 2019 when Ferrari F1 Team Principal Mattia Binotto said he wanted a girl in the Ferrari Driver Academy, the program that has so far supported 19 young drivers throughout the initial stages of their motor racing careers, up to promote some of today's best-known Formula 1 stars - Charles Leclerc among them.
"The Academy also looks for women in the future, women should be part of the Ferrari Driver Academy. That's something on which we are working right now to make sure that it may happen very soon." he said, sparking a series of speculations regarding the potential candidates. Several names circulated, but it was then clear that Ferrari's interest had shifted to a younger age group, with the focus on analyzing karting movements in order to cultivate its young talents from the grassroots.
And this is how the freshly announced partnership with the FIA comes into action:
FIA Girls on Track - Rising Stars is the project that "aims to identify the best 12-16 year old female drivers from around the world and help them reach a professional career in motor sport at the most critical age of growth".
With support from the FIA Innovation Fund, the programme will partner with Scuderia Ferrari and its prestigious young driver program, the Ferrari Driver Academy (FDA).
Through a four-year agreement, the Scuderia Ferrari will thus select its first ever female drivers.
“FIA Girls on Track - Rising Stars is another immense step forward at the grassroots level of the sport and, with manufacturer partners, we have a really concrete opportunity to find, develop and support young women drivers,” - commented Mouton.
“To be able to collaborate with Ferrari, our first partner of the programme, is fantastic and real recognition of the progress we continue to make after 10 years of our Commission’s work."
"It is an incredibly exciting multi-year agreement, which we hope will result in two winning drivers becoming Ferrari’s first-ever female racers. That is a very special thought and would be an historic moment for our Women in Motorsport Commission.” - added the President of the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission.
The selection process started earlier this year and involved the initial participation of the FIA's 145 national sporting authorities, who nominated the most promising female young talents. The selected drivers will be invited in October to the Paul Ricard facility, where they will be further evaluated in training camps.
After a final assessment by the Ferrari Driver Academy personnel, the best of the four final drivers could be awarded a one-year contract (with option to a one further year-renewal) to join the Italian team's colours for an FIA Formula 4 season in 2021. The same process will be repeated in 2021.
If the short-term goal will be the transition from karting to national Formula 4 championships, it is clear that the impact of such a prestigious support could be a further push for the women's movement at the grassroot levels of the sport.
“We are really pleased to be collaborating with the FIA in this innovative Girls on Track - Rising Stars programme." - said Mattia Binotto. "We are firm believers in the value of helping youngsters develop in motor sport."
"The FDA has been operating for over a decade now, not just purely and simply selecting the best drivers, but also working on their cultural, technical and ethical education. With this in mind, we felt we had to make a further effort to expand our area of operation to include female youngsters who want to get on in motor sport. Although there is no actual barrier to their participation, we are aware that it is harder for women to progress in this field. That’s why we have responded enthusiastically to the FIA initiative and we believe that we can help introduce even more young women to this fantastic sport."
In early 2020, German F3 racer Sophia Floersch was critical of Ferrari's decision to introduce in its Driver Academy program a female driver purely based on gender. Floersch, one of the most prominent female figures in today's motorsport, is a strong opposer of positive discrimation.
Other Formula 1 teams had moved in the same direction in recent years, but have so far failed to promote their candidates to prestigious seats. Marta Garcia joined the Renault F1 young driver program in 2017 but was dropped after a single season in the Spanish Formula 4. Beitske Visser suffered a similar fate in Red Bull Young Driver program in 2013. They now both compete in the all-female W Series championship.
Currently two women are associated with F1 teams: both Jamie Chadwick (Williams) and Tatiana Calderon (Alfa Romeo F1 Team) were confirmed in their Development Drivers roles in 2020. The last female entry to take the start of a F1 Grand Prix remains Italian Lella Lombardi in 1976.
The agreement with FIA Women in Motorsport, however, represents a potential game-changing guarantee. Among the projects financed by the Women in Motorsport Commission, there are also other initiatives in support of local karting, training days and meetings with female testimonials, as well as financial support for projects intended to generate an enduring legacy.