Drive for change: Is Formula 1 closer to next female racer? The hurdles to overcome, and hope for the future
W Series stars Jamie Chadwick, Abbie Eaton, Sarah Moore and Abbi Pulling discuss when Formula 1 could get its next female driver; Watch the W Series this weekend in France on Sky Sports F1, with qualifying on Friday at 6.10pm and the race on Saturday at 1.30pm
Last Updated: 22/07/22 6:12pm
It has been 46 years since a female driver last raced in Formula 1 - and the hurdles remain incredibly tough to overcome. But, as the W Series stars illuminate the growing talent pool alongside F1's very best, there is a new hope that we are "a lot closer" to seeing the next woman on the grid.
Britain's Jamie Chadwick, Abbie Eaton, Sarah Moore and Abbi Pulling are all racing role models in W Series - and in a Sky Sports exclusive have revealed their reasons for optimism, and realism, regarding women breaking through.
W Series - the all-female championship which debuted in 2019 to serve as a springboard to F1 - has been a big hit and takes place on the same weekends as F1, generating even more publicity and interest.
Potentially related to W Series, there has also been an influx of female go-karters recently, essential for hopes of a next female F1 star.
It is that progress in grassroots that is giving many plenty of hope, even though it will take time for those drivers to develop and get a chance to make their mark in single-seaters, let alone break a drought that has lasted since Italy's Lella Lombardi raced in the 1976 Italian GP.
"I think we're a lot closer to getting a full-time female in F1 than we were, certainly when I started 20 years ago," explained Eaton.
"Whether it'll happen in the next year or two, I don't think so. I think it's probably more in a five to seven-year timeline.
"I think the driver that will be able to do that is probably a karter at the moment. Someone who is young, has a lot of finance behind her and hopefully has someone looking after the right path for her to make the jump up through the different ranks.
"I'm confident we will have a female in F1, but probably not for a few years yet."
Lombardi was the last female to race in a Grand Prix, while it has been eight years since Susie Wolff took part in an F1 practice session.
"Within the next 10 years I would love to see a female in Formula 1," added Pulling. "If it's not myself, the next bright young female coming through.
"There's quite a few of them coming up the ranks now, there's a lot more. I go back to go-kart tracks, they're always walking past you, they're always spotted.
"It's a really positive change that's happening and I can't wait to see when that female getting into F1, because I think that hopefully there will be one soon."
What are the hurdles for female F1 hopefuls?
As aforementioned, there is realism as well as optimism.
"I think we've still got a little way to go," said Moore, with a lack of funding and opportunities just a few of the obstacles, while W Series is still young in its existence and has cars that are much slower than F1's machines.
Chadwick is likely Britain's fastest female driver, having won against boys as a junior and claimed both W Series titles so far, but even she can't yet get close to F1. This winter the 24-year-old, a Williams development driver, missed out on an expected move to Formula 3, which is still two steps below.
"There are other hurdles," said Chadwick, who is also leading this year's W Series title race. "Obviously the money is what it does boil down to, and that's for everyone, male or female."
Chadwick also explained the physical issues female drivers face.
She said: "I know it's a different championship, but the Formula Regional European Championship - which actually the W Series cars are based on - are incredibly physical, and unfortunately in these championships, they're spec cars so it's the same for everyone.
"The steering wheel, for example, is the same thickness for everyone and that's all been designed around the average male driver. So if you suddenly had a whole crop of female drivers, cars would all have to be redesigned.
"But because there's only one female driver in a blue moon coming in, then it doesn't happen.
"There's a little bit of you just have to get on with it, and that's why it's not spoken about, but it's also what can we do, why aren't there women succeeding getting through the sport?
"Because if you look at go-karting, there are a lot of young girls getting involved."
Watch the W Series this weekend in France on Sky Sports F1, with qualifying on Friday at 6.10pm and the race on Saturday at 1.30pm.