May 5, 2023 7:02 pm
There is nothing worse as a motorsport fan than knowing you are missing a fantastic race with no way of watching it. This is how I felt viewing a condensed version of three incredible F1 Academy races in Spielberg. All in a 15-minute highlights video, may I add! A succession of races that should have been exhilarating instead made me feel infuriated.
After a snooze-fest of an F1 race in Baku, I couldn’t help but wish I was watching the inaugural spectacle of the all-female racing series, feeling a little cheated as a motorsport fan.
First, let me preface this piece by stating that the F1 Academy are doing as best as possible with the resources they have. Giving female drivers masses of track time and a chance to develop their talents is only positive. However, for a series that holds so much promise, a lot needs changing moving forward.
The Sponsorship Issue
A good start to these changes would be treating it like any other feeder series. The F1 Academy is the equivalent of racing categories such as British F4 and F4 UAE, which all have live streams. Some do not appear on any main TV channels, but at least there is a place for fans to watch the entire race. The F1 Academy, on the other hand, does not.
As a fan of motorsport who wants to get to know these racing drivers and see a championship battle between young talents such as Amna Al Qubaisi, Bianca Bustamante, Marta Garcia, & Abbi Pulling, to name a few, 15 minutes of highlights doesn’t feel like an adequate platform.
On a deeper level, F1 not giving these girls and women enough publicity hurts their careers and chances of progressing in motorsport. Funding is one of the most significant barriers to women in motor racing. Sponsorship often dries up; just look at Abbi Pulling’s story before W Series, preventing women from being able to compete in higher feeder series such as F3 and F2, let alone F1.
The F1 Academy has sponsors, but the main issue with the lack of live streaming is that it doesn’t reach a wide enough audience. And crucially, sponsors won’t be seen. This may lead to them pulling out if they are not receiving exposure, or the F1 Academy may fail to attract new sponsors to the series. Due to these financial setbacks, a lack of sponsorship may hamper some drivers’ chances of staying in this series and progressing to higher categories.
The Visibility of the F1 Academy
Sponsors aside, by not televising the F1 Academy, there is another more profound impact – not enough young girls watching. The F1 Academy aims to inspire women to enter motorsport, but how can these young girls be inspired by what they cannot see? Visibility is crucial in encouraging women into motorsport, whether as a fan or in their roles within the industry.
In F1 alone, we have seen a rise in female journalists and content creators such as Lissie Mackintosh, Katy Fairman, and Claire Cottingham, amongst many more talented women. Undoubtedly they will inspire women young, old and everywhere in between to get into motorsport, making them feel that this is a space for them. If F1 isn’t even broadcasting the full Academy races on its main channel, how are young girls supposed to feel accepted?
So what can the F1 Academy do to change this?
Whilst the series finds its feet and F1 figures out how it wants to broadcast the Academy, there are a few changes I would like to see this year. These include full race highlights and more driver interviews on F1’s YouTube channel and the F1 Academy website. Or, instead of the millionth re-run of some filler content from the 2021 Silverstone broadcast on Sky Sports, we could watch a whole F1 Academy race.
Hopefully, there will be a live broadcast in Austin later this year where the F1 Academy runs alongside the US GP. There have also been reports that the F1 Academy will support some F1 races in 2024, which hopefully means they will televise it similarly to F3 or F2.
But will it be too little too late for some drivers who may fail to acquire the sponsorship to continue racing in the F1 Academy (the drivers have to contribute $150,000 to their race seat)? It reflects the common reality of young girls slipping through the cracks in motorsport before they are even allowed to properly begin.
The saddest aspect of it all is that I have even had to write this article. This should be a rundown of the storylines, the highs and lows of the first races in Spielberg. Instead, I am putting the pieces together from a 15-minute highlights show, leaving me none the wiser about how any drivers performed outside the top 5. They do not air qualifying, and there are no leaderboard graphics on the screen, so you are only aware of what someone is doing if the commentator mentions their name.
Of course, you could follow the series across social media, but this excludes the very audience it seeks to inspire. Young girls! When I think about how I got into motorsport, it was watching it as a young child between the ages of 5-7 on TV with my Dad. The F1 Academy does not yet have that reach to younger girls who need female motorsport heroes to look up to.
The women in this series deserve better, and from what I saw in the highlights, it was an incredible race! You had Abbi Pulling’s dominance in qualifying, only for her team, Rodin Carlin, to be disqualified due to a technical infringement. Yet Pulling fought her way back into the top 10 in every single race!
I was moved by racing sisters Hamda and Amna Al Qubaisi, the former congratulating the latter on earning her first-ever win in the second race. Not to mention Garcia and Hamda battling for the lead in the closing stages of the third race, Garcia hanging on to take her second victory of the weekend.
Yet apart from the fight for the lead, you didn’t see much from other drivers. What happened towards the back end of the grid? How did they cope with the tyres? How many laps are there left of the race? So far, the highlights still need to answer these questions during the broadcast.
Positives of the F1 Academy
Okay, and breathe!
My tone has been rather negative throughout this article, so let’s end positively and look forward to the second race weekend in Valencia. Marta Garcia goes into the race weekend leading the championship, starting on pole in races 1 & 3. The Al Qubaisi sisters are close behind in the championship, with Hamda finishing P2 in qualifying 2.
Abbi Pulling is 4th in the championship despite starting from the back in all three races last time in Austria. She qualified in the top 4 in both sessions in Valencia. For the complete results from Valencia qualifying, head to the F1 Academy website to see how the grid will line up for races 1 & 3!
Finally and most excitingly, Reese Witherspoon’s production company Hello Sunshine has announced they are developing a docuseries that follows the F1 Academy. Hopefully, emulating the successful recipe of Drive to Survive, this is the best news to come out of the sport in the past few weeks. Such visibility is a step in the right direction for the F1 Academy, allowing these racing drivers to tell their stories. I am excited for this docuseries to air and hope it will draw more young women towards motorsport!