LONDON • A new all-female racing series was launched yesterday with the aim of helping women racers get into Formula One, but the news was greeted with mixed reactions from the fraternity.
No woman has competed in F1 since 1976 but organisers of the 'W Series' hope to provide a platform for them to develop skills before taking on the men further up the motor racing ladder.
With a planned start in May next year, the series said it will offer a prize fund of US$1.5 million (S$2.1 million) and free entry for 18-20 competitors who will be selected purely on merit after tests and appraisals.
The overall winner will collect US$500,000, with prize money down to 18th place.
"At the heart of W Series' DNA is the firm belief that women can compete equally with men in motor sports. However, an all-female series is essential in order to force greater female participation," organisers said in a statement.
WOMEN F1 DRIVERS
1. MARIA TERESA DE FILIPPIS (ITA)
Teams: Maserati, Behra-Porsche
Entries (starts): 5 (3)
2. LELLA LOMBARDI (ITA)
Teams: March, RAM, Williams
Entries (starts): 17 (12)
3. DIVINA GALICA (ENG)
Seasons: 1976, 1978
Teams: Surtees, Hesketh
Entries (starts): 3 (0)
4. DESIRE WILSON (RSA)
Entries (starts): 1 (0)
5. GIOVANNA AMATI (ITA)
Entries (starts): 3 (0)
Organisers aim to stage six 30-minute races at circuits in Europe, most of which are past F1 venues, with identical 1.8-litre Formula Three cars.
Future seasons would see the series expand to America, Asia and Australia.
David Coulthard, winner of 13 F1 races between 1995 and 2003, is on the advisory board along with Red Bull's technical head Adrian Newey.
An all-female series is not new but has been controversial in the past, with women racers adamant they want to compete against the men rather than be separated.
Claire Williams, deputy principal of the Williams F1 team, said this year that an all-female championship would be a "regressive step".
British racer Pippa Mann, a winner in the US Indy Lights series and who has competed six times in the Indianapolis 500, declared the move "a sad day for motor sports".
Coulthard said, however, that women tended to reach a glass ceiling at Formula Three level and needed help.
"We believe that female and male racing drivers can and should compete on equal terms if they have the same opportunity and training - we're going to try to make that happen," he told the Daily Mail.
Some Formula One drivers past and present expressed support.
Damon Hill, the 1996 champion, saw "a great opportunity for female aspiring racing drivers" while Haas driver Kevin Magnussen hoped it would help progress their careers.
No woman has scored a point in F1, although Italian Lella Lombardi scored a half point in the shortened 1975 Spanish Grand Prix.
Giovanna Amati was the last to attempt to enter a race in 1992, failing to qualify.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE