The current F1 field is exclusively male but female drivers have made their mark in some prestigious motor racing series around the world. So what are the chances of a woman breaking through?
The idea of female drivers in Formula One is nothing new – in fact the first woman raced in the series way back in 1958.
Italian Maria Teresa de Filippis made her first appearance aged 31 at the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix in a Maserati. She failed to qualify to start the race, but she was in good company in that respect as fellow newcomer and future F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone also missed the cut.
De Filippis entered five races and was able to start three times. She became the first woman to complete a race when taking tenth place in the 1958 Belgian Grand Prix. She made one attempt to qualify in 1959 before retiring,
The 1970s stars
Another Italian, Lella Lombardi, made the next breakthrough by becoming the first woman to score in the world championship. After failing to qualify for the 1974 British Grand Prix in a Brabham, she made her debut for March in South Africa the following year. She finished sixth in the Spanish Grand Prix after qualifying 24th of 26, ahead of two-time world champion Emerson Fittipaldi.
The race was halted early because of a major accident, which meant that Lombardi was awarded only half a point instead of the usual one – sixth place would earn a driver eight points under the modern scoring system.
Lombardi finished seventh in Germany later that year – worth six points now but none in those days – and started 12 races in all before going on to race sports cars and completing the 24 Hours of Le Mans four times.
Britain’s Davina Galica made three attempts to qualify in 1976 and 1978 and South Africa’s Desire Wilson took part in qualifying at the 1980 Grand Prix, finishing last but just half a second behind future world champion Keke Rosberg.
There followed a gap of 12 years until Italy’s Giovanna Amati entered the first three races of the 1992 season in a Brabham but failed to qualify.
Sarah Fisher and Katharine Legge had test drives in F1 cars in the 2000s but the closest we have come to a woman racing in a grand prix since was when Susie Wolff drove for Williams in practice for the British Grand Prix in 2014. That run at Silverstone was hit by engine trouble but she finished 15th of 22 in first practice for the German Grand Prix, just two-tenths of a second behind team-mate Felipe Massa.
Spanish driver María de Villota tragically suffered a serious accident when testing for Marussia at Duxford in 2012 and she died the following year due to neurological injuries sustained in the incident.
Around The World
Female drivers have shown they can be just as fast as men in other series around the world.
Danica Patrick won an IndyCar race in 2008 and finished third in the Indy500 in 2009, when she finished fifth in the championship.
Milka Duno, Simona de Silvestro, Ana Beatriz Figuereido and Britain’s Pippa Mann and Katherine Legge have all made multiple appearances in the Indy500 over the last 15 years.
The next big hope is probably Britain’s Jamie Chadwick, a 22-year-old from Bath who won the inaugural season of the W Series, an all-female series designed to discover the next driver who could make a breakthrough.
Unfortunately some momentum was lost when the 2020 season was cancelled due to the pandemic, but an eight-race calendar is planned this year with all the events at F1 tracks including Silverstone, Spa and the Circuit of the Americas in Texas.
Colombian Tatiana Calderon competed in F2, just one level below F1, in 2019, while Sophia Florsch raced in F3 last year.
Looking further ahead, there are high hopes for 18-year-old Brit Abbi Pulling, who is racing in the British F4 championship this season, while teenager Hamda Al Qubaisi of the United Arab Emirates won races in the UAE F4 series last year and has the financial backing to make progress through the ranks. A final name to look out for is Juju Noda, the 14-year-old daughter of former F1 and IndyCar racer Hideki Noda, who qualified on pole for every race in the Danish F4 championship last year.