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Opinion

The big question F1 Academy faces as pecking order begins to form

OPINION: With the F1 Academy now two events into its second season, a pecking order is beginning to appear and this means one of the biggest questions will begin to be asked for title contenders – what next?

Doriane Pin, PREMA Racing, Abbi Pulling, Rodin Motorsport

For inaugural champion Marta Garcia, the reward was a fully funded Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine drive with Prema Racing, the team with which she had completed her victorious campaign (although she has now transferred into the sister Iron Dames operation). But given that FRECA is officially recognised by the FIA as a regional Formula 3 category, questions were inevitably asked as to why the Spaniard would be competing in that series and not FIA F3. After all, it would surely be in Formula 1’s best interest to have kept her in a paddock where all eyes would have been on her.

Posed the question as to why a seat had not been guaranteed for the F1 Academy champion, with no such commitment this term either, F2 and F3 CEO Bruno Michel says: “It’s a very big question because we want to make sure that when a female driver arrives into Formula 3, she is ready to do a proper job. If she is not, it is going to send the wrong messages, and that is exactly what we want to try to avoid.

“The reason that F1 Academy is doing such a great job is that we understand now that female drivers haven’t had in the past preparation as heavy and as continuous as their male counterparts. That is a fact. Now, with F1 Academy, with the fact that Susie [Wolff] is doing a great job to try to create big hype for young female kart drivers and trying to push them up in the category, I think the level of preparation and the quantity of female drivers that we have is going to change. Marta could have gone to F3 this year but I guess that Marta being in Formula Regional is probably better preparation for her.”

This response becomes particularly interesting when looking back at the confirmation of Garcia’s FRECA drive, which read: “This announcement underlines F1 Academy’s commitment to prepare drivers for a higher level of competition and support their progress up the single-seater ladder. Each season F1 Academy will work in close collaboration with the F1 Academy teams to support its winner in progressing up the motorsport ladder.”

Motorsport.com understands that the decision on which series the champion will be promoted to is a combined effort, with F1 Academy, their team and the driver all having input. But the fact that FRECA teams are permitted to expand to four-car efforts if they run a top-three driver from the previous F1 Academy season, such as Prema has with Garcia and ART Grand Prix has with runner-up Lena Buhler, is strong motivation to move drivers in that direction.

This change is, sadly, not an option in F3 – a point made abundantly clear by Michel, who commented when speaking about the requirements for Andretti to join the F3 grid. Team owner Michael Andretti has expressed a desire to be in F3 in order to bolster his F1 effort, but Michel said that expanding beyond the current number of cars was “completely out of the question”.

Marta Garcia, the inaugural F1 Academy champion, has transitioned to FRECA

Marta Garcia, the inaugural F1 Academy champion, has transitioned to FRECA

Photo by: Sam Bagnall / Motorsport Images

But there are reasons for the F1 support championship to be confident of landing at least one F1 Academy graduate next year. In the case of championship leader Abbi Pulling, although she is essentially running a dual F4 campaign encompassing F1 Academy and British F4, her Rodin Motorsport team currently has no representation on the FRECA grid, meaning it would be a significant undertaking to place her there.

Secondly, current second-place runner Doriane Pin is also running a dual single-seater campaign, but that second series is FRECA, which means that a step up to F3 would more likely be her destination should she win the funding for a campaign.

Finally, although F3 is not openly courting F1 Academy talent, this should not be mistaken for a lack of interest, as Michel made clear while expressing his admiration for the work of managing director Wolff. “What I would love is the day that we have a female driver coming from F1 Academy in one year, two years, I don’t know… is that at some point we can have female drivers qualifying well because, at the end of the day, that is the key in Formula 3 today. And if you can qualify in the top 12, you can be on pole position on Saturday, which would be absolutely fantastic. It would give a message which would be absolutely amazing.

"The preparation is completely key and it has to be done properly to make sure that we don’t send the wrong message" Bruno Michel, F2 and F3 CEO

“That is what we are working on with Susie and we are following up extremely carefully to see when the drivers will be ready. We are looking also at the season this year in F1 Academy and it is very interesting to see how the girls are progressing, and let’s hope, because I am sure that at some point and with the proper preparation we will have a female driver that can compete with the males. There is no doubt about that.

“But the preparation is completely key and it has to be done properly to make sure that we don’t send the wrong message.”

Doriane Pin is one of the shining stars of the F1 Academy

Doriane Pin is one of the shining stars of the F1 Academy

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

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