One of the most promising karting stars of the last two years, Marta Garcia finally took the step into single-seaters this year as she pursues her Formula 1 dream. She spoke to Jamie Klein about her journey up to now and her future ambitions.
It feels like there are more women active in racing on the Formula 1 ladder than at any other point in recent memory – and yet the long wait for a real breakthrough star goes on.
The two most established, Beitske Visser and Tatiana Calderon – who spent this season racing in Formula 3.5 and GP3 respectively – continue to rack up solid results, but neither has emerged as a regular frontrunner so far.
German rising star Sophia Floersch, who Motorsport.com profiled last year after her scintillating half-season in Ginetta Juniors, meanwhile has endured a trying season in ADAC Formula 4, struggling with a lack of testing mileage against more experienced rivals.
Now a new female F1 hopeful has arrived on the single-seater scene in the form of 16-year-old Spaniard Marta Garcia, one of karting's top prospects - female or otherwise - of the last couple of years.
Last year, the Alicante native was the winner of the CIK-FIA Academy series, and also won the KFJ class in the Trofeo delle Industrie – an event that has previously been won by the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Marco Wittmann, Antonio Giovinazzi and Daniil Kvyat.
This season, she made the step up to senior karting in the CIK-FIA OK European Championship, where she finished fourth overall despite what she describes as a "big disaster" of a final round in Genk, where she arrived with a shot at the championship but suffered "many problems" with her kart.
From karts to cars
It wasn't until September that Garcia finally made her F4 debut at Valencia with the Drivex team, although the initial plan had been to step up to cars at the start at the start of the year, as she had taken part in the collective tests at Navarra pre-season.
"We were thinking to do F4 from the start of the season," Garcia explained. "But we didn't know if the [Spanish] championship would be strong, because it was new, and we didn't have the budget for ADAC or Italian F4.
"[The transition to cars] was a bit difficult, because there are big differences. I did some testing with Koiranen GP, but not a lot, and when I did the first race I hadn't been in the car for three months.
"But I think it was good [to do the last four rounds] because now I have some more experience in cars, so next year I can do better."
On paper, the results were nothing extraordinary – in 11 races, her best result was fifth place, which she achieved on five occasions – but they certainly provide a solid foundation for 2017, when Garcia hopes to be back in F4 full-time, in one series or another.
"The idea is to race F4, but it depends on the budget," she said. "If we get a good budget, we might race the French series, or the Spanish and SMP [North European] series.
"I don't think we will get the budget to do ADAC or Italian; the teams there are more expensive. But [with Spanish and SMP] Koiranen is the series co-ordinator and they help you with the cost."
From there, Garcia hopes to become the first female driver to start a Formula 1 race in some 40 years, having already attracted the attention of Ferrari – who invited her to Maranello last winter to take part in a three-day programme along with a number of other young hopefuls.
"On the first day it was physical work," she recalled of her Ferrari visit. "Then in the second day we were in the simulator, which was really good, and we did some games to test our reaction.
"Then the third we were on the track from midday. Each driver had a half a day on the track. We did four sessions each, we learned the track already from the simulator. It was a really nice experience.
"For sure, the objective is to get to F1, and then to try and win in F1," added Garcia, who hopes this objective will take her "maybe four years" to reach.
Asked which drivers she looks up to, she added: "I like Max Verstappen, for me he is now the best driver in F1. I like the way he drives, his aggression.
"When I first started [racing karts], Fernando Alonso was the big hero. I still think he's good a driver, but now with McLaren he's not doing so well.
"I still like him, but I like Max more – also Lewis Hamilton and Danica Patrick, she is very good."
Europe's answer to Danica?
In many ways, it's surprising that, more than a decade on from Patrick first making her name by leading the Indy 500, Europe has yet to truly unearth its 'Danica equivalent' - a woman who has become an established regular in a top-level series.
Simona de Silvestro has probably been the closest to achieving this status, but after her dalliance with the Sauber F1 team and a bruising season of Formula E, the Swiss driver has pinned her hopes on the Australia-based Supercars series to revive her fortunes.
Can Garcia buck the trend? One person who seems to think so is FIA Women in Motorsport Commission President Michele Mouton, who was asked which of the current crop of girls had the biggest potential to go all the way in a recent Motorsport.com interview.
"I am very confident that Marta can go much further," Mouton replied. "She has been very successful in karting, she's still very young, and I think she's promising."
When Mouton's comments were put to her, Garcia said: "It's great she said that. It's really encouraging for me. She's been helping us a lot this year, so for her to say that is really nice."
Prowess in karting is usually a good indicator of whether a driver has the chance to go on to enjoy a long career as a professional racer, and on this alone, it would be fair to say Garcia is the most promising girl to have emerged in quite some time.
Whether this will translate into her ascending the ladder all the way to Formula 1 is another question - and one that will, as is the case for the boys, probably hinge on the thorny issue of finances.
Then again, if a driver with as much potential as Garcia has doesn't make it, you would have to start wondering whether any girl ever will.