“If you want a fundamental change in the outcome, you need a fundamental change in the process,” said former F1 star turned TV pundit, David Coulthard, the driving force behind the new W Series.
“W is a fundamental change in creating an opportunity to bring through female talent to the highest possible level,” he added.
While Susie Wolff is the last woman to drive an F1 car in anger, taking part in a number of FP1 sessions in 2014 and 2015 with Williams, the last woman to start a Grand Prix was Lella Lombardi back in 1976.
It is hoped W Series will attract twenty of the world’s top women racers for what will initially be a six race championship based in Europe. With a prize fund of around £1.1m, the women will race identical machinery supplied by the series organisers.
“I have a reasonable understanding of the constituents of a top-class driver’s necessary skill set,” said design guru Adrian Newey, who is also involved in the series. “And brute strength isn’t on that list.
“That being the case, I believe the reason why so few women have so far raced successfully at the highest levels against men is a lack of opportunity rather than a lack of capability.”
“Can they be as good as Lewis Hamilton? I don’t know,” admitted Coulthard. “But I do know there are an awful lot of men in F1 who are not as good as Lewis. So if we don’t create a platform that may give an opportunity to accelerate that access, then nothing is going to change.”
However, though delighted to see women racers being recognised, Susie Wolff argues that women really want to be judged by taking on their male counterparts.
“I respect anything that sets out to inspire and promote women in motorsport,” she said. “My view on this, and I know that this is the shared position of the organisations I work with, is that we should continue to encourage and create opportunities for women to compete on the same level as men.
“We fundamentally believe that the best opportunity to identify top female talent is by facilitating a dynamic where more women can compete and rise to the top in a mixed competition on equal terms.”
“What a sad day for motorsport,” tweeted racer Pippa Mann. “Those with funding to help female racers are choosing to segregate them as opposed to supporting them. I am deeply disappointed to see such a historic step backwards take place in my life time.”