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F1 Academy to make splash at Miami Grand Prix as 'career-saver' and 'stepping stone' for women drivers

Updated: May 23

Lia Block's F1 Academy car leads two other cars around a curve on track.
Lia Block of Williams Racing on the track during an F1 Academy race. The series is part of the F1 Miami Grand Prix this weekend. Credit: Williams Racing

There hasn't been a woman driver in Formula 1 since the 1970s when Italian driver Lella Lombardi gave the boys a run for their money.

The motorsport series has tried various efforts to welcome another woman to the grid. Danica Patrick was reportedly considered to test an F1 car, but that never materialized. The W Series ran from 2019 to 2022 and folded.

Now, the F1 Academy is carrying the torch in hopes of equipping a woman to reach the Formula 1 ranks. The program was founded in 2023 and has evolved in its second year with enhanced live coverage and increased support from F1.

The first competition of 2024 was a dramatic showdown at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix where Alpine's Abbi Pulling won the second race after a checkered flag penalty took the victory from Mercedes driver Doriane Pin, who won the first race.

“I didn’t really go into the season with any expectations, Pulling told SB Nation last month. “I think a big thing for me this year was to take a lot of pressure off my own shoulders, as I’m my own biggest critic. And it’s just reinforcing that throughout the season to be honest, not getting getting too ahead of myself, and just maintaining what we did at the first race weekend.”

The series continues with its second event during the Miami Grand Prix starting Friday with its final race on Sunday. The weekend will be special for American driver Lia Block of Williams, who is in her first year of single-seat competition. She did not finish the first race and crossed the checkered flag 11th in the second race at Jeddah.

"Everyone being there and home crowd and feeling at home is gonna be really a confidence booster for me this weekend," she said during a Q&A at the team's Miami Fan Zone. "To have the fans and to be on American soil is going to be really, really cool."

Susie Wolff is at the helm of the F1 Academy, which seeks to uplift women in the sport not just on the track, but in all aspects.

"We don’t want to segregate the sport," she said Monday on CBS Mornings. "We want to help propel them up the ladder, increase participation because ultimately, it’s not a man’s world anymore."

Here is everything you need to know about the F1 Academy:

What is F1 Academy?

F1 Academy is a Formula 1 program designed to give women an opportunity to race in motorsport. The series is a part of select weekends on the Formula 1 calendar. The seven-stop competition kicked off in March at the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix and will conclude in December at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Visa Cash App RB driver Amna Al Qubaisi won two races in F1 Academy last season and expressed gratitude for the platform. She has already established herself as a trailblazer as the first woman Emarati motorsport driver to compete in a championship series. When she won a race of F4UAE’s Trophy Round at Yas Marina Circuit in 2019, she became the first Arab woman driver to win a race.

"For me, F1 Academy was like a career-saver," she said at the team's livery reveal in February. "I had to stop racing due to no budget for a year and when F1 Academy was released, their budget was pretty low and affordable. It was a possibility for me to get back into racing."

Amna Al Qubaisi points to her name on an F1 car
Amna Al Qubaisi points to her name on the Visa Cash App RB car celebrating the women on the team. Credit: Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images for Red Bull Content Pool

The end goal of F1 Academy is not to win its own championship, but to elevate drivers for other opportunities in the sport. Last year's F1 Academy champion, Marta García, was awarded a seat in FRECA, which is a step up from Formula 4.

"It's just getting these women's names out there and giving them an opportunity to be seen for their talent," Block said. "So I think it's a stepping stone."

Susie Wolff is 'mother' of F1 Academy

Susie Wolff is the managing director of F1 Academy. She uses her experience as a former Formula series driver and former team principal of Formula E team ROKiT Venturi Racing to lead the series and offer mentorship to the drivers.

"I love a challenge. When people throw the door slammed in my face, I love to get my elbows out and find a way to open it," she said. "... When I took this role, I said, 'Please don’t look at me as a woman running a woman’s thing. It’s for the greater good of our sport.'"

According to Al Qubaisi, Wolff isn't just a figurehead, but is very hands-on, especially with the changes to enhance F1 Academy from year one to year two.

"F1 Academy came out and I was really happy with the tracks that was available and Susie Wolff putting her back and heart right into F1 Academy and making it better by the year," she said. "... I’ve spoken to Susie many times. She’s always involved in F1 Academy. She’s always there in every race weekend and she was always giving us advice, tips. ... She was very helpful and very loving. She’s like a mother to us in racing."

How are the F1 teams involved in F1 Academy?

F1 Academy is an F1 program sponsored by the motorsport series itself.

All 10 Formula 1 teams sponsor a driver, whose racing overalls and car livery match that of the Formula 1 team.

"For Williams to give me this opportunity is just an opportunity of a lifetime, a lottery ticket, whatever you want to call it," Block said.

Williams also has Jamie Chadwick in its Driver Academy. Chadwick won all three W Series championships and now competes in INDY NXT.

Wolff described how F1 has shown great support to F1 Academy, which is seeking to increase exposure of women in motorsport and inspire the next generation.

"I’m hugely grateful we don’t have a stadium to fill, I don’t have a fanbase to build," she said. "... I think when you switch on the TV in Miami this weekend, you’ll see a 19-year-old girl (Maya Weug) zipping up a Ferrari race suit and that’s such a powerful image. If you can see it, you can believe it."

Fun fact: Charlotte Tilbury is also a sponsor for one of the drivers, Lola Lovinfosse, in the makeup company's first global sponsorship. It is also the first woman-founded company to be a sponsor in F1 Academy.

F1 Academy driver Abbi Pulling of Alpine Racing poses in the garage.
Abbi Pulling won at the first F1 Academy event of the 2024 season. Credit: Alpine Racing

How is an F1 Academy race weekend formatted?

F1 Academy shares the track with the F1 grid. Their sessions are staggered between the F1 events. There are either one or two practice sessions, a qualifying session and then two races. Drivers are awarded points based off how they finish in the races. The season champion is decided based on the amount of points tallied at the end of the competition.

How to watch F1 Academy?

A major positive of the F1 Academy is that it is accessible for fans, which gives the opportunity for drivers to grow their profiles and increase their marketability.

“It’s definitely got more eyes on it, last year wasn’t really aired anywhere. There was certainly no live coverage," Pulling said. "... I’m just looking forward to seeing how it keeps progressing throughout the year. Really. And [seeing it] getting bigger and bigger and just becoming a bigger part of the conversational topic about women in sport.”

Fans can watch F1 Academy on ESPN+. Here are the times for the Miami Grand Prix sessions:

First practice - 10:00 a.m. ET on Friday

Second practice - 3:20 p.m. ET on Friday

Qualifying - 10:25 a.m. ET on Saturday

First race - 2:05 p.m. ET on Saturday

Second race - 1:05 p.m. ET on Sunday

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