W Series, Brands Hatch, 2019

From grid girls to W Series: One way F1 is ‘walking the talk’

2020 F1 season

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Yesterday’s announcement that W Series will expand into North America later this season is significant. Not only because the Austin and Mexico City rounds mark the nascent championship’s first foray across the Atlantic, but also due to the fact that the series features on the support bills of two rounds of the 2020 F1 calendar.

Crucially, this cuts both ways. The F1 platform endows enormous credibility on W Series even before it celebrates its first birthday. Equally, recognition of this all-women’s championship marks a massive shift for F1.

This is a championship which just three years ago was ruled by an octogenarian who once suggested “women should be dressed in white like all other domestic appliances”. Indeed, it’s only been two years since the sport’s new owners announced it would no longer use women to decorate the grid.

F1 had a rough ride in previous years with various scandals, ‘gates’ and trials which severely tarnished its reputation. It was once described as the ‘world’s largest one-man business’. However, after Liberty Media completed the purchase of F1’s commercial rights from CVC Capital Partners in January 2017 and subsequently listed F1 on NASDAQ, it was forced to change tack, and has since travelled a long way towards corporate respectability.

In the process it has expanded, increasing staff to almost 500 heads, all of whom need to be on the same page. The launch earlier this week of F1’s corporate strategy brochure marks a major milestone on that journey.

Fernando Alonso's grid kids, McLaren, Albert Park, 2018
F1 swapped grid girls for Future Stars in 2018
“We have built a 21st century organisation that supports the re-positioning of F1 into an entertainment and media company with our first ever marketing, digital, strategy and research divisions,” says F1 CEO Chase Carey in the foreword.

“[We have] expanded teams managing our key revenue streams and a dedicated motorsports function, led by Ross Brawn, that is using state-of-the-art technology to develop regulations alongside the FIA to facilitate great racing.”

The (long-overdue) corporate strategy aims to ensure Formula 1’s long-term sustainability – in all senses of the word – by building upon six pillars. These are ‘race’, ‘engage’, ‘perform’, ‘sustain’, ‘collaborate’ and ’empower’.

Race: This pillar is divided into four logical areas, namely Technical, Financial, Sporting, and Governance. The intention is to “increase competitiveness and unpredictability on track” by, amongst other targets, codifying best-in-class engineering and by identifying exciting new formats that engage broader demographics, all underpinned by sustainable financial frameworks.

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Engage: The target is to produce world-class spectacles for fans on- and off-track via top-class events and viewer experiences, complemented by creative content and marketing campaigns which strengthen perceptions of F1 as the ultimate racing and entertainment spectacle.

W Series, Brands Hatch, 2019
W Series will support two F1 races in 2020
Perform: F1 is an expensive activity, and is dependent upon stakeholders, sponsors and partners – at all levels, including teams – for its survival. Thus, F1 plans to drive value for its partners via media, promotion, sponsorship and hospitality activities.

Sustain: F1’s new sustainability strategy was covered in detail here previously. But the bottom line is that F1 needs to lead the way for efficient internal combustion engines via sustainable technologies, while slashing its carbon footprint.

Collaborate: As an international sporting activity, F1 (the corporation) interacts with the wider F1 community – including the FIA, officials, teams, race promoters – with local authorities, communities and businesses, its global fan base, and here it needs to create win-win relationships with all of the above.

Empower: Four building blocks are detailed, with the first being: “Improve the diversity of F1 grids by supporting and promoting driver talent from under-represented backgrounds”. F1 has not featured a woman on the grid since 1976 – indeed, the sport could even stand accused of dissuading them – so under Liberty F1 is (now) clearly practicing what it preaches.

And, therein lies the key to any corporate strategy, not least this one: To walk the walk, and not simply mouth the talk. Still, this corporate strategy is clearly a step in the right direction, and no doubt there is more to come.

That said, the acid test of any corporate strategy is its share price. Since publishing the brochure on Monday, Liberty’s valuation has hit all-time highs…

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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  • 32 comments on “From grid girls to W Series: One way F1 is ‘walking the talk’”

    1. Inclusivity is a great thing and to be lauded – but to be clear – I don’t care if someone is black, white, somewhere in between. Religion or eating habits matter not and I don’t care if they are Male, female, or somewhere in between. Or even if they self-identify as a Star Wars Stormtrooper, or a panda – none of that matters.

      I just want the best racers to be able to shine and to get the backing they need / deserve. If the W series helps, great – if not I expect others will (when they are good enough) be spotted, sponsored, signed to junior programmes etc and either survive or fail – as it is meant to be.

      OK – I’ll get my coat.

      1. I don’t think you need to get your coat…. I totally agree with you!

        1. I think the thing that gets overlooked in all the arguing is that we all want the same thing. We all want our sport to be contested by the very best sportspeople regardless of their background.

          That’s exactly what we do when we encourage and facilitate people from different backgrounds, we widen the pool that we draw competitors from. In the case of sex, we double it. When we make it more affordable we bring in a whole host of new potential talent. When we expand viewership we invite new children who might pressure their parents to take them to a go kart track. All great stuff.

          More competitors = better competitors. Maybe we’ll see a stormtrooper take the title one day.

          1. @kev-f1 & @gongtong) – glad it’s not just me – thanks both. I felt it was a bit of a rant that may not have been received well :)

      2. Pay drivers go brrrrr

    2. Looking forward to the first millionaires daughter with just a little bit of credibility to buy her way into a F1 team.

      1. It would have happened already if they were good enough…

      2. GtisBetter (@passingisoverrated)
        17th January 2020, 13:36

        Why so negative? Why is the first thought of a woman driver to you a paid driver? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Might as well be positive.

        1. Because none of them are 2 seconds faster than the other girls and neither 1 second faster than the current guys, so the only thing distinguishing the next girl is how easy she can gather the money to outpay the next paid driver (guy or girl).

          1. And Liberty media are also addressing financial disparity. Which hopefully will see an end to pay drivers in general. Their gender is irrelevant. So why not try to keep positive?

            1. Because it is not easy to make a breakthrought into F1.
              If it was easy, Japan would already have a race winner.
              They have fans, junior series, money, industry to support a bunch of japanese driver and yet the best results they have are podiums in unusual races.
              I am pretty sure the chinese are very interested in promoting a F1 driver, but they hadnt found one in one billion.
              The fact is that finding a F1 winning drivers is seething in search of crazy people among other crazy people. So, it is naive or silly that one could expect to find in the next ten years the crazy stupid girl that is willing to spend her youth in a 200mph metal box and that is really faster than the other crazy stupid boys that have been doing this for 100 years.

    3. Maybe F1 should hold the celebration and patting itself on the back.
      They just dodged a major bullet with the success of Hamilton. For those who care about that, apart from Japanese, Kartikeyan and Albon, the last 40 years was a whitefest.
      Let’s wonder that for some turn of fortune, Mercedes didnt find Hamilton, who would be the next diverse (non-white) driver to some success in F1. I think the last non whites in the podium were Japanese, and they dont count as diversity (I dont know why exactly.)
      One can count South Americans as diversity, but they were just 2nd,3rd generation italian/spanish. Just as much as Ricciardo can be taken as an driver from Asia/Oceania.
      For me, If F1 showed a multicolored/multigendered engineering departaments, I think that would be enough do diversity.

      1. Let’s be honest, the ones complaining won’t be happy until the grid is full of disabled, trans Eskimo’s all identifying as pine trees, and even then they’ll eventually turn on themselves.

        This overly sensitive forced diversity culture is a slippery slope with no winners, just lots of miserable people.

        If someone is good enough they’ll get to F1 regardless of skin colour or sex.

        1. @charles: LOL

          enough of the white trashing!

      2. Why should I care if drivers are of this or that colour, religion or ethnic background? I’ve all the best drivers are white, I don’t mind seeing only white Europeans driving. If all the best drivers come from Africa, so be it. I don’t care for this artificial political correctness you’re advocating. The merit should decide, which is only right, people aren’t some museum exhibits so that we need “all kinds”. Only those who deserve and fight for their place should participate. Anything else means lack of respect and patronizing. What we need (and also lacking) is equal opportunity, but that’s another story. That’s also the problem people from all around the globe share, because it’s the money that makes the difference, not the race or whatever. And I say this as someone coming from a country that never gave an F1 driver and possibly never will. I’m perfectly fine with that.

    4. Expectation is that the engineering departments are very much like the drivers field. If you can’t do the job as well as or better than others, here’s the door. The competition in the technical areas is likely as fierce as in any other aspect of motorsport and it is all focused on results.
      Colin Chapman had some interesting selection criteria, and as for diversity, the technical side does not have physical limitations like drivers do. If you can compete and have the tenacity, and skill, you can do well. If not, likely you will go in the same direction as the Williams Tusk Nose.
      Background or heritage doesn’t matter.
      Yes, a Hambini Fan.

    5. Perhaps I’d be a bit more convinced if they hadn’t outsourced development of the F1 TV product. They’re obviously commited as far as the PR team is concerned though.

    6. So the W series competitors are previous grid girls?

    7. I think the biggest problem with W series is we don’t have the bar for them to be benchmarked to. The chassis might be the same as regional F3 but they change the engine and tires so no comparison can be made. Maybe it’s intentional, idk.

      But if they want people to seriously looking for talent from W series, they need to have established driver (e.g: a midfield F1 driver at like Perez or Sainz) have a practice session in that car and set their fastest time. Anyone that can came close of beat the time will instantly recognized as a potential talent.

      1. @sonicslv Somebody indicated that the pole time set by these women at Brands Hatch was 2 seconds slower than the boys set in the same car (as far as it is the same).

        If they were compared to an F1 level driver in the same car it would be even more depressing.

        That’s really the problem with the W series. The competitors are at an age where they should be in F2 already (if they want to make it into F1) and yet they are basically competing at comparable to regional F3 category. Plus they perform well below the level of the male competitors of those comparable series.

        They need more young girls to start racing at lower levels so they don’t perform so poorly once they go into the regional series. Perhaps (probably even) the aim of W series is just that, but don’t expect current competitors of the W series to end up in F1 racing anytime soon.

        1. @f1osaurus Of course they are not on the required level otherwise the W series would be pretty useless. For a first year there are tons of positives though and it makes things move on. It will take time but I think it’s a welcome step. And it’s even nice to watch despite an average commentary. If Alex Jacques from F2 would mind to do it it would be great!

          1. @spoutnik How is that reaction related to what I wrote?

            1. @f1osaurus just agreeing with you that they don’t have the required level to move further up as it stands. But it’s still a good catalyst as competitors don’t have to bring any money or sponsor so we may see it quickly flourish, hopefully, and witness some credible female racers in F2 sooner than later :) 5 years? 10? I wonder.

        2. @f1osaurus Thats the biggest problem. Changing the engine and tires means we can’t get a good par time for them. I’m pretty sure the organizers / FIA realized it and intentionally make a direct comparison with regional F3 impossible (a lot of ammunition to deny any speculation with the “boys” club) because it would be kill the series right at the start. However we also need to have a benchmark for us to decide if the series is a “serious” or just “for entertainment”. Of course logically they should be slower than proven F1 drivers, but the question is by how much? 1s slower, yeah then the series have some hope for real talent. 3s slower? Don’t even bother to expect any of them can be competitive in F2 soon.

          1. @sonicslv Well those changes are not going to make a 2 second difference though. So it’s safe to say an F1 driver would more likely be 3s ahead.

            If FIA did this on purpose ten they shot themselves in the foot for real. Scouts are not dumb, they see these women being a lot slower in the same car. So they’d want top at least see them compete in Regional F3 before letting them take a proper FIA F3 seat. It just sets them back yet another year. Making it even more unlikely that they will be young enough still to make it into F1.

            1. @f1osaurus It could. We don’t know the difference of the engine and tire performance. Peak bhp means nothing, torque affects more of the laptime especially on corners. So does tire grip. Also did they use the same gear ratios? I’d believe it will be different otherwise the gearing will not be optimal because different engine. In F1, just using C1 and C3 compound can give >1s difference in ultimate lap time and that from the same tire manufacturer. We don’t know how Hankook soft is comparable to other tire manufacturer soft.

              And I can see the alternative is instead shooting themselves in the foot is just straight up shooting themselves in the head. Everyone knows that the female talents in the sport now is way behind the males. Give them same machinery and it just give solid proof that the current female drivers is super slow and kill the initiative right away. At least with this situation there are denial plausibility. Also the same reason why I don’t say they should have equal machinery or having F3 drivers setting up time. It should be F1 driver setting up time in their car so it’s expected for them to be slower while avoiding direct comparison with the regional F3 “boys” club.

    8. Back in the 1980’s there were three women (not girls!) racing in FF1600 when I was learning to drive in Seattle at club level. There was no issue about driver sex, it just didn’t matter, and one of them was pretty good; I bought my VanDiemen from a woman in Portland, Oregon. Why the special need to segregate the sexes? You can do it or you can’t and driving is a really gender neutral sport.

    9. I hope the original opponents of the W series are convinced that this is much better than forcing some girls in to where they didn’t belong just for the sake of it.

      Still worried with the ‘pillar’ talk of empowerment etc, but I hope this will prove to be for the real talent to come forward like from undeveloped countries for example, but skin color and gender shouldn’t matter at all.

    10. I am in two minds about this,
      It is all well and good to promote Woman as drivers and give support, but on the issue of grid girls (I couldn’t care less myself as usually only watched at the race start) but many of these girls were upset as they liked their jobs, but it was removed and they was fired without them being consulted.

      It seems it is okay to promote if it follows the PC crowd, otherwise you are dumped and out of job

    11. I want women drivers and grid girls.

    12. Women can compete with men in motoraports easily. But all this toxic feminist nonsense of no grid girls and special women series is a joke. Bring back the grid girls. Grid girls are great. We’re back in.the 1940’s people.

    13. As Tommy Lee Jones said in the Cohen Bros No Country for old men..” If it ain’t, it’ll do ’till the mess gets here”

      My point being that you’ve got to start somewhere and if this isn’t the solution it may well lead to something that solves the disparity.

      The fact is that despite some comments above eluding to the fact that women could be 2 or 3s slower, the fact is that there’s simply insufficient data. You can compare this to cases of discrimination, although I don’t see it as such, more as an off-shoot resulting from general discrimination against women when the sport was founded. It becomes impossible to know if there is a difference in ability because so many years have passed where there is an unequal footing, it will take many years to develop a pool of capable women so that the first one is selected for F1. At that point we will still be light years away from there being an equal footing.

      Personally I’m all for it and would love to see talented women on an F1 grid and would be curious to see the reaction with some of our more neanderthal counterparts if a woman managed a feat like Hamilton did this year, emphatically beating the field. I bet it would set comment threads on Racefans alight :)

      Great article BTW

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