30 years after Giovanna Amati, we're no closer to another female F1 driver


In 1992, Giovanna Amati was the last woman to enter a Formula 1 grand prix. Hazel Southwell examines why no female drivers have managed to follow her in three full decades — and why there's little prospect of them doing so in the coming years

Giovanna Amati at the 1992 F1 Mexican Grand Prix

Giovanna Amati was the last woman to be entered for an F1 race, driving at three GP weekends on '92


It’s 30 years since a woman last entered a Formula 1 grand prix today. And two days since F1 published its latest gender pay gap report, as it’s now required to by UK law. In the 70-year history of the series, despite women always being eligible to compete and work in it, there have been only a handful of women drivers and women remain the minority in the overall industry around F1.

Women’s sport has had a lot of hurdles to being as popular as men’s; women’s football was banned in the UK for fifty years, female athletes were often excluded from competing in events like marathons, even on an amateur level. Although there were some early bans on women driving in motor racing events, especially in France, since the history of F1 began women have had the right to compete, on the same platform and in the same competition as men.

In theory, motor sport should have a much better gender balance than it does. But the numbers are pretty plain to see: five women have ever entered an F1 race. Maria Teresa de Filippis in the ’50s, Lella Lombardi and Divina Galica in the ’70s, Desire Wilson for a one-off ’80s opportunity and then Giovanna Amati’s three races in 1992.

Maria Teresa de Filippis at the wheel of her Maserati ahead of the 1958 F1 Italian Grand Prix at Monza

De Filippis in her Maserati at Monza in 1958

Grand Prix Photo

Since then, women have tested F1 cars and Susie Wolff was the last woman to take part in a F1 session, driving first practice for Williams at the 2014 British Grand Prix. Since the superlicence system came in, only one woman has ever accrued enough points to be eligible – Katherine Legge, whose points expired in 2019 and who’d last driven F1 machinery in a test for Minardi in 2005.

The last woman to test a Formula 1 car was Tatiana Calderon, who is also the only woman to compete in Formula 2 so far. Sophia Floersch competed in Formula 3 in 2020 but failed to score a point during that time and has since moved on to sports car racing.

The only time there has been more than a single woman competing in a feeder series to F1’s was in 2012 when Alice Powell, Vicky Piria and Carmen Jorda contested GP3, Powell becoming the first woman to score points in the series with an eighth-place finish at the final race in Monza. Financially very-well-backed Jorda was the only one of the three to get a second full season, Powell managing a brief return for just the 2013 finale.

Piria Jorda and Powell in Monaco GP3 photoshoot

Piria, Jorda and Powell made it to GP3 – but no higher up the ladder

Getty Images

Now, 10 years on, plenty of women – Powell herself included – will be competing during grand prix weekends but as part of the regional-F3-spec W Series, intended to be a stepping stone up to F2 and 3. Double W Series champion Jamie Chadwick will be defending her title again this year, not really out of choice but because even with her prize money from the series and her profile, she wasn’t able to secure an F3 seat.

The barriers women face in motor sport haven’t really changed, over the course of F1’s history. The first and biggest one is statistical: massively fewer little girls go into karting than little boys. Women who race tend to start later than their male peers and exclusion starts at a grassroots level; girl karters are presumed not to have a future that would lead them to the top, don’t get factory team seats and are often in rental machinery. Talent scouts tend to overlook girls and that gets worse the further up the ladder they get because there’s a pre-assumption that they won’t make it to F1.

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It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: if, even of the handful of female drivers who attempt it, none are backed to get to F1 then obviously there won’t be any women in the series. Getting to a professional level in motor sport is incredibly difficult for any driver and there are plenty of other demographic factors – race, sexuality, the country you come from – that are barriers to drivers progressing, of which sex is just one but the truth is that most female drivers don’t progress because they’re female.

A lot of the time, people insist that if a woman was ‘good enough’ she would progress. Aside from the fact that discounts the many women and girls who didn’t run out of talent anything like as fast as they did opportunities, the concept of ‘good enough’ is pretty laughable in a sport where plenty of mediocre or even awful men have had their chances. Motor sport isn’t fair and trying to explain things as though it is will just drive you crazy.

Formula E initially set out to try and get gender parity in its drivers – its first race featured the only FIA-sanctioned single seater crash between two women, when Legge and Michela Cerruti collided in Beijing. But there hasn’t been a woman racing in FE since Season 2 and although plenty of women have tested FE cars (and Powell has a test and development role at Envision) none have even been rumoured for a race seat.

Sister series Extreme E has done better, with a driver mandate that each team must field a man and a woman but electric off-roading is a long way from any route into F1, despite the number of teams there owned by current or former drivers. There’s one shared team between XE and F1: McLaren, who the series’ rules compelled to sign a female driver – Emma Gilmour – the team’s first in its history.

Katherine Legge on Formula E grid

Katherine Legge drove in the first two Formula E races in 2014

Susie Wolff in Venturi Formula E pit

Now CEO of Venturi Racing, Susie Wolff is the last woman to have driven at an F1 weekend

It’s weird, being a woman in motor sport, for a lot of reasons but one of the most jarring is that you’ll be sitting in your pyjamas filing copy while eating last night’s toast and someone’ll call you inspirational. For female drivers, every one of them has the ballast-like weight on them, in the car, of proving just not themselves but their whole gender is fit to compete.

I spoke to Jamie Chadwick at a Girls On Track even last year, where she was doing the work of inspiring more women to enter motor sport. She’s 23, the same age as a lot of the current young guns in F1 and she said that she was acutely aware of the pressure on her to prove that a woman could get there.

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“There’s quite a lot of weight on my shoulders to represent women in the best light in the sport and showcase the talent that there is in W Series. So I need to be mindful of that,” she told me, saying that she was hoping to move on to Formula 2 or 3. But clearly, the future of women’s participation can’t be entirely her responsibility. “It can’t just be just me. My success or failure shouldn’t, in my opinion, have a whole lot [of weight] in the sport.”

The mean average pay gap between men and women in F1’s own organisation is 19.1% – or was, in the year to April 2021. 32% of employees are women. I was pleasantly surprised by the statistics in a series that appears so male-dominated, until I realised I really shouldn’t be pleased that women are only earning nearly a fifth less than men.

Something that does make a radical difference is having women in decision making roles within teams. Susie Wolff’s tenureship at Venturi has seen the percentage of women employees approach half, Beth Paretta’s determination to run an all-female Indy 500 entry worked, last year, Simona de Silvestro narrowly qualifying for the race. For the first time, a woman was named as a vice-president for sport on an FIA presidency bid when Mohamed Ben Sulayem ran and the GPDA currently has its first female director in legal advisor Anastasia Fowle.

Jamie Chadwick celebrates winning 2021 W Series Championship

Double W Series champion Chadwick hasn’t been able to get the finding for a Formula 3 move

W Series

But realistically, women make up a very small percentage of people in motor sport. It’s not good enough to say that a female karter would have to be the next Lewis Hamilton to have a shot at F1. Hamilton shouldn’t have had to be Hamilton to justify his progression; anyone who’s looked at the ladders into the sport will know plenty of drivers whose opportunities had nothing to do with their talent and it goes without saying that the reverse, of drivers whose lack of opportunities had nothing to do with their potential, is unfortunately true.

Programmes like the FIA’s search for a female karting star that saw Maya Weug signed to the Ferrari Driver Academy do, in all honesty, very little other than single yet another girl out to place the fate of 50% of the human population on. Meanwhile W Series has proven that it can get women racing and revive or boost careers but Chadwick’s inability to move on shows nothing has changed outside its ecosystem.

It’s been 30 years since a woman competed in F1 and right now, it’s going to be a fair few more before one does again.