Written by Carrie Foley, Edited by Mara Simion
At the time of writing, it’s the week after the FIFA Women’s World Cup final. Despite the outcome, the general feeling towards the England team is overwhelmingly positive. Growing up in the UK means weekends spent in the pub watching football, whether by choice or dragged there by your dad. It’s constant debates about results, arguments about who to support… Football is a huge part of the UK's culture. We didn’t, however, grow up watching or even hearing about women’s football. The huge popularity of the Women’s World Cup is incredible and somewhat unexpected, but it suggests a very positive trajectory for the future of women’s sports leagues.
You’re probably wondering why on earth I’m writing about football since this is a motorsport magazine, after all. Well, from seeing the response to the Lioness’ success throughout the series and the enthusiasm with which women’s football was finally being met with, I couldn’t help but think of the F1 Academy and Formula 1. I could only imagine what it would be like to see a pub full of people there to watch women race with the same gusto at which people flocked to watch the 2021 Formula 1 season.
The W Series had incredible potential and many of us were disappointed to see it go into administration. However with the F1 Academy now rising in its wake, there is a great hope that this time things might be different. But how can we grant this new series the traction and financing its needs if nobody knows about it? How can people know about it if it is not televised? Even from a fan’s perspective, and as someone who desperately wants to be able to fully follow the F1 Academy and support it, there is only so much we can do through timesheets and Instagram updates. As for gaining the interest of people who already don’t care much about it, without even making the races easily accessible? Forget about it.The F1 Academy can’t reach a large enough audience which it needs to do in order to cement itself as a respected series of motorsport racing and gain the recognition it deserves.
As highlighted in an article with Sports Pro Media and speaking at the BlackBook Motorsport Forum, James Bradshaw explained that due to the “non-co-located season” the F1 Academy has, “[they] don’t have the same infrastructure that we have at the circuit and [aren’t] able to bring that back”. Despite not being able to show live race coverage, the F1 Academy has been able to show race highlights and shorter-form content snippets for fans to be able to follow the season through. It is the F1 Academy’s maiden season, and so it is understandable that there are details yet to be ironed out and solved. However no other main categories of Formula racing have the same issue, and so the F1 Academy is placed at an even greater disadvantage.
The Lionesses posted a stat on their Instagram this week revealing that a peak of 14.8 million people watched the FIFA Women’s World Cup final on BBC and ITV. This statistic is huge -- for comparison, the 2021 averages for people watching a Formula 1 race on Sky TV is reportedly around two million. It goes to show that women’s sports can be respected and engaged with just the same as the men’s categories, and can provide just as good entertainment.
It’s no secret that motorsport, like football, is male-dominated. The fan voice has, for so long, been mostly male. Despite the fact that both sports have masses of females involved, both on a professional and fan support level, unfortunately if we want to break through we need to speak to this male voice. Many views of women’s categories are that it is in some way ‘beneath’ the other categories, as like a junior league. People must be reminded that ultimately, it’s the same sport they love, and no less. The idea that women are somehow less genetically capable of sport, whether that’s football or driving race cars, is wrong and entirely unfounded. Women are trained athletes, with exactly the same credibility, commitment and talent as their male counterparts. Women’s football is football, and it provides good games. Likewise, women’s racing is racing, and good racing, too. It’s about time it was recognised as such.
There are many other elements at play that prevent women’s racing series from being as popular as Formula 1. For instance, although there are no formalities preventing women racers from reaching Formula 1, there is a great glass ceiling effect in play. Women aren’t granted the same opportunities, whether it be financing or support or even just simple respect as a driver. Televising the F1 Academy won’t erase this glass ceiling, but it will get people talking about the sport. It will bring viewers and bring interest, which in turn brings the encouragement of the proper funding needed. Where there is a demand, there can be progress. And the first step is to get people’s attention, as the Lionesses have done so well.
It is my hope that in the seasons to come, the F1 Academy will find the proper resources to do its racing justice, and that people will be able to appreciate it for the brilliant contribution to the sport that it really is. One day people will celebrate the outcome of an F1 Academy season with the same enthusiasm that the nation came together to support the Lionesses, and these brilliant female athletes will be properly recognised.