Formula One’s new all-female F1 Academy series has sparked controversy ahead of this weekend’s inaugural races after it was revealed they will not be broadcast live.
When it was announced in November, the seven-round, 21-race competition – which opens with three races at Austria’s Red Bull Ring on Saturday – was billed by organisers as having “intentions…to ensure aspiring female drivers have the best opportunities to reach their potential” with the eventual goal of seeing a woman back in F1.
Some, recalling the adage “if you can see it you can be it”, have pointed out the irony of there being no live or full-race footage for a series designed to raise the profile of female drivers and inspire the next generation – with others even suggesting it could be a worrying indicator of F1’s genuine commitment to its stated ambitions.
Females in Motorsport, a volunteer-run collective working to promote women across the sport, were among the critics on social media, tweeting: “We’re deeply disappointed that #F1Academy won’t be streamed live. This series is meant to inspire girls and women around the world and provide a platform for the 15 drivers on the grid.
“So many F4 championships have live streams but an F1-owned entity won’t. How are we meant to inspire the next generation if we can’t even properly follow the action?”
Academy driver Bianca Bustamante, 18, was singled out by F1 driver Esteban Ocon after she recently spent time at his training centre, with the Frenchman describing her in a video uploaded by the Filipina as having “a gift right away… she immediately managed to impress me.”
Bustamante understands why fans might feel let down by the coverage, but insists the initial lack of footage was a welcome and deliberate move designed to alleviate pressure as the young drivers – the series cut-off is 25, with several well below that age limit – adjust to what for many is already a huge step up in their careers.
She said: “In motorsport you always have to perform in the spotlight, and it’s always been so tough. For a lot of drivers to perform under pressure and to have this sort of worry gone and just focus on pure driving is what makes it so important. Now we don’t have to worry about anything else, we just focus on performance, and the minute you have that secured you can shine in the spotlight.”
PREMA’s Bustamante, one of 15 drivers across the five-team Academy grid, is one of several defectors from W Series, the all-female single-seater series that saw its third season curtailed due to financial issues last year.
W Series – also previously on the F1 support bill – had secured a multi-year broadcast deal with Sky Sports that saw it attract a peak UK TV audience of one million viewers to its Silverstone race in 2022.
In contrast, F1 Academy will release a 15-minute round-by-round highlights programme to rights-holding broadcasters the Wednesday following a race weekend, which will also be available on F1-controlled channels.
Additionally, a race highlights video will be made available across several F1 channels on a Monday following the race weekend, while competition organisers have also promised extensive live coverage on social media.
The PA news agency – which has contacted F1 Academy for comment – understands there are ambitions to live broadcast the season finale, taking place in support of the F1 Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas, with a target for more next season when the Academy will be on the support bill for a select number of F1 Grands Prix.
Asked if this year’s plan will be sufficient in recruiting girls to her sport, Bustamante pointed to the Academy’s driver development-first philosophy, saying: “For us to be the role models that these girls can look up to we have to perform at our best. They’re prioritising our performance, our mental health and focus on the track.
“For us to inspire the next generation, we ourselves have to believe it. We have to believe in ourselves first, and that’s what they’re doing.”