Formula 1, which celebrates its 72nd anniversary this year, is the pinnacle of motorsport: it houses the most skilful twenty drivers on the planet, sourced from fourteen countries across four continents, races along the most technically arduous circuits, from the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza in Italy, one of the first purpose built racetracks in the world, to the infant Jeddah Corniche in Saudi Arabia, which has seen three race halting accidents in only two years of running, and boasts the most advanced pieces of machinery in the world, with thousands of hours and millions of dollars poured into two vehicles per team each year, in order to achieve speeds which regularly exceed two hundred miles per hour.

Despite F1 being widely recognised as the greatest hub of innovation which the world of racing has to offer, the sport has only welcomed two women onto its grid: Maria Theresa de Filips, who started three races with Maserati and Porsche between 1958 and 59 and Lella Lombardi, who started twelve races for March, RAM and Williams between 1974 and 76, achieving half a point with sixth place at the Spanish Grand Prix of 1975. This is despite 772 drivers having competed in at least one race across F1's storied history and more than 45 years' worth of waiting for the next female prodigy. 

In the past 4 years, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA,) the governing body of Formula 1, have attempted to rectify this dire lack of representation thanks to the formation of the W Series, an echelon of motorsport in which only women can compete, designed to give the most talented female drivers a chance to make a name for themselves. Unfortunately, this vision has not come to fruition, and the FIA have recently been forced to pivot towards a new series, which targets younger female drivers, in order to salvage the chances of another woman ever competing in F1. 

Although Formula 1 has closed its doors to women over the past half-century, the slim percentage of female drivers who have cultivated their craft in other areas of the motorsporting landscape have often been exceedingly successful, as both genders can theoretically compete as equals in all areas of the sport. Michèle Mouton competed in the World Rally Championship from 1974-1986, taking victory in 4 races, and finishing runner up in the competition in 1982 with Audi, two feats no other woman has ever achieved in rally racing, to this day. Also of note is Danica Patrick, the most successful woman in American open-wheel car racing history, with her sole IndyCar victory at the 2008 Indy Japan 300 the only race with a female victor in the history of the series.  

Although these phenomenal accomplishments should disillusion individuals who hold misogynistic doctrines as to the ability of women in motorsport, the ideal of gender balance is unattainable when prejudice is ingrained within a sport, and a society.

Between 2012 and 2014, Susie Wolff, spouse of Austrian billionaire and CEO of the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, Torger "Toto" Wolff, was named as a Development Driver for Williams F1 Team, an engine partener of Mercedes. She had competed in British Formula 3 and Formula Renault UK prior to this career shift, and participated in four practise sessions with the team, across three seasons, becoming the first woman in over two decades to take part in a Formula 1 race weekend. The Scottish driver attained lap times strong enough to finish only half a second behind her Brazilian teammate, and 11 time Grand Prix winner, Felipe Massa, on multiple occasions. As a testament to the preconceptions which still manage to permeate the sport, Mexican driver Sergio Perez, "joked," that, "...women should stay in the kitchen," on live Spanish television, after her final run with Williams, in mid 2014. 

Despite this prevailing sexist narrative, which has partly died out in a number of other sports and endeavours, the past five years has seen a turn in the tides. In 2016, Wolff herself co-founded the 'Dare to be Different' initiative, which aims to present girls between the ages of eight and fourteen with an opportunity to experience different roles within motorsport, including driving, engineering, and strategic decision making. Furthermore, the FIA itself launched 'Girls on Track' in early 2018, which similarly works towards a future in which a plethora of careers are available for women, as part of FIA adjudicated events. Most recently, after a year's worth of speculation, the W Series was announced for 2019 and beyond. 

The W Series, a single seater Championship, open exclusively to women, initially consisted of merely six races per season, transitioning to eight after the COVID stricken 2020 forced the cancellation of the competition. It has received backing from some of the most prominent faces in Formula 1, including 13 time Grand Prix winner, David Coulthard and current Chief Technical Officer of Red Bull Racing, Adrian Newey.

Motorsport is an expensive business to join, with basic prices for an initial month in professional karting adding up to over £10,000, and a season in some of the lowest rungs of open-wheel racing often priced at over ten times that much, so many young drivers are forced to pour their savings into their fledgling careers, with the hope of being noticed. On the other hand, W Series is free to enter, which arguably encourages young women to attempt a career in motorsport, in the knowledge that success does not always require an extreme monetary advantage.

Furthermore, the prize pool is an exceedingly generous $1.5 million, with a third of this money presented to the Champion of the series at the end of each year. This is incomparable to the relatively meagre €200,000 fund distributed among competitors in FIA Formula Regional championships, competitions which employ the same specification of machinery as W Series.

Not only do all 19 participants receive an influx in money, and therefore, an increased chance of a more prominent career in other areas of motorsport, but their exposure is also boosted. By 2021, the W Series was broadcasted across 175 nations, with television partners including Channel 4, Sky Germany and Ziggo Sport in the Netherlands giving the W Series a possible reach of more than half a billion viewers. This television presence has proliferated in 2022 as well, with each round screened on Sky's dedicated Formula 1 channel, prior to the F1 race itself. 

Although the purpose of the championship is to further the careers of the women involved, through a steady flow of prize earnings, and regular TV promotion, it has been divisive from the beginning. 

Numerous figures within the motorsporting world, including the aforementioned Toto Wolff, have reasoned that, rather than promoting inclusion, it instead segregates female drivers, removing the opportunity to prove themselves against male competition, as Michèle Mouton and Danica Patrick had done years earlier.

Another inherent issue with the W Series is the unmatched success of 2015 British GT Champion, Jamie Chadwick. The 24-year-old British driver, who began her career in karts at the age of eleven, has taken victory in all three W Series seasons as of 2022, with the greatest number of victories (11,) podiums (18,) and pole positions (10) in the history of the championship. Despite this utter domination from Jamie, which at one point saw the Brit take seven Grand Prix wins in a row, it has amounted to very little in terms of her prospects in higher regions of open-wheel racing, with no sign of a drive in Formula 2 or Formula 3 (the main feeder series towards F1) in 2023.

To compete in Formula 1, a driver is required to attain an FIA Superlicence, through the accrual of, "40 points over three years in any FIA [sanctioned] series," including W Series, which offers 15 point to the Champion each year; Jamie has consequently accumulated 45 points, and could compete in F1, on the basis that she, "Complete[s] 300km in a representative F1 car over no more than two days." In March 2021, Chadwick signed with Williams as a development driver, but has not been proffered any chances to prove herself in practise sessions, as of the 2022 United States Grand Prix, as her predecessor was. 

On the 5th of September, 2022, the W Series handed in their accounts for the previous year, which revealed £7.5 million in outstanding loans to numerous companies, including anonymous social media app, Whisper, and hospitality services organisation, Velocity Experience. Subsequently, W Series CEO Catherine Bond Muir was forced to cancel the remaining rounds of the championship: two races at the Circuit of the Americas, in Austin, Texas, and the season finale in Mexico City. Seven time Formula 1 World Champion and avid equality activist Sir Lewis Hamilton criticised the poor response to the financial turmoil under which the W Series is failing to operate on the 20th of October, stating that, "...we need to be doing more. With Formula 1 and Liberty [Media, owners of Formula One Group] doing so well, it's not a lot for them to be able to help out." 

So, with the prospects of the W Series in limbo for 2023, rumours swirled regarding a new female only feeder competition for next year. This championship, which should comprise 12-15 young drivers, is reportedly designed for drivers around the age of sixteen. With only around 1.5% of world motorsport made up of women, and Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicalli commenting earlier this year that it is, "very unlikely," that a woman will join F1 within the next five years, this venture could be a key catalyst for a far more diverse future in motorsport. 

Danica Patrick herself, in response to this news, was somewhat sceptical when queried as to whether this concept would finally see another woman in F1, observing that, " really just takes a culture of people who own teams [who] believe in them and give them a chance," rather than, "...a series or sponsor." 

A shift in attitude is necessary for women to thrive in Formula 1, and that will undoubtedly require countless more campaigns, fundraisers, awareness building workshops, and racing series which put their wallets on the line in order to make a difference. Even though morally pure intentions are difficult to come by in this sport, it can only be considered as a step in the right direction to increase the frightfully slim talent pool; the greater the reach of Formula 1, the more groundbreaking talent discovered, and the sooner a 45 year curse is broken.