While the W Series, the FIA Girls on Track initiative and the More Than Equal campaign are focused on promoting female racing drivers to the upper rungs of the sport, Alpine’s push also extends to engineering and other disciplines within the organization.
As an F1 team with decent funding and the support of a road car manufacturer, Alpine has the resources with which to back its promise to change attitudes and promote female talent. In March, it was announced that W Series driver Abbi Pulling would join the Affiliate program of the Alpine Academy. A couple of weeks later Pulling had to the chance to experience the E20 F1 car in a street demo run in Saudi Arabia, as did local Aseel Al Hamad, a member of the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission.
In May, Alpine announced that Alice Powell was coming on board as talent identification and development mentor for the Academy and the Affiliate programs, with a special responsibility for mentoring Pulling as well as searching for new female talent.
Those initial steps are now making big waves. “The program was born at the same time as we had the change to the Alpine brand,” stated Alpine Cars Vice-President of Human Resources Claire Mesnier. “And the idea was, if we want to be world champions, we need to have the best driver in the best car possible. And obviously today we are not exploring the whole pool of talent. We are depriving ourselves of half of humanity because we are not looking enough at women. So that was the starting point of this program. And that's why it concerns also engineering talents, and racing talents. And while we were developing this program, we didn't stop any other initiatives, such as what we are doing in W Series with Abbi and Alice.”
Challenging More Girls to Race
The main challenge is always the small percentage of girls competing at karting level. Alpine Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer suggests that has to change and the sport has to encourage more girls to want to take up racing.
"At a young age when you choose do I want to go karting, or do I want to go figure skating, or do I want to play volleyball? Not enough of them say I want to go karting," stated Szafnauer. "And therefore, the pool that we're choosing from is small. And if you can get that pool bigger, you're going to get better talent. We don't have a role model. So, girls cannot identify with someone. And so, they don't see that it's possible. One part of the program is to have role models, to show it's possible. The good thing about the W Series is if girls can't look at a role model on track racing, and then you're less interested, W Series does that. There are girls on track racing."
Differences Between Men and Women
"That's a big pillar of the program," says Alpine Cars Vice-President of Human Resources Claire Mesnier. "Even for male drivers, they are all different, they are not the same size, weight or capability. It's sure we have physical, cognitive, and emotional issues to deal with. And there are differences between men and women. For example, we already know and with data and scientific facts, that for example, women are better for enduring pain. But in terms of reaction, it's slower. I guess that's on every side of physical and cognitive, emotional, there are differences. At the end, globally, because it's a very complex job to be an F1 driver, there are a lot of different things to master. Frankly, speaking, at some point, I don't know if it will, counterbalance. We are working with the Brain Institute in Paris on the cognitive side. On the emotional side, we have a PhD joining us, he will work on this emotional aspect. And on the physical side we're working with a doctor of physiotherapy.
She added, "I'm sure Esteban [Ocon] and Fernando [Alonso] will help us and participate in different tests, also Abbi and Alice. We really need to be very fact-based on that to try to debunk all the preconceptions and stereotypes we have, because we have a lot of ideas. But I'm not sure even for the men today that we have a lot of data about the drivers. We have about the cars, but about the drivers, who is the best driver in the paddock, with science and physical elements? The program is starting with scouting girls in a few weeks. And the idea is to have four to five girls entering the eight-year program. And it's a rolling process. It's not just one shot, and let's wait until eight years and see who is going out of the pipeline.”