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Abbi Pulling: ‘It’s possible a woman could be in F1 in the next five years’ | Formula One

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FFrom insisting on riding only the fastest horse as a child to galloping the world’s Grand Prix circuits, Abbi Pulling has long had a need for speed. Formula 1 is the goal of this talented and determined youngster who, having grown up admiring Lewis Hamilton, is convinced she could yet shatter the glass ceiling of what the seven-time champion has decried as the ‘billionaire boys’ club’ of F1. Change is coming, Pulling is at the forefront.

Now in her first full season in the all-female W series, Lincolnshire’s Pulling has already made quite an impression. The series, which covers all of its drivers’ expenses, rekindled the 19-year-old’s dream of making it to F1, as did the Alpine F1 team as an affiliate of its young driver programme. She is second in the championship behind Britain’s Jamie Chadwick, who has won the previous two W Series titles. The fourth round of this season will take place at Paul Ricard on Saturday ahead of the French Grand Prix on Sunday.

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Chadwick, a Williams development driver and the dominant force in the W Series, recently questioned whether women would be able to physically cope with the demands of F1, which hasn’t had a female driver in a grand prix since. that Lella Lombardi raced in Austria in 1976. Pulling has no such doubts.

“That’s Jamie’s opinion, but mine is that with the Alpine program, we really think a woman can be fit enough to race at those levels,” she says. “I think it’s possible that a woman could be in F1 in the next five years. I would like it to be me, but either way it shows the direction motorsport is going and how positive it is on the women’s side right now.”

Pulling has talent to spare, but she’s lucky that the W series has been instrumental, as it has with many of her drivers, in giving her the opportunity to further her career and pursue her dream. to go to F1. It’s a dream she’s been chasing ever since she insisted on following her father, Andy, a racing cyclist, on tracks across the country.

There is an endearing enthusiasm in his story. “Whenever I went horseback riding with my mom and sister, I always rode the fastest horse,” she says. “It was a little horse called Coco and I was going around the arena as fast as I could. I had a need for speed quite early.

This season, Chadwick has won four straight wins in the first four races, but Pulling is struggling to catch up. With two podiums in the last two races, she is 47 points behind but her verve, aggressiveness and refusal to be intimidated by more experienced riders have been striking.

Abbi Pulling during Friday practice ahead of Saturday’s W Series race at Paul Ricard. Photography: Clive Rose/Getty Images

This allowed him to make a considerable mark in a short time. Lack of funding forced her out of British F4 last season, a time she thought would end her career which she describes as “heartbreaking”, but all too familiar to drivers in the junior categories. However, as a W-Series reserve driver, she had a lifeline and competed in four races, including taking a snappy second place at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

This got Alpine noticed and they hired her in March of this year. The team is committed to diversity with its Rac(H)er program, of which Pulling is a part. Their intention is to help guide a woman into F1 and bring more women into motorsport, with a target of having 30% of their workforce female within five years.

Pulling wholeheartedly embraced it, but Chadwick made a valid point. The feeder series of F1, F3 and F2, and F1 itself, are extremely physically demanding, as evidenced by the sheer volume of training that F1 drivers undergo. Pulling, who drove one of Alpine’s F1 cars in 2012, has no mistaking the difficulty of the task in terms of strength. She moved to live near the team’s base in Enstone, where she happily spends hours training.

“I accept the challenge,” she says. “It’s not just me who has to do this, the guys also have to practice to drive these cars. It will definitely be difficult in the next few years and I will have to push myself more than I ever have, and can -be more than a guy should be, but I don’t think it’s impossible to get to F1.

“My junior career could be longer as I develop that strength, but if it takes a few more years it’s still doable. I’m a pretty small person but since I started my program with Alpine I saw a huge gain and the results show it.

Alpine takes a rigorous approach to its program that includes a scientific examination of what may have held women back in recent years. One issue that is already glaringly clear is the financial burden of advancing through the ranks, an issue Hamilton has raised.

Pulling remembers her admiration for the seven-time champion when she was growing up. “Back then, I loved him the most because he’s a living legend,” she says. “I thought Lewis was amazing, I followed him a lot.”

Abbi Pulling on the podium at Silverstone with Emma Kimiläinen (left) and Jamie Chadwick (centre), who is leading the hunt for the W Series title.
Abbi Pulling on the podium at Silverstone with Emma Kimiläinen (left) and Jamie Chadwick (centre), who is leading the hunt for the W Series title. Photography: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Yet over time, she, like many others, has also recognized how valuable Hamilton is in highlighting the failings of the sport. Notably his observation that running is becoming almost inaccessible except for this billionaire boys’ club. “Motorsport is now getting much more expensive, especially at the lower end,” she says. “I can’t agree with him more, it’s almost ridiculous.”

When Coco proved to be not fast enough, Pulling fell in love with karting at the age of eight, racing almost every weekend. She would then win two national championships in 2017 and 2018 before moving on to the Ginettas and then to F4.

Another W-series stalwart and no small talent, Alice Powell, is its driver coach and she has praised Pulling, whose ambition hasn’t been wavered by Chadwick’s dominance this season as his fiery attack against Emma Kimiläinen in the last series race at Silverstone demonstrated.

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“Nothing tells me that I can’t win the championship,” she said. “I know Jamie is in really good shape right now, but I still think it can suit anyone as long as I keep performing well. I want to beat her. Everybody wants to be on top.”

Youthful confidence emanates warmly from Pulling. Yet for one so young and whose sights are still set on the F1 grand prix, it’s telling that she, like Hamilton, can see beyond the cockpit to the bigger picture, for a change in who she plays. a vital role.

“It’s the visibility for the younger generations that counts,” she says. “Even if it’s not me coming to F1, it could be a girl watching the W Series right now and that makes her want to be a racing driver. Maybe she’s the one doing it.

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