RACING

How Alpine wants to bring more women into F1

ADVERTISEMENT

As the W Series, the FIA ​​Girls on Track initiative and the new More Than Equal campaign backed by David Coulthard focus on promoting female racing drivers to the upper echelons of the sport, Alpine’s push extends also to engineering and other disciplines within the organization.

As an F1 team with decent funding and the backing of a road car manufacturer, Alpine has the resources to back up its promise to change mindsets and promote female talent.

ADVERTISEMENT

Even before Race(H)er’s announcement last month, the team has been making strides on the rider side. In March, it was announced that W-Series rider Abbi Pulling would join the Alpine Academy Affiliate Program. A few weeks later, Pulling got the chance to experience the E20 F1 car at a street demonstration in Saudi Arabia, as did local Aseel Al Hamad, a member of the FIA ​​Women in Motorsport Commission.

Then in May, Alpine announced the arrival of Alice Powell as a talent identification and development mentor for the Academy and Affiliate Programs, with particular responsibility for mentoring Pulling as well as looking for new female talent.

These first steps are now in place as part of a much larger initiative in the form of Rac(H)er.

“The program was born at the same time as we had the change of Alpine brand”, explains Claire Mesnier, vice-president of human resources of Alpine Cars.

“And the idea was that if we want to be world champions, we have to have the best driver in the best possible car.

“And obviously, today, we are not exploring the entire talent pool. We are depriving ourselves of half of humanity, because we are not looking at women enough. So that was the starting point for this program. And that’s why it’s also about engineering talent, and also about racing talent.

“And while we were developing this program, we didn’t stop any other initiatives, like what we’re doing in W Series with Abbi and Alice.”

Abbi Pulling, Aseel Al Hamad

Picture by: Alpine

As far as the drivers are concerned, the main challenge is still the low percentage of girls who compete at the karting level. Alpine team manager Otmar Szafnauer says that needs to change and the sport needs to encourage more girls to want to race.

“At a young age, when you choose, do I want to go karting, or do I want to do figure skating, or do I want to play volleyball? Not enough between them say I want to go karting,” Szafnauer said. “And therefore the pool we choose from is small. And if you can expand that pool, you’ll get better talent.

“We don’t have a role model. So the girls can’t identify with someone. And so they don’t see that it’s possible. Part of the program is to have role models, to show that it’s is possible.

“The good thing about the W series is that if the girls can’t watch a model on the track, and then you’re less interested, the W series does. There are girls on the track racing.”

An intriguing aspect of the Alpine project is that the company intends to take a scientific approach and find out if there are real differences between men and women that can impact, negative or positive, their potential. ultimate to become top racing drivers.

There are many theories, for example that body strength plays a role in junior categories where there is no power steering.

“It’s a big pillar of the program,” says Mesnier. “Even for the male drivers, they’re all different, they’re not the same height, weight or ability. For 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 at enduring pain. But in terms of reaction, it’s slower. I guess it’s on each side physical and cognitive, emotional, there are differences.

“In the end, overall, because it’s a very complex job to be an F1 driver, there are a lot of different things to master. Frankly, at some point, I don’t know if it will balance out.

“We work with the Institut du Cerveau in Paris on the cognitive aspect. On the emotional aspect, we have a doctor who joins us, he will work on this emotional aspect. And on the physical aspect, we work with a doctor in physiotherapy .

“I’m sure Esteban [Ocon] and Ferdinand [Alonso] will help us and participate in different tests, also Abbi and Alice. We really have to base ourselves on facts to try to demystify all the preconceived ideas and stereotypes that we have, because we have a lot of ideas.

“But I’m not sure, even for men today, that we have a lot of data on the drivers. We have some on the cars, but on the drivers, who is the best driver in the paddock, with scientific elements and physical?

Fernando Alonso, Alpine A522, Esteban Ocon, Alpine A522

Fernando Alonso, Alpine A522, Esteban Ocon, Alpine A522

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

After having identified young talents, Alpine will try to bring them up the ranks of karting.

“It’s the second pillar of the program,” says Mesnier. “It’s the same for boys and girls, an eight-year program, putting them all in the same pipeline, say, with specific training.

“The program starts with the screening of girls in a few weeks. And the idea is to have four to five girls entering the eight-year program. And it’s an ongoing process. It’s not just a one-shot, and let’s wait until eight years and see who comes out of the pipeline.

“We’re going to be developing the program with the same company that did the Lando Norris program. So it’s the same kind of philosophy. And of course every step of the way we’ll have to adjust, adapt, decide if we continue.”

Alpine Cars boss Laurent Rossi thinks the young talent will shine.

“It fills the pipeline from scratch,” he says of the driver program. “Like karting, I already try to find someone who is good enough to beat all the boys in the competition and then push them as much as possible and as fast as possible through the ladders.

“By the end of this year, we should already have identified one or two talents that we want to support and then make sure that we have an action plan for the next four or five years, where they will progress through the categories. “

Finding a female F1 driver is clearly going to be a long process. Increasing the number of women on staff at Enstone from the current figure of 10% is a shorter term goal.

“I think from an alpine F1 perspective you can achieve some things very quickly,” says Szafnauer. “And that’s when we go to recruit from universities, and we usually go to the top universities, we have to make sure that we’re doing a really good job of getting the best female engineering graduates to be interested in Alpine, and to s interested in F1 as well.

“If we get to talk to more of them, then we can choose the crop of engineering graduates. Whereas before we only had those who were interested in motor racing, and we want to expand that, to make sure we have more women who understand that there is a great career to be had in motor racing then at Alpine.

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A522, makes a pit stop

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A522, makes a pit stop

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

“Getting more female interns into F1 doesn’t mean that after doing an internship year they go back to their final year of engineering at university and automatically say I want to work in F1.

“But if they experience it and love it, then they’re more likely to say, ‘Hey, let me pursue a career in motorsport.’ And once we start developing that we will be better off, and what you will see is that our male to female ratio in the F1 team will not be as unbalanced. We are 90/10 now.”

One of the challenges is that in the UK only 23% of engineering graduates are women, reducing the size of the available talent pool.

One of Rac(H)er’s goals is to send ambassadors to schools to encourage more girls to pursue STEM subjects.

“I think we have to do several things,” says Szafnauer. “From high school age, get them interested so that 23% can be 30%. And then out of those 30, say, get them interested in a career in motorsport, and then you can choose the best one.

“You have to remember that we want the F1 team to be better. So it will be a meritocracy. But for us, then, say, okay, we’re going to look at the graduates, and only two of them are girls. , it’s hard. So what we want to do, instead of having these two girls, is to have 20.”

Rossi insists Alpine is fully committed to Rac(H)er’s goals, but admits achieving them will be a challenge.

“We are just a small village,” said the Frenchman. “So we’re doing our best in our field, hopefully we can trigger something in the system. But the number of [female karting] licenses will always be small.

“I prefer to look at the number of women versus men in my own talent stable. That’s how we see it. And quite simply, it’s just a matter of having twice as many people as we can. At the moment it’s just half the world, only male drivers.

Laurent Rossi, CEO of Alpine F1, at a press conference

Laurent Rossi, CEO of Alpine F1, at a press conference

Photo by: FIA Pool

“Here we’re only talking about F1, but my own perspective is about all jobs, not just driving, because that’s kind of the tip of the iceberg, the tip of the iceberg, the tip of the iceberg. I’m more concerned about the rest, such as women in engineering and women in all other roles within the Alpine team.

“So the idea is, we’re going to go out there, find people who are just as smart, if not more, with cognitive abilities that are superior to those who are already in their positions. Because there’s no no reason why a woman can’t do better.

“We won’t change society, let’s be honest. But we can change our little bubble, our environment, to make it more conducive to the expression of talents.

“Really, it’s about having twice as many people available. And in the process, fixing a mistake. But that’s not the point, because we’re not here with a flag or anything. .”

ADVERTISEMENT