A new international racing series exclusively for female drivers, W Series, will launch next year in a bid to give women an easier pathway to Formula One.
The new category will begin in May 2019 and will feature six 30-minute races throughout Europe in the opening season. The series hopes to expand to include races in Australia, Asia and the Americas in future.
The winner will earn $500,000 to help fund her next step up the racing ladder. W Series will see each driver compete with identical machinery, a Tatuus F3 T-381, which was revealed on Wednesday.
When #WSeries goes racing in 2019, we'll be running the Tatuus F3 T-318, a race car homologated to the latest @fia F3 spec. Find out more: https://t.co/gnEVDuOZEq #RethinkRacing pic.twitter.com/cdXp7uC3Ow— W Series (@WSeriesRacing) October 10, 2018
The series will not require drivers to bring sponsorship, although each driver will have to prove her ability in a selection process, which aims to ensure the grid is as high quality as possible. It is hoped the series can start a process which will eventually end F1's long wait for a female driver.
Former F1 driver David Coulthard, the winner of 13 grands prix, is one of the judges . The Scotsman hopes W Series helps women break the "glass ceiling" they often encounter in the current racing pyramid.
"We at W Series firmly believe that female and male racing drivers can compete with one another on equal terms given the same opportunity," Coulthard said. "At the moment, however, women racing drivers tend to reach a 'glass ceiling' at around the GP3/Formula 3 level on their learning curve, often as a result of a lack of funding rather than a lack of talent.
"That's why an all-new all-female single-seater motor racing series is required - W Series - to establish a competitive and constructive motorsport habitat in which our drivers will be able to equip themselves with the necessary skill-set eventually to move on up to existing high-level mainstream racing series and compete with the best male drivers on equal terms."
Coulthard's fellow judges will be former McLaren team manager Dave Ryan, who is W Series racing director, and Red Bull's technical design legend Adrian Newey.
Newey said: "I believe that the reason why so few women have so far raced successfully at the highest levels against men is a lack of opportunity rather than a lack of capability. And that's why I'm so pleased to be involved in W Series, to do what I can to contribute to creating a platform on which women drivers can improve by racing one another and from which they may then springboard their careers forward and, yes, ultimately race and indeed eventually beat their male counterparts."
W Series released a video to accompany its launch announcement, which featured the hashtag #RethinkRacing.
We believe any woman with talent, passion and commitment should have a chance in motorsport. We're here to create those chances and increase participation in a sport we love. #RethinkRacing pic.twitter.com/Ilhq0ZhfLL— W Series (@WSeriesRacing) October 10, 2018
Women have struggled to make an impact in F1 for a long while. It has been more than 40 years since a woman driver entered a Formula One race, when Italian Lella Lombardi took to the starting grid at the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix. This year, Sauber signed Tatiana Calderon to be its test driver, although the Colombian is yet to feature in an F1 session.