British driver Abbi Pulling was disqualified from both qualifying sessions at the inaugural weekend of the all-female F1 Academy series after initially winning both at the Red Bull Ring in Austria.
Lincolnshire’s Pulling appeared to have secured their first two pole positions in the championship after setting an emphatic goalscorer on Friday, but a subsequent inspection found an ‘unintentional technical infringement’ relating to ‘non-homologated parts’ on all three of the team’s cars Rodin Carlin.
The new single-seater championship features a grid of 15 women from 10 countries competing for five professional teams in seven rounds, each with three races, the second in a semi-reverse grid format.
Alpine academy driver Pulling, 20, also excelled in the W Series, where she finished fourth in her first full season on a grid that also included Spaniard Marta Garcia, who inherits two pole positions at Spielberg.
Pulling reacted on Twitter, writing: “It’s only straight up from here…
“Motorsport can often have its ups and downs, and today it certainly did.
“During post-qualifying checks, all Rodin Carlin cars encountered a non-homologated part, which does not improve performance in any way
“For this reason, my pole laps have been removed. Tomorrow is another day and I will give my all.
While it’s easy to draw comparisons between the W Series – on hiatus since financial difficulties forced organizers to shorten the 2022 season – and the F1 Academy, Pulling’s W Series partner Bianca Bustamante, 18, drew several differences significant.
All the teams enrolled in the F1 Academy – which also include Campos Racing, PREMA, MP Motorsport and ART Grand Prix – have consolidated experience elsewhere in F2 and F3, coveted destinations for Academy drivers.
This is huge for PREMA’s Bustamante, who explained: “One of the best things is that you get to work with such professional teams. And I think that makes the difference.
“I’ve only been working with PREMA for about two or three months and I’ve learned a lot.
“This opportunity would never have presented itself if it weren’t for the Academy. To be able to work with such a professional team, learn with the best riders and get track time.
“It makes a difference, because now we learn all the good habits. We learn what it’s like to be at the top of the sport and compete with the best teams, the best drivers, generally the best bits.
The F1 Academy’s three-race weekends also allow for significantly more time on the track, a long-standing request from W Series drivers who only competed in one race per round.
Academy season venues include grand prix tracks such as Dutch Zandvoort and Italian Monza, designed to prepare drivers for the next steps in their careers.
The team element also differs in facilitating more consistent relationships with engineers and other key personnel, while the W Series has rotated engineers of varying experience as part of their development mission.
Bustamante said, “Having that consistency right from the start in your junior years is one of the most important things.”
Organizers of the development-focused competition hope it will provide a vital stepping stone between karting and other junior categories for F1 series such as F3, with the long-term aim of one day seeing a female return to F1.
Pulling and Philippine-born Bustamante are among many female drivers who have faced considerable challenges in funding their careers, a problem F1 hopes to mitigate by subsidizing each car – a T421 chassis specially developed for the Academy – with 150,000 euros (£131,600).
The drivers are expected to cover the same amount, with the teams providing the rest of the budget.
The series came under initial criticism after it was revealed that the races would not be broadcast live, but instead delivered later in the form of highlight packs, supplemented by what the organizers promised would be extensive live content on the social media.
But the PA news agency understands there are ambitions for future live broadcasts, with the Academy set to attend select F1 Grands Prix as part of next season’s support series.
Having the clout of the increasingly recognizable F1 brand behind the new all-female venture is also an unprecedented step for the sport, one that the drivers see as significant.
“It makes a huge difference,” Bustamante added. “Having the support of F1 means a big change for the sport. We went from not having many female drivers to having our own series.
“F1 gave us that visibility. They have allowed us to have a platform where we can showcase our vision, our aspirations and have a voice.”