Frustration with lack of live broadcasts for new all-female F1 Academy series

Formula 1’s new all-female F1 Academy series has sparked controversy ahead of this weekend’s inaugural races after it was revealed they will not be broadcast live.

When announced in November, the seven-round, 21-race competition – which opens with three races at Austria’s Red Bull Ring on Saturday – was heralded by organizers as having the “intentions…to ensure aspiring female drivers get the best possible to reach their potential” with the ultimate goal of seeing a woman again in F1.

Some, echoing the adage ‘if you can see it you can be’, have pointed out the irony that there is no live or full race footage for a series designed to raise the profile of female drivers and inspire the next generation – with others they even suggest it could be a worrying indicator of F1’s genuine commitment to its stated ambitions.

Females in Motorsport, a volunteer-run collective working to promote women across sport, was among the critics on social media, tweeting: “We are deeply disappointed that #F1Academy will not be streaming live. This series aims to inspire girls and women from all over the world and provide a platform for the 15 riders on the grid.

“So many F4 championships have live streams but an F1 owned entity does not. How can we inspire the next generation if we can’t even follow the action correctly?

Academy driver Bianca Bustamante, 18, has been handpicked by F1 driver Esteban Ocon after recently spending time at his training centre, with the Frenchman describing her in a video uploaded by the Filipina as having ‘a gift right away … she immediately managed to amaze Me.”

Bustamante understands why fans might feel let down by the coverage, but insists the initial lack of footage was a welcome and deliberate move designed to ease the pressure while young pilots – the series is trimmed at 25, with many well under than that age limit – fitting into what for many is already a huge step forward in their career.

He said: “In motorsport you always have to perform in the spotlight, and it has always been so tough. For many drivers performing under pressure and getting rid of that kind of worry and just focus on pure riding is what makes it so important. Now we don’t have to worry about anything else, we just focus on the performance and the moment you have it assured you can shine in the spotlight.

PREMA’s Bustamante, one of 15 drivers on the five-team Academy grid, is one of several defectors from the W Series, the all-female single-seater series that saw its third season curtailed due to financial woes last year.

The W Series, also previously on the F1 support bill, had secured a multi-year broadcast deal with Sky Sports which saw it attract a peak UK TV audience of one million viewers to its race of Silverstone in 2022.

Instead, F1 Academy will release a 15-minute round-by-round highlights program to rights-holding broadcasters on the Wednesday following a race weekend, which will also be available on F1-controlled channels.

In addition, a video of the race highlights will be made available on several F1 channels on the Monday following the race weekend, while the organizers of the competition have also promised extensive live coverage on social media.

The PA news agency – which has contacted the F1 Academy for comment – understands there are ambitions to broadcast live the season finale, which will take place in support of the F1 Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas, with the aim to continue next season when the Academy will be on the support account for a select number of F1 Grands Prix.

Asked if this year’s plan will be enough to recruit girls into her sport, Bustamante underscored the Academy’s philosophy of driver development, saying, ‘To be the role models these girls can look up to, we have to perform at our best. They are prioritizing our performance, our mental health and focus on the track.

“To inspire the next generation, we have to believe ourselves. We have to believe in ourselves first, and that’s what they’re doing.

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