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Abbi Pulling interview: I expect to win races but women drivers in F1 will not be an overnight success

Abbi Pulling interview: I expect to win races but women drivers in F1 will not be an overnight success
Abbi Pulling is confident that eventually a woman in F1 will happen - Getty Images/Pauline Ballet

Abbi Pulling sounds a little distracted when I call to discuss her historic win in British F4 on Sunday. “Sorry,” says the 21-year-old, who became the first female driver to win a round of the series when she triumphed over 18 men and three other women to win the reverse-grid race on Brands’ Indy circuit. “That noise you can hear is my dog Herbie. Someone’s just knocked on the door and he’s gone mental.”

“It has been a crazy couple of weeks,” she adds.

Pulling, who lives with her manager and fellow driver Alice Powell not far from Alpine’s headquarters in Enstone, has barely had time to collect her thoughts after what has indeed been a whirlwind eight days.

Two wins in the space of 24 hours out in Miami, on the undercard of the F1 Grand Prix, rocketed the driver from Gosberton in Lincolnshire to the top of the standings in the all-female F1 Academy series. And after flying home to England, Pulling then made history by becoming the first woman to win a race in British F4, gapping the field after an early safety car to set the fastest lap and win by five seconds.

Not that she is getting carried away. As one of the more experienced drivers in both series – Pulling competed in British F4 as long ago as 2020, finishing sixth as a 17-year-old rookie that year, and competed for two seasons in W Series before F1 Academy came along – she expects to be winning these races.

Indeed Pulling says she probably should have had “a few wins already by now”, citing a race at Thruxton in particular in which she went from 11th to first only to be “hit off”.

“I’ve always known I’ve been capable of this and I know that I’m fast and I think you’ve got to be your own biggest backer in that regard,” she says. “I’ve been beating boys and girls since I was in karting, before I even got to single seaters. So I expect to be winning these races. That said, the last two weeks have been special. It’s been pleasing to be able to show what I’m capable of.”

Pulling is aware that some people will write off her win on Sunday as merely a ‘reverse-grid triumph’. When starting from her qualifying position of ninth in the two other races at Brands Hatch, she finished seventh and sixth. She accepts this herself. “The reverse-grid race is not the race that I want to be winning, for sure,” she says. “I want to be winning the main races.” But she feels she did enough over the weekend, and over previous seasons, to show she deserved it. “We showed so much speed in free practice,” she says. “And in that [second] race, I think I set the fastest lap by three tenths around Brands Indy. That’s quite a good margin.”

What is clear is that, four years after that outstanding rookie season in British F4, Pulling is growing in confidence, something she puts down to increased track time first and foremost, and then working day-in-day-out with a specialist team in Rodin Motorsport, who run her cars in both F1 Academy and British F4.

“As you say, I am one of the more experienced drivers in both series in one respect,” she says. “But when you actually boil it down to hours in the car… in 2022 for instance, everything you saw on TV, which was three 30-minute sessions six times a year in W Series, amounted to about 10 hours worth of driving. Hardly anything. Whereas now I’m getting a lot more time on track.”

As for working with Rodin, F1 Academy has been a big step up in that respect, she says. Whereas W Series did a brilliant job of marketing its drivers and its product, it lacked a proper, intense inter-team rivalry. Every driver there was fully funded and fielded by a centralised team. Now, although drivers are supported by F1 teams and sport F1 liveries, they are run by specialist teams such as Rodin with huge experience of junior formulae.

“It’s the thing that really sets F1 Academy apart,” Pulling says. “Each team desperately wants to win the drivers’ and constructors’ championship. You’ve got people in your corner, who are really pulling for you. You have the same engineer and the same mechanic weekend in and weekend out. So you get a really strong connection.”

The question persists, how long will it take? How long until female drivers really start to make a statement in the highest categories of motorsport F3, F2, and – the holy grail – F1? Pulling cites the example of Jamie Chadwick, who won all three seasons of W Series but never found a route into those series. Instead she went off to Indy NXT, the junior series to Indy Car where she has just picked up her first podium.

“I was so happy to see that,” Pulling says. “I think it’s incredible what Jamie’s achieving. Getting a podium in Indy NXT is no mean feat.

“I think it shows it’s working. W Series and F1 Academy have helped to give female drivers a platform and exposure. But it’s not going to happen overnight. Jamie won W Series and people expected her overnight to be winning everything. But it’s not as simple as that. Now she has got used to the car and is doing great. But it takes time. We need more women in more seats and eventually it will happen.”

And her own ambitions? After Miami, Pulling leads F1 Academy by 34 points from Mercedes’ Doriane Pin. “I’m just taking it round by round,” she says. “Hopefully that will provide me with an opportunity into next year. I want to progress up the ladder and move into more of an F3-type machine whether it’s GB3, FRECA, F3…just something that is the level above what I’ve been doing this year and last year. I’ve just got to keep my head down and keep working.”


Jamie Chadwick on a mission to get more girls into motorsport

By Rosina Butcher

Alongside racing in the Indy NXT series in the UK, three-time W Series champion Jamie Chadwick is creating opportunities for young girls to explore the world of motorsport in the UK.

Last month the Jamie Chadwick Race School debuted in Milton Keynes, targeting girls aged eight to 13. The event featured the chance to take to the city’s Daytona track and a media training session where the girls interviewed each other and Chadwick. The initiative aims to boost female participation at all levels and the Race School was a hit with the girls.

Harbie Evatt, 10, an experienced karter, said she “wants to be an inspiration to other girls” while Tara Herm, 11, felt the day had boosted her confidence and expressed her desire to be the first female Formula One Champion.

The event followed an overwhelming number of applicants to the Jamie Chadwick Series, a new all-female karting competition for young girls in partnership with Daytona Motorsport. The programme, starting later this year, provides a year of free karting and mentoring to girls aged 14-plus. Those taking part will be mentored by Chadwick throughout the season, with the winner receiving a financial reward to support them in the next level of their career.

Chadwick’s own racing career began at 12 years old when she took up karting inspired by her older brother Ollie. “I have no idea how I would’ve started if my brother hadn’t gotten into it. I probably wouldn’t have,” she says.

“We just need to make people aware of how they can give it a go for the first time. It might not be for everyone but it’s just about giving people that opportunity.

“It [the Race School] is about getting more and more young girls to start in the sport in the first place. They don’t necessarily have to be future Formula One drivers, but we want them to just enjoy the experience and get to try something for the first time.

“It’s quite a niche sport anyway, but now there’s so many more eyeballs on Formula One, I think people are really enjoying the sport. But getting involved in it, from a participation point of view, is a bit unknown.”

The racing scene can be intimidating for girls, with the industry, even at lower levels, being heavily male-dominated. A recent study done by FormulaWoman.co.uk found that females represent only 10 per cent of participants across all racing competitions and that girls make up just 13 per cent of karting participation.

“I was lucky to have a brother who helped me into it, but if I turned up to an event like today and there was only one female driver, it would be massively intimidating,” Chadwick says. “I’d love to grow this. I would love to do something similar in the States too. It’s a worldwide problem. If we can grow it beyond just the UK that would be great.”

Whilst doing big things over in Indy NXT, she still has hope for her F1 dream: “I’ve got a great opportunity over in America. From there, Formula One is still always going to be the goal, I’m never going to let go of that, but I still appreciate there’s a lot that needs to be achieved.”

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