Abbi Pulling interview: I expect to win races, but female drivers in F1 won’t be an overnight success

Abbi Pulling is confident there will eventually be a woman in F1 – Getty Images/Pauline Ballet

Abbi Pulling sounds a little distracted when I call to discuss her historic victory in British F4 on Sunday. “Sorry,” said the 21-year-old, who became the first female driver to win a round of the series when she beat 18 men and three other women to win the reverse-grid race at the Brands Indy circuit. “That sound you hear is my dog ​​Herbie. Someone just knocked on the door and he went crazy.”

“It’s been a crazy few 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 in Miami, on the undercard of the F1 Grand Prix, took the driver from Gosberton in Lincolnshire to the top of the leaderboard in the all-female F1 Academy series. And after flying to England, Pulling made history by becoming the first woman to win a race in British F4, opening a gap in the field after an early safety car to set the fastest lap and by five seconds to gain an advantage.

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

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

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

Pulling is aware that some people will write off her victory on Sunday as merely a ‘reverse-grid triumph’. 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 definitely not the race I want to win,” she says. “I want to win the main races.” But she believes she did enough this weekend and in 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 is a very good margin.”

What is clear is that, four years on from that excellent rookie season in British F4, Pulling is becoming increasingly confident, something she attributes primarily to increasing track time and then working day in and day out with a specialist team in Formula 4. Rodin Motorsport, which runs its cars in both the F1 Academy and British F4.

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

In terms of working with Rodin, the F1 Academy has been a big step forward in that regard, she says. While the W Series marketed its drivers and its product brilliantly, it lacked a real, intense rivalry between the teams. Every driver there was fully funded and deployed by a centralized team. Although the drivers are supported by F1 teams and F1 sporting colours, they are run by specialist teams such as Rodin with vast experience in junior formulas.

“This is what really sets the F1 Academy apart,” says Pulling. “Every team is desperate to win the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship. You have people in your corner who really pull you in. You have the same engineer and the same mechanic weekend in, weekend out. This way you get a very strong connection.”

The question remains: how long will this last? How long will it take before female drivers really start making 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 the W Series but never found a route into those series. Instead, she went to Indy NXT, the junior series to Indy Car, where she just scored her first podium finish.

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

“I think it shows that it works. W Series and F1 Academy have helped give female drivers a platform and exposure. But it won’t happen overnight. Jamie won the W Series and people expected her to win it all overnight. But it’s not that simple. She is now used to the car and is doing fine. But it takes time. We need more women in more seats and eventually that will happen.”

And her own ambitions? After Miami, Pulling leads the F1 Academy with 34 points ahead of Mercedes’ Doriane Pin. “I just take it one lap at a time,” she says. “Hopefully this will give me an opportunity next year. I want to move up and become more of an F3 type machine, whether it’s GB3, FRECA, F3… just something that’s a step up from what I did this year and last year. I just have to keep my head down and keep working.”

Jamie Chadwick on a mission to get more girls into motorsport

By Rosina Butcher

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

Last month the Jamie Chadwick Race School debuted in Milton Keynes, aimed at girls aged eight to 13. The event offered a chance to go to the city’s Daytona track and a media training session where the girls interviewed each other and Chadwick. The initiative aims to increase female participation at all levels and the Race School was a success 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 become the first female Formula 1 champion to become.

The event followed an overwhelming number of entries for the Jamie Chadwick Series, a new all-female karting competition for young girls in partnership with Daytona Motorsport. The programme, which will launch later this year, will offer girls aged 14 and over a year of free karting and mentoring. The contestants will be mentored by Chadwick throughout the season, with the winner receiving a financial reward to support them at the next level of their career.

Chadwick’s own racing career began at the age of 12 when she took up karting, inspired by her older brother Ollie. “I have no idea how I would have started if my brother hadn’t started it. I probably wouldn’t have done that,” she says.

“We just need to make people aware of how to try it for the first time. It may not be for everyone, but it’s about giving people that opportunity.

“It [the Race School] is primarily about getting more and more young girls to take up sports. They don’t necessarily have to be future Formula 1 drivers, but we want them to just enjoy the experience and try something for the first time.

“It’s quite a niche sport anyway, but now that there’s so much more attention to Formula 1, I think people are really enjoying the sport. But being involved from a participation perspective is a bit of an unknown.”

The racing scene can be intimidating for girls, with the industry, even at lower levels, heavily male-dominated. A recent survey by found that women represent just 10 percent of participants in all racing competitions and girls make up just 13 percent of karting participation.

“I was lucky enough to have a brother who helped me with that, but if I showed up at an event like today and there was only one female driver it would be extremely intimidating,” says Chadwick. “I would like to grow this. I would also like to do something similar in the United States. It’s a global problem. If we can grow it outside the UK that would be great.”

While she is doing big things in Indy NXT, she still has hope for her F1 dream: “I have a great opportunity in America. From that moment on, Formula 1 will always remain the goal, I will never let that go, but I still appreciate that there is still a lot to be achieved.”

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