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FIA president Ben Sulayem reveals single seater changes to help female drivers

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has hinted at mandatory changes being made to future single-seater cars to help level the playing field for female racers.

James Allen, Motorsport Network President with Mohammed bin Sulayem, FIA President

James Allen, Motorsport Network President with Mohammed bin Sulayem, FIA President

Speaking at the Financial Times and Motorsport Network’s Business of F1 Forum at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Ben Sulayem said that efforts were being ramped up to help improve diversity at all levels.

But beyond female-only categories, such as W Series and a new championship that is being lined-up by FOM for younger women, the FIA thinks that there should be wider scope for changes at the junior level below F1.

Ben Sulayem says that, as part of that process, he wants future single seaters used in the FIA’s pyramid of junior categories to allow both males and females to compete equally.

While not planning to make changes in the short term, he reckons there is an opportunity to do things when categories switch over to new chassis.

Formula 2 is due to begin its next cycle in 2024, with F3 following in 2025.

Asked about his push for improved diversity in motorsport, Ben Sulayem said: “The talent might be in any place in the world. But does he have the opportunity or does she have the opportunity? No.

“When it comes to women, we are talking with our departments when it comes to technical [aspects]. If you've got an F4 [car] it might be easy for females, but once you go to Formula 2 and F3, physically, it's harder for them. So what do we do?

“The problem is with us, so we have the solution for it. Speaking to our technical [department], every single seater car has to accommodate both sides. It's not rocket science.

“It's up to the builders of the chassis and we will force them, otherwise we don't have hope. We need the diversity and we will give them the opportunity. If we can, we should do it.”

The FIA is likely to work to make power steering mandatory for F3 and F2 cars

The FIA is likely to work to make power steering mandatory for F3 and F2 cars

Photo by: Dutch Photo Agency

While he did not mention any technical specifics, the most likely focus for the FIA’s efforts will be to make power steering mandatory for F3 and F2 cars.

This lack of steering assistance has long been cited as a factor that potentially favours male drivers over females.

Former grand prix driver David Coulthard, who is involved in the More than Equal campaign to help push a female to F1, said earlier this year that he felt that the time was needed for a rethink over the matter.

“A Grand Prix car generates huge amounts of g-force, which is the neck and your internal organs and what have you,” he said. “But the actual process of turning the steering wheel at 200mph pulling 4G is not difficult, because you have power steering.

“Formula 2 doesn’t have power steering, Formula 3 doesn’t have power steering. They are incredibly difficult.

“When I was a test driver in Williams I couldn’t turn the steering like Nigel Mansell. I wasn’t strong enough. So my limitation was how much steering I could get on the car.

“So we need to change as well, not only in helping developing talent, but we need to change the mentality in these feeder formulas, which then do put let’s say a physical preference towards certain size and physically developed men.

“But we’ll do that over time. If you don’t do anything, nothing changes. So we’re going to change things by doing something.”

Middle East impact

Ben Sulayem also spoke at length about the growing influence that the Middle East is having on F1, with there now four races on the calendar and a host of sponsors from the region.

“There is no doubt F1 in the last few years went beyond expectation,” said Ben Sulayem.

“I would say I would praise FOM, for doing one thing during COVID. Instead of cutting the finance they actually invested in it. So I will say thanks to them.

“But then you have more than that; you have how many airlines of the Middle East which are important, and other companies also supporting or sponsoring. Also big oil companies.

“Then what we don't want is a circus. You get the circus here for the weekend and then it goes and it doesn't leave any remarks or any presence here. So we have something important.

“For example we have a pretty successful karting here. But the whole Middle East, from the Middle East and North Africa, they all meet in one place. And we had over 170 drivers in it.”

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