Historians will know the names Maria Teresa de Filippis, the first woman to compete in Formula One (she raced in five GPs across 1958 and ’59), and Lella Lombardi, the only woman to score points in an F1 race (she finished sixth in the ’75 Spanish GP). Away from F1 we also salute fabulous multiple world rally winner Michèle Mouton, IndyCar’s triumphant Danica Patrick and Jutta Kleinschmidt, the first and only woman to win the hardest rally in the world, the Dakar, in 2001. But the route to a top-flight drive is still nearly nigh-on impossible for young women – a situation Ferrari is well aware of.

Back in 2020, it joined forces with the FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission to launch the four-year programme called ‘FIA Girls on Track – Rising Stars’. In particular, Ferrari’s Driver Academy committed to the task of discovering a new generation of female motorsport talent, via a long-term pathway that sees the FDA support drivers helping them in Formula 4 in partnership with Deborah Mayer’s Iron Dames. The fact that the winners of the first and third season – Maya Weug and Aurelia Nobels – continue to drive for the Ferrari Driver Academy is testament to the success of the initiative.

The programme’s fourth – and final – year was the biggest yet, 116 young women from 47 different countries applying to participate. Eight seniors (aged 14-16) and eight Juniors (12-14) made it through to an evaluation boot camp, with four drivers in each category progressing to a final, held in Maranello and Fiorano. After sessions in F4 cars and various mental and physical fitness tests, Denmark’s Alba Hurup Larsen won the senior category, Vanesa Silkunaite, from Lithuania, victorious in the juniors. 

Deborah Mayer, FIA Women in Motorsport Commission President, said: “The extraordinary journey of ‘Girls on Track – Rising Stars’ has not only shattered glass ceilings but has also fuelled the dreams of young, ambitious female racers around the globe. Through this pioneering programme, the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission has provided a platform for talented young female drivers to showcase their skills and determination in an arena still perceived as male dominated.

“With the support of our long-standing partners Ferrari Driver Academy and Iron Dames, we have played a major role in the emergence of a new generation of motor racing stars, some of whom have already become role models inspiring others to pursue their aspirations and never give up.” 

Marco Matassa, the head of Ferrari’s Driver Academy, is in no doubt about the importance of the project. “We are very proud of what we have achieved over four years working with the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission through the Girls on Track – Rising Stars programme,” he notes. “We have played a part in making motorsport more accessible and we have provided opportunities for three young women, two of whom are still part of the Ferrari Driver Academy.

“We congratulate Alba on winning and along with Iron Dames, we will give her the opportunity to show what she can do in a Formula 4 car. Congratulations also to Vanesa, whose determination in the kart meant she got the better of some fierce competition. In both cases we will carefully monitor their progress, evaluating if in the future there will be the chance to work together again.”

Although this particular initiative has now ended, there are now more women than ever competing globally in motorsport. The ultimate prize remains a place in contemporary Formula One, a major challenge given the colossal physical demands F1 makes on its participants. But when it happens, and it surely will, Ferrari will have played a hugely important role in achieving it. 

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