- $1.5 million prize fund on offer for 2019 inaugural season, with $500,000 to the winner
- The new W series is seen as a way for women racers to find a pathway into Formula One
- No female driver has raced in Formula One since 1976
A new all-female racing series, aimed at encouraging women racers to get into Formula One, will launch in May 2019.
The W Series has the support of several key names within the sport, including former grand prix driver David Coulthard and top car designer Adrian Newey.
"In order to be a successful racing driver, you have to be skilled, determined, competitive, brave and physically fit, but you don't have to possess the kind of super-powerful strength levels that some sports require. You also don't have to be a man," Coulthard said in a W Series statement Wednesday.
No woman has competed in a Formula One race since 1976 but organizers of the W Series hope to provide a platform for them to develop their skills.
Organizers said they aimed to stage six 30 minute races at top circuits in Europe, most of which were past Formula One venues, with 1.8 liter Formula Three cars.
It will offer a prize fund of $1.5 million and free entry for 18-20 competitors who will be selected purely on merit after tests and appraisals.
The overall winner will collect $500,000, with prize money down to 18th place.
Coulthard pointed to the issues facing talented female drivers within the sport, suggesting that women tended to reach a "glass ceiling" at Formula Three level, often due to a lack of funding, and needed help.
However, British racer Pippa Mann, a winner in the U.S. Indy Lights series and who has competed six times in the Indianapolis 500, declared the latest move "a sad day for motorsport."
"Those with funding to help female racers are choosing to segregate them as opposed to supporting them," she said on Twitter Wednesday.
"I am deeply disappointed to see such a historic step backwards take place in my lifetime."
Newey, who has played integral roles in producing cars that have won 20 Formula One drivers' and constructors' titles, defended the venture and believes it's a natural approach to progress the sport for women.
"I have a reasonable understanding of the constituents of a top-class driver's necessary skill-set. With proper training women are physically strong enough to tick that constituent," said Newey. "The reason why so few women have so far raced successfully at the highest levels against men may, however, be a lack of opportunity rather than a lack of capability."
Organizers also hope that this new format will not only showcase the best of single-seater women's racing, but by increasing the number of women involved in the motorsport it will create a new pathway into Formula One.
"There are just too few women competing," said W Series Chief Executive Catherine Bond Muir. "W Series will increase that number very significantly in 2019, thereby powerfully unleashing the potential of many more female racing drivers. W Series drivers will become global superstars — inspirational role models for women everywhere."
No woman has scored a point in Formula One, although Italian Lella Lombardi scored a half point in the shortened 1975 Spanish Grand Prix, and only two have started races since the championship began in 1950.