On the Thursday before the British Grand Prix on the first floor of the Silverstone Interactive Museum, a bold and pioneering initiative was launched. Co-founded by former Formula 1 driver David Coulthard and entrepreneur Karel Komarek, ‘ >= More Than Equal’ pledges to find the first female F1 world champion.
Why? Well, the statistics speak for themselves. There have been over 1,000 drivers that have competed in a grand prix and only two of them have been women. Lella Lombardi remains the most successful as far as championship points are concerned, with 0.5 points to her name.
“It’s that classic thing - if you can’t see it how can you be it?” Coulthard tells Females in Motorsport.
Coulthard - a 13-times grand prix winner - has been involved in W Series from its inception. Despite the success of the all-female championship, including over one million peak viewers for its Silverstone race, Coulthard says there’s a “lack of opportunity” for someone like two-time series winner Jamie Chadwick.
“We needed to have a platform where you could say right, this is on Channel 4, it’s on Sky, it’s on various other programmes around the world and the women are out there doing what the men are doing,” he says. “What’s quite clear is the lack of opportunity for someone like Chadwick to move forward because as talented as she is and the great job that she’s done, there’s still that feeling of where does the next funding come from?
“The reality is, that as great as she is, she’s still behind the curve for her age in terms of experience so we’re only going to tackle that if we aim from the other side.”
This ‘other side’ is an eight-to-10-year programme of learning and development where >= More Than Equal will bring together some of motorsports’ best scouts, physical trainers, psychologists, nutritionists, racing coaches and drivers. The goal? To make motorsport a more equal place, discovering new and exciting talent that they nurture into a championship-winning driver.
“We can’t turn back the clock to have started this programme 20 years ago or 15 years ago, but if we could and if we knew then what we know now and if we were in the position that we are now, then we would have done,” Coulthard says.
The striking thing about this initiative is that it isn’t money-driven. Karel Komarek, a highly successful Czech businessman, has no interest in returning money.
“It’s a private initiative, a non-profit organisation with global ambitions of global reach,” he says. “We’re not looking at it from the financial perspective whether the girls will succeed or not, we just would like to give them an equal chance to compete from an early age when they’re karting, and just the future and their ability and performance will show us whether it will succeed or not.”
Coulthard urges people to come forward and share their ideas and stories. >= More Than Equal is open for people to contribute and the team will listen; it’s a team effort where everyone wants to achieve the same goal.
“It’s going to take support and it takes you giving your time and hopefully challenging us, asking us questions, going ‘can I share it with you?’ ‘Yes please’ is the answer if you’ve got any ideas,” Coulthard says. “You’ve got your own particular journey and you’ll know what your motivations were that have brought you to this point today.
“There may have been hurdles that you’ve had to overcome that weren’t there when we were coming up in our various careers that make different challenges today.”
Once >= More Than Equal has identified the young talent, they will find willing teams (yet to be identified) to give them as much support as they can get both mentally and physically.
“As we speak today that there are no physical or no mental barriers for young girl drivers to be very successful in Formula 1,” Komarek says. “One example is when the young driver [Eliška Junková] was brought into the public as she won a grand prix, 100 years ago already, so it’s been proved, we don’t have to prove it.
“We just want to give an equal chance and support equally to female drivers and that’s what it’s all about. And the rest is on them; they have to be hungry, they have to be willing to achieve the target and the goal and we will be more than happy to support it.”
>= More Than Equal has an impressive list of people associated with it already. Kate Beavan has over two decades of experience working in F1. As a lawyer by profession, Kate is F1’s former Director of Hospitality and Experiences. Hinsta Performance - a global leader in high-performance coaching - is also part of the initiative, working on the coaching side and will create a programme that mirrors the services provided to current motorsport drivers.
The ingredients of a successful initiative are all there, and it’s going to be exciting to watch how >= More Than Equal develops over the coming months and years. Coulthard and the team know that they’re only at the very beginning of the journey, but science speaks for itself. Women can be successful F1 drivers.
Now, only time will tell as to when that will become a reality.