So Alex Albon is the next man in after Red Bull dumped Pierre Gasly from their driver line-up for the second half of the Formula One season. How long before a female driver is called upon to fill such an opening?
The question is prompted by the success of 21-year-old Jamie Chadwick, crowned winner at Brands Hatch of the inaugural all-female W Series championship, a category introduced to further the ambitions of women racing drivers. Chadwick led the six-race category from the first practice session at Hockenheim in May, won the opening and third races and finished on the podium in all but the final round.
The contest got closer as the season evolved, with the women, some contesting single-seater races for the first time on tracks of which they had little or no experience, adjusting incrementally to the 270bhp, F3 power units behind them.
Chadwick, who last year became the first woman to record a victory in British F3, is clear about her desire to race in F1. After impressing Claire Williams, the eponymous boss of the F1 outfit, Chadwick was appointed to the Williams driver development programme and, notionally at least, is one step closer to becoming the first woman since Lella Lombardi in 1976 to contest a grand prix.
Not only is Chadwick almost £500,000 richer after taking the W Series first prize, her profile is raised considerably by the exposure provided by the six-race start-up that was broadcast live on Channel 4. The tour of breakfast news and lifestyle studios this week reflects the power of reaching more than 300 million homes in 70 global territories.
Where next for Chadwick?
With increased visibility comes scrutiny. As Williams pointed out, her involvement at Grove HQ does not guarantee her route to the top. What it does is offer her first-hand experience of a process closed to most female drivers: how a F1 team works.
Chadwick must now decide how best to progress her career. Though the Tatuus F3 cars used in the W Series are a tad more powerful than the British F3 equivalent, they remain a 100 horses down on the 370bhp beasts of the FIA F3 Series, which would appear the most obvious progression if she is not to return to the all-female category.
To achieve that Chadwick would need to raise a further €300,000 (£278,000) to meet the €800,000 F3 budget.
“I’m under no illusions as to how tough it’s going to get,” said Chadwick, who is also part of Aston Martin’s sportscar squad.
“If you look at all the drivers who’ve made it into F1, they’ve all come with significant backing. Whether that’s personal or through sponsors or a team, none of them have paid their way scraping the barrel. It’s the way the sport is, but hopefully this has put me in the best position to make that happen.”
The top 12 in the championship qualify automatically for next year’s W Series, which will be authenticated by the award of FIA super licence points, the necessary regulatory requirement for all F1 drivers, for the first time.
The series will again run on the DTM schedule with the possibility of adding a further two races to take the total to eight. The selection process for 2020 begins as early as next month.