Two years before most people can even attempt to get their car license, Formula 1 drivers-in-the-making are already taking to the track to race in some of the world’s fastest cars. At just 15 years old training begins in the Formula 4 division. And for the young, aspiring female drivers flying up the ranks, something exciting is coming this year - F1 Academy - an all-female driver category. While there are no women competing in F1 right now, this academy is set to change everything. And in this special episode of the podcast, I’m excited to introduce you to championship favorite and woman to watch, 19 year old Abbi Pulling. Abbi is racing for Rodin Carlin, and we’ll meet her in a bit, but first we’re going to hear from Kenny Kirwan, Rodin Carlin’s F1 academy team manager. Rodin Carlin has used PTC’s computer-aided design software CREO for many years now, so I was eager to get down to meet the team in person. Plus, with my background and love of motorsport, I really couldn’t pass up a trip to Silverstone, the ‘Home of British Motor Racing’ - even if it was snowing! Kenny starts by taking us into Rodin Carlin’s garage.
With my background and love of motorsport, I really couldn’t pass up a trip to Silverstone, even if it was snowing. Kenny Kirwan, Rodin Carlin’s F1 Academy team manager, took us into Rodin Carlin’s garage in the heritage pit lane, which is where all of their cars are based during private testing. “We have three garages here, so it’s quite spacious, for three cars,” he said. “The cars are laid out just like a Formula 1 team would be, with cars facing the garage doors. We also have an engineering area, where the drivers and engineers will debrief during the runs, and look at onboard video footage and data which has been generated internally.” I noticed that the team also had a lot of wet weather tyres. “Not many snow tyres, unfortunately! We also have plenty of unused fuel at the minute, so we’re doing our part for the environment,” he joked.
The F1 Academy is a new format which is designed to help encourage and support female drivers who ordinarily would struggle to find a position within motorsports. The drivers have varying backgrounds; some of them have experience, and many of them, it’s envisaged, will step up from a karting background and use the F1 Academy to launch their career into other variations of F4, but with the aim of moving into FIA Formula 3 before progressing into FIA Formula 2 with the ultimate goal of a female driver hitting the highest echelons of our sport.
The championship is based on seven rounds, with at least 15 testing days attached as part of the format. Testing really is key, which is why we are here today at Silverstone in preparation for this. Some of the venues are really high-end, so although we won’t be coming to Silverstone – which for a British team like Rodin Carlin is unfortunate – but we will get to go to iconic places like Monza, Zandvoort, Barcelona. I think the highlight for everybody will be Austin in Texas as part of the Formula 1 package itself. So we’re really looking forward to racing this year.
The car is based on a Tatuus FIA F4 platform, so would share many of the common components. It would have a 1.4 turbocharged Arbarth power unit supplied by Autotecnica in Italy. The gearbox is French. it also has a six-speed sequential Sadev gearbox. The chassis is Tatuus, which also originates from Italy. The car generates 160 brake horsepower with a top speed of 240 kilometres an hour. But the difference is that the weight of the car is roughly around about 600 kilogrammes. So approximately a third of the weight of a high-performing sports car, so we have a lot of torque. The car has front and rear wings much like a regular F1 car with the latest safety specification. It also comes with the Halo, the survival cell, which is the headrest and the carbon fibre monocoque, everything is FIA crash tested. It’s a dry sump system. As a car, it’s a very high-level entry.
The car is the same for all the drivers, so it really puts the emphasis on the skill of the driver, but also the team who set the car up to get the best out of it for the track they’re on. Absolutely. It’s what we call a spec formula, where all cars are supplied by Tatuus and controlled by the promoter and the scrutineering teams, that do a very good job of checking that the teams are in line. We don’t take any unfair advantages. But you are correct, the team have a marginal set of changes. And really, it’s about squeezing the maximum performance and gains that we can from the driver, from the mechanics, from the engineers. Ultimately, it’s a package. And everything in that package needs to work correctly for us to come out with podiums at the end of it. Which is what everybody’s aiming for.
Abbi Pulling is racing in the F1 Academy this year with Rodin Carlin, supported by the F1 Academy. “I started racing at the age of eight, but before even before then I was at a racetrack from probably the age of two or three with my dad, who did long circuit endurance motorbike racing. That’s how I’m here today, because of him,” she said. “I started with go-karts at the age of eight, got my own kart, went to do some low-level stuff, and then got a bit more serious as the years went on.”
Asked about her inspirations, she described how she grew up watching two wheels, specifically Motorsport GP. “I was a big Valentino Rossi fan,” she recalled. “Me and my dad would scream at the TV on the weekends, cheering him on. He’s someone who I’ve watched since a very young age, and I still follow him today. His morals and his view on motorsports is the same as mine: to make sure you’re enjoying it. He’s done MotoGP, rallycross, and so many different things. I’d also like to try my hand at every bit of everything when I get to that point in my career where I can get away with it. My dad would always say to me in karting, when he could get beside me on the grid, to go out and have fun. That has always stuck with me.”
The F1 Academy, Abbi says, is a huge development. “Women have to see it to believe it, so I never really had that when I was getting into karts at the age of eight. My role model was a man, Valentino Rossi, because there wasn’t much female representation.” Abbi thinks this is changing, though. “It’s such a positive time to be in motorsport,” she said. “It’s just constantly getting better and better. The championship itself is helping with my development and seat time and things like that. But it’s also showing the younger people that if it’s not me that breaks the barriers, it will be that 10-year-old watching, hopefully.”
Carlin is doing a lot behind the scenes, at the factory and at the workshop as well as on the racetrack. “We’re doing a lot on the simulator, although the conditions are a bit sketchier than what we could simulate. It was all productive and just running through the season. At this point, I’ve almost done the whole season race calendar before I’ve gone there. My engineer, Mark, will be there with me. It’s nice to have that person you can keep going to, and I have him for the year basically, to pick his brains.” Asked if she’s ever experienced motion sickness in the simulator, she laughs. “Not yet,” she said, “But I’ve known a few people that have thrown up. One of my friends from the W series threw up a few times, but I’ve never had that problem. I’m okay with it.”
At the moment, Abbi’s sole focus is single-seaters and F1, but because she is learning the fundamentals in the F1 Academy then the road could lead her anywhere. “I think any young racing driver of my age in a category like this would say that their aim is to be in Formula 1, but I’m interested in all the different aspects,” said Abbi. “I want to get to Formula 1, or as close as I can, but my options are open, so I’ll probably take an opportunity in something like
Thanks to Abbi and Kenny for showing us around Rodin Carlin’s garage at Silverstone, and for giving us an insight into the exciting F1 Academy.
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This is an 18Sixty production for PTC. Executive producer is Jacqui Cook. Sound design and editing by Ollie Guillou. Recording by Will Chalk. And music by Rowan Bishop.