Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Fridays: Hailie Deegan Should Join Miami’s May F1 Academy Races

(Editor’s note: Formula 1 moved the typical race weekend schedule up a day to observe Ramadan, which falls on Sunday. Frontstretch is following this schedule, pushing the usual Slipstream Saturdays column onto Friday for both this week and last. Enjoy the start of the F1 season.)

This weekend will mark the start of the second season of F1 Academy, a new all-woman feeder series that aims to promote women in motorsport.

Unlike the W Series, which Liberty Media didn’t own, this series has F1’s full blessing and has the resources to be a true feeder series. All full-time drivers may only race in two seasons. The champion, who cannot return for another season even if they are a rookie, gets full support from the series to try and find a competitive ride in an F4 series the following year.

The grid boasts 10 of the 15 full-time drivers supported financially by F1 teams and running their paint schemes, with the other drivers having other big brands such as Ford, Tommy Hilfiger, and Puma supporting their seats.

In addition to every race in the series now being telecast, streamed during F1 weekends, there has been another significant change to F1A this season.

A 16th driver may join the grid in one-off weekend appearances. This “wild card” driver will have the full support of the Prema Racing team, which already fields three of the entries in F1A and holds plenty of success in other F1 feeder series such as Formula 2.

The full process of how to become a wild card entry is detailed on the F1 Academy’s website:

“Working with race promoters, F1 ACADEMY will identify talented young women from the host region and offer them Wild Card entry for a specific weekend.”

The wild card for this weekend in Saudi Arabia is Reema Juffali, hailed as the first-ever female racing driver for the kingdom.

Before diving into the meat of this column, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that Frontstretch.com’s home for reporting and results on F1A and the other F1 feeder series can be found on Formula Frontstretch, our new Bluesky account.

With the shameless plug taken care of, the next round for F1 Academy after this weekend will be in a couple of months, in Miami during the Miami Grand Prix weekend.

It would be a bit foolish not to consider fielding a wild card entry for the series in America, with just how many female drivers there are at all but the highest levels of professional auto racing in this country. But who could it be?

Well, of all the viable options, the best one for the Miami promoters and F1A director Susie Wolff to send an invite to would probably be Hailie Deegan.

Your first thought might be if it would even be possible for Deegan to participate without interfering with her NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule.

You don’t even have to think about that. The NASCAR Cup Series and Truck Series will be at the Kansas Speedway that weekend, but the Xfinity Series has the weekend off.

Outside of drag racing or endurance racing, Deegan is probably the most accomplished young woman driver in North America. She’s held her own in Xfinity and Truck competitions and has provided podium finishes primetime in SRX.

The name value Deegan would bring to the weekend would be worth it for the Miami promoters, who struggled to sell out last year’s event and stand to lose more ground with the Las Vegas Grand Prix now pushing into their market share.

For F1A, Deegan competing in the series as a one-off would be a giant boon for them in North America. Thousands of NASCAR fans who have never heard about this series would find the races on their TV remotes on Saturday and Sunday. With neither race that weekend scheduled to go up against NASCAR, the scheduling would make that much easier.

Heck, NASCAR would also greatly benefit from the international exposure, especially if Deegan proves to be competitive against a field of drivers who largely lack her experience in racing or racing in general.

There would be a couple of drawbacks on Deegan’s side. One can see if they look at it. The pay will likely be nothing. In addition, Deegan has never raced open-wheel cars before and could find herself at a competitive disadvantage.

But honestly, as long as Deegan can meet the minimum speed, who cares if she finishes 16th out of 16? Everybody understands that it’s not possible to just jump in an open-wheel car and go. Jimmie Johnson went from being the greatest of all time in NASCAR to being laps down in IndyCar, and nobody really cared about that.

The experience she would have to being in that paddock, with basically every celebrity and all of these larger-than-life people, would be worth more than just about any paycheck. Lewis Hamilton will be walking around in there just, like, out in the open.

And hey, who even knows? If Deegan performs well, she might even have an open-wheel option pop up for her in the future. I don’t think she wins simply because Doriane Pin of the Iron Dames is the Mercedes representative, and she will be the favorite in every session this season, but she doesn’t have to.

Lia Block, the daughter of the legendary Ken Block, is racing in F1A this season as a representative of Williams. In spite of coming from a rallying background and with extremely little experience in single-seaters, she’s already found success.

She placed third in the series’ first official practice session of the season on Thursday, March 7th. She followed that up by qualifying seventh after her fastest lap time was deleted due to a track limits violation.

Not everybody is going to be able to jump into a car and be fast. But Deegan, who comes from a somewhat similar background as Block and with roughly the same amount of open-wheel experience, could perform well.

Of course, I write all of this with the full expectation that it will be ignored by all sides. If a wild card driver runs at Miami, it’ll probably be an F4 driver who isn’t anywhere near the big time yet. But I know who I would want in that race if I were looking to increase the exposure of this series and help their stated mission goal.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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