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Ecclestone proposes women’s championship during F1 race weekends

Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone has raised the prospect of a world championship for women staged during the motor racing series’ grand prix weekends, and has played down the prospect of CVC Capital Partners offloading its controlling shareholding in the sport.

Speaking to British media during the weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix, Ecclestone said he has raised the idea with F1 team officials  as a means of boosting the development of female drivers in the sport while also adding more racing to a Formula One event. “I thought it would be a good idea to give them a showcase,” Ecclestone said.

“For some reason, women are not coming through – and this is not because we don't want them. Of course we do, because they would attract a lot of attention and publicity and probably a lot of sponsors. We have to start somewhere so I suggested to the teams that we have a separate championship. Maybe that way we will be able to bring someone through to F1.”

Italian Lella Lombardi was the last woman to compete in a Formula One race in 1976, but a number of drivers currently have a presence in the sport. Scotland’s Susie Wolff (pictured) is a development driver for Williams, while Spaniard Carmen Jorda has also been appointed in a similar capacity for Lotus this season.

Wolff, who is married to Mercedes’ executive director of business Toto Wolff, last year became the first female to take part in a grand prix weekend in 22 years when she drove in Friday free practice. However, she has given short shrift to Ecclestone’s proposal.

“It's most definitely not the right way forward,” she said, according to UK newspaper the Mirror. “First of all, I don't know where you'd find a full grid of female drivers who are good enough. Secondly, I have raced my whole career in motorsport as a normal competitor. Why would I ever look for a race where I was only competing against women? I can hand on heart say it would not interest me at all to win such a race. I would rather not be in the race because what am I winning? A race where they've just looked for any girl to make a grid up.”

In other news, Ecclestone has said private equity firm CVC Capital Partners does not have a deadline in which to sell its controlling stake in Formula One, and has talked up the prospect of a race in Qatar.

CVC currently holds a 35 per cent stake in Formula One and it had been thought that it was required to divest its stake by the end of July this year, under the terms through which it acquired its controlling shareholding in 2006. The term of the fund was 10 years with three one year extensions if consent was granted by the majority of the investors. However, Ecclestone told the Forbes website: “I think they have got out of the window that they need to sell.”

He added: “The trouble is that they (CVC) don’t want to sell. That’s the important thing. They don’t need and don’t want to sell so I don’t know what they are going to do. The business of these people is buying and selling companies and I suppose that if somebody comes wandering in with a big enough cheque book they would sell. Who knows if I would be one of the buyers?”

Meanwhile, Ecclestone has said the prospect of Qatar joining the F1 calendar is “looking up.” Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) president Nasser bin Khalifa al-Attiyah last month said the nation was close to agreeing a deal to host a Formula One race.

Al-Attiyah, who is also a vice-president of the International Automobile Federation (FIA), said Qatar’s debut on the calendar of the motor racing series would be in 2016 or 2017, with a contract poised to be signed. He added that Qatar would offer the choice of two circuits on which to race, either an existing facility in Lusail, or a specially-designed street circuit through the capital Doha.

Stating that Qatar “wants to do something if they can,” Ecclestone added: “We are looking at all possibilities there. Qatar is not signed but they are ready to go.”