LONDON (Reuters) - Renault-owned Alpine launched a programme on Thursday to increase the number of women at their Formula One team and help female drivers reach the top for the first time in half a century.
Only two women have started a Formula One race since the world championship began in 1950, and the last was the late Italian Lella Lombardi in 1976.
Chief executive Laurent Rossi told Reuters the idea was to transform Alpine as a sports car manufacturer and as a team and to "debunk myths" by giving women the same opportunities as men.
"We want to make sure we give access to all of the jobs, all of the opportunities at Alpine, to women," he said, adding that the company would soon have women making up half the executive committee.
"By not having a more balanced representation of women in the workforce I basically deprive Alpine and myself of 50% of the talents out there ... I see it as I’m missing half of my team," he added.
The aim is to increase the percentage of women working for the company to 30% within five years from the current level of 12%.
Only 10% of the F1 team's British-based workforce is female.
The funded racing development programme, to span eight years, will take young girls on a pathway from karting and provide training and support that has been previously lacking.
"The intent is to debunk all of the myths that women can’t, because they’re not adapted, because they don’t have role models, because the jobs we offer are not for women," said Rossi.
"We want to debunk all those myths one by one and make sure that for each opportunity offered at Alpine there’s always an equal chance for women to get the job because they can."
Alpine said it will use research carried out by the Paris Brain Institute to "deconstruct stereotypes" and break down "pseudo-scientific alleged hurdles" for women racers in a male-dominated sport.
"Fernando Alonso is 41 (in July) and he drives a Formula One car. I think Fernando Alonso at 41 is not as strong as a perfectly fit woman athlete at 30," said Rossi, citing the example of female jet fighter pilots and astronauts.
"You can drive a Formula One car with the right preparation and that’s what we intend to do. We want to prepare the women the same way that men are prepared."
The all-female W Series launched in 2019 to help women progress up the motorsport ladder to F1 but the inaugural champion Jamie Chadwick is still competing in the championship having so far failed to make a step up.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Peter Rutherford)