Marta García has already written her name into the history books as the first F1 Academy Champion, but she knows her success isn’t just her own, it’s a beacon of hope to the next generation of young girls looking to follow in her footsteps.
Behind the visor of this enigmatic 23-year-old is a true fighter, who proved not only to others, but most importantly to herself that she could achieve anything she set her mind to. With seven wins and 12 podiums, the Spaniard was a force to be reckoned with all-season long.
After collecting her Drivers’ Champion trophy at the Autosport Awards ceremony, we caught up with García to discuss her title-winning season, where her journey began and what comes next...
Describing herself as quite a nervous person, those nerves fade away the moment the helmet goes on, instead replaced by an aggressive and determined racer who’s competitive to her core. Yet her path to glory was not always the smoothest of sailings, with García persevering despite the obstacles that came her way. Crediting her dad for inspiring her love of motorsport, her passion for it quickly became an undeniable part of who she is.
“I liked racing in general, I used to watch F1 with my dad when I was probably seven years old,” she explains. “I was looking up to Fernando Alonso as well because he was this Spanish guy and he had just won the Championship. I got into motorsport more when I was nine years old and actually properly got into it because I went to a racetrack, and I really liked it.
“It was something really different to all the sports that I had been doing before. I enjoyed a lot the speed, the adrenaline, the driving – it was just everything in one place and I wanted the competition as well.
“They told us they were doing a course in the summer with rental go-karts, so I did it. They liked my attitude and everything, I was really competitive, and I wanted to improve. Then they were like, ‘okay, you want to try a go-kart competition’ and I was like, ‘of course’. So, I tried that, and I liked it. After that, I went to see a race because I told my dad that I want to do this, but he said, ‘why don’t we go to see a race and then you can actually see if you like it’. When I saw the cars start, I was like, ‘I want to do this, I like this!”
García’s talent was undeniable, winning the CIK-FIA Karting Academy Trophy in 2015 and the legendary Trofeo delle Industrie in 2015, following in the footsteps of her hero Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel by winning the oldest kart race in the world.
In spite of her abilities, García admits that growing up racing as one of the few young women on the grid carried many challenges and left her feeling like she had more to prove to gain the respect of her competitors and level the playing field.
“Over the years, obviously I’ve faced difficult situations and really good times as well,” she says. “In the beginning, my dad was the one who was paying for everything in karting, but it was not that expensive let’s say, so he could do it. I did quite well, I was fourth in the European Championship twice, I was first in the Trofeo delle Industrie and the Academy Trophy, so it was quite good.
“When I started, I was probably one of the only girls there and it was quite difficult because, in the beginning when I was around 13, you had to actually gain the respect from the boys. They used to just push you out of the track, so you basically had to do the same to them to make sure they knew I’m here. I’m a girl, but I’m here and I’m a racer.”
Unfortunately for García, her progression through single seaters wasn’t linear, with funding holding her back at a crucial time in her career. Yet, when the opportunity to join the inaugural F1 Academy grid this year came knocking, she seized it with both hands with each car’s subsidised budget taking much of the weight off.
Openly discussing the mental health issues she had experienced up to the 2023 season, the pressures can be an often-daunting barrier for any young driver. Yet her story and her achievements are a testament to her resilience, determination and drive to extract her full potential.
“I went to single seaters in 2016 and that was also a bit difficult because it’s really different from karting, so it’s a big step,” she says. “You need to understand the technique, you need to have a really good team that’s supporting you. Then the problem came in 2018 when I didn’t have the budget to keep on racing in single seaters, so I had to go back to karting, which was a step back in my career.
“Also in 2021, I had a bit of mental health issues, so I was struggling a bit because I was putting too much pressure on myself. I learnt that I really have to start to enjoy what I’m doing actually, not just putting too much pressure on myself. I started working with sports psychologists and clinical psychologists and everything worked better. I try to manage myself the sort of anxiety that I have.”
She adds: “2023 came and F1 Academy got started and I think mentally I was in a really good place. I was with a good team in PREMA. I think we all worked really hard, I was giving it my 100% this year. I wanted to win really bad, and I would say it’s the best year of my racing career.”
Teaming up with PREMA Racing, García knew that she had all the tools for success in her hands but recognised that it would be every second of effort put in, both on and off the track, that would pay dividends in the end.
Reflecting on a key conversation with F1 Academy Managing Director Susie Wolff, who passed on her own valuable life lessons as a woman in motorsport, García recognised what she needed to do to reach her goal. The Spaniard then went forth, with a single-minded determination, to be crowned Champion.
“I remember I was talking to Susie once and she was telling me that if you want something, you have to work for it,” she recalls. “She was telling me about her experience, how she started racing, how things developed when she was doing DTM and how hard she worked. She was telling me that if you want something, you’ve got to work for it and then you’ll see that the results will come. That’s something that I kept in my mind.
“I think the biggest lesson I learnt this season is if you want something, you have to work for it. Nothing’s going to come just like that because you race and then don’t work, even if you want it. I’ve learnt that if I want something, and get a target like a P1 or do anything in life, you just have to work really hard to get it.
“I think that’s what I did this year. I was like, ‘I’m just going to fully go for it, 100% work with the team and be super focused’. Also, in my personal life, I tried to get some things out of my head. I’m not interested in this right now this year, I’m just focused on racing. That’s why I was actually quite good mentally and really on it.”
Becoming the inaugural F1 Academy Champion has become a huge milestone in García’s career. Naturally delighted in her achievement, the title has left an indelible mark, renewed her sense of self-belief and given her the opportunity needed to chase her dream of becoming the first woman on the Formula 1 grid since 1992.
Now with 2024 on the horizon, she is preparing to step into a fully-funded seat in the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine with reigning Drivers’ and Teams’ Champions PREMA Racing. Not underestimating the challenge that the step up the single seater ladder presents, García is ready to rise to the occasion.
“For me, I think I just made history being the first F1 Academy Champion,” she says. “Obviously, I feel really proud of that and happy. I had really bad years before, so I think for me it’s a boom and a boost of confidence as well seeing I can do good. I think I showed myself and people in general that I can do good.
“I’m really happy with the opportunity that F1 Academy has given me to win the series and get the drive. Also, I’m getting to drive with PREMA, which is the team I’ve been working with this year, and I think they are probably one of the best teams in FRECA. I’m going to have really good references from my teammates because they’re fast and that’s what you need to improve myself.
“I’m going to be honest; I think it’s going to be a hard season for me. The level changes so much as well from F1 Academy to Formula Regional. I’ve already done some tests and I saw how I am with it, which level I’m at and what I need to improve. I just want to work as hard as I can, give my 100% and just go and try to get the best results possible. I can’t deny it’s going to be hard, but I’m just going to work.”
Whilst her own female racing role models growing up were few and far between, García and the 2023 field represent a new era and will leave a legacy beyond just a season of racing, encouraging young girls to pursue their dreams bravely and passionately. Noting how ‘if you can see it, you can be it’, the 23-year-old is thrilled to have helped begin to pave the way for the next generation.
“For young girls it’s super important to see role models like me and all of the other girls racing in F1 Academy because you need to have someone to look up to,” she explains. “When I was racing and was really, really young, I didn’t have anyone to look up to apart from Danica Patrick when she was racing in NASCAR, and then also watching Susie, but I didn’t really have too many role models as a girl.
“I think right now it’s really good because with F1 Academy there are a lot of us that are there, it’s being broadcasted and is giving a lot of visibility. They know they can be there because we are there. It’s not like when I was racing that there were no girls or probably one or two, so it was like, ‘why are there no girls in there?’
“It’s like what everyone says at the end of the day, if you want it, just go for it. If you like motorsport, and if you want to get in motorsport, just get into motorsport. It’s a really hard world, you have to sacrifice a lot, but that’s what you have to know as well. It’s not just flowers, you have to work a lot and sacrifice, but as I said work, never give up and follow your dreams.”
Taking away her own reflections from the season, García also imparted her own advice for the 2024 field in the same way Wolff did for her – showing the sisterhood of women in motorsport as we’re determined to lift each other up together.
“It’s going to be something new like it was for me this year and I think there is going to be more pressure because there is going to be 10 F1 teams working alongside,” she adds. “First of all, take it easy, as in don’t stress too much about the first year. The key is just preparation and working hard to try to get the results because otherwise, if you don’t work, you’re not going to get the results.
“Be confident, believe in yourself and I think the most important thing is working with your team. Have a good relationship with your team, build a nice relationship with your engineer and try to have as much confidence as possible, and then everything will just flow better.”
Whilst one task in García’s to-do list has been ticked off with the F1 Academy title, her overall ambition remains as fervent as ever – reaching Formula 1. Preparing herself for what comes next, her dreams of making a difference will hopefully inspire many more young women for years to come.
“My ultimate goal in racing always has been getting in F1,” she insists. “We know how difficult that is, but I think right now I’m also in a good position. I’ve just won F1 Academy, I’m going to FRECA and obviously there are many categories coming up to F1. Then you have to have everything with you and the support, but I would say my ultimate goal is to get to F1.
“If not, I’d love to do some racing in prototypes and just be around motorsport. Probably in 15 years, I would really like to be involved like Susie is doing, being a proper role model and having done so many things for motorsport and girls in motorsport.”