Bolstered by her mantra of “a happy Abbi is a fast Abbi”, Abbi Pulling is well-known for her bubbly personality. Yet it doesn’t take you long to realise that there’s so much more to the Alpine driver than first meets the eye.

With a steely determination to prove what she’s capable of, the 21-year-old rapidly carved out a spot as a title frontrunner in her second F1 ACADEMY campaign, and as a one of the brightest young female racers on the road to F1. However, the Briton admits that getting to this point has been as much a battle off-track as those she’s faced on-track.

Whilst her father raced on motorbikes, it was all things four-wheels that first piqued Pulling’s interest. Visits to local karting tracks were soon followed by a life-changing gift — her very own go-kart.

Crediting her family’s instrumental role in enabling her to chase her dreams, she says: “I just loved spending time with my dad and improving. It was so satisfying seeing the lap time come down, especially when you're starting, it's quite big chunks that it comes down. It gets even more satisfying when it's the little bits.

“I'm super lucky that I've got such a supportive family, I know that some people don't necessarily have that privilege. So, I always like to put things in perspective and take a step back, and I can't thank, especially my dad, enough for what he's done for me. He's the one that drove me to the racetracks after work and not having a weekend off. He loves it just as much as I do, I think that's why I'm so lucky. He already had that passion for the sport and now he gets to keep that going through me. It’s my dream as well as my dad's.”

Pulling currently leads the Drivers Standings on 147 points with four wins four poles and two second-places to her name
Pulling currently leads the Drivers' Standings on 147 points, with four wins, four poles and two second-places to her name

‘Show that you can do it’

Bitten by the racing bug, Pulling entered the cadet class of the British Championships aged nine. Undoubtedly, it was a tough environment for her to step into at the time, as one of the few young girls in the field. Fortunately, the motorsport scene has dramatically transformed in the 12 years since, with Pulling and others’ example at the forefront of shifting perceptions of women in racing.

“I did get pushed about a lot by my competitors,” she admits. “A lot of it was the dads, the dad would say ‘don’t let that girl beat you’. Whereas when I went into junior karting, I had a lot more respect from who I was racing against, they were a bit older and a bit more mature.”

Pulling adds: “My dad would say ‘do your talking on track, just ignore them and show that you can do it’. That’s definitely stuck with me throughout my career. I’ve been growing up my whole life racing against guys (…) Going back into the mixed-gender British F4 Championship that I’m racing in this year, now it feels weird almost because I’ve been doing this (F1 ACADEMY) for so long. It’s been nice, refreshing and an added challenge. It’s nice to also see that that mindset isn’t there, the guys are no longer thinking like that. I’ve got quite a lot of respect from them.”

READ MORE: Round 3 in Review: Leading protagonists emerge and glory on home turf

Her talent quickly became apparent, winning the Super 1 National Junior TKM Championship in 2017 and 2018 – the first female driver to win a British Championship in that category. Cars were the next logical step, with her competing in Ginetta Juniors and the Ginetta GT5 Challenge, before stepping up to single-seaters for the 2020 British F4 campaign.

Finishing sixth overall with four podiums, Pulling had aspirations to fight for the title a second time around. However, her dreams were soon curtailed, as she was forced to pull the plug due to a lack of budget.

Pulling explains: “It was at that point where I was like what more can I do?, I want more, but my dad and I didn’t really know what the next step was. She (Alice Powell – Pulling’s long-time coach and Alpine Academy’s Talent Identification and Development Mentor) really opened my mind on how hard I need to work to get to where I want to be. It's been so much work off-track. Honestly, most of my time has been spent raising budgets rather than doing anything else. A lot of my prep time got taken away because I was too busy trying to find the time to actually get on track.

Youve got to work at it youve got to train yourself and really be proactive in your mentality
"You've got to work at it, you've got to train yourself and really be proactive in your mentality"

“I’ve been so lucky with F1 ACADEMY coming about, Rodin Motorsport and Alpine. Various other sponsors as well that really, really backed me, I've got so many people in my corner. I'm so lucky to have that to help me in my journey and keep the dream alive. They've been keeping the dream alive for me, and I'm just so thankful because I know some others aren't as lucky.”

With her early career hindered by her search for funding, the later arrival of F1 ACADEMY heralded a lifeline the Alpine driver desperately needed. With subsidised seats removing one of the major hurdles, Pulling knew all too well that there were few second chances in the sport and she had to seize the opportunity with both hands.

“It’s all about putting things in perspective,” she says. “I always say if I was a guy, it would have been the end of the road, that would have been it, that would have been the money gone. Luckily, another all-female initiative was about at that time (…), so I had that to fall back on and continue the dream going.

READ MORE: 'I hope more young girls can live what I have lived' - A weekend in the life of an F1 ACADEMY Career Discovery Programme student

“Now, it’s F1 ACADEMY. They’ve then continued that and kept that support going. So, it’s about making the most of every opportunity I get, being thankful for it, putting everything in perspective and making the most of the opportunities for the people that aren’t as fortunate.”

Turning a page on 2023 and writing her name into the history books

Her 2023 F1 ACADEMY campaign opened a new chapter in Pulling’s story, but it’s one that she admits came with its frustrations. Seven podiums in 21 races meant a title challenge failed to materialise, with her finishing fifth overall.

Accepting setbacks as part of the process, she believes it’s been vital to building the resilience needed to meet the demands of racing. Continuing to drive with Rodin Motorsport, their partnership has been strengthened by her dual British F4 campaign with the British-based team.
“Last year was pretty tough,” Pulling reflects. “There was a lot out of my control, but it was what it was. It’s motorsport, sometimes that’s the way the cookie crumbles. As a team, we took a step back and we evaluated everything. I'm happy that I went back with Rodin this year and I can't thank them enough for what they’ve done for me and the car they’ve given me. Hopefully, that continues, I’m sure it will.

Pulling scored her maiden F1 ACADEMY podium during last seasons visit to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya
Pulling scored her maiden F1 ACADEMY podium during last season's visit to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya

"It's a year that I don't look back on too much. It's more the life lessons and the mentality lessons that I take from it rather than much else. I've come off a bad weekend in British F4, but it's how you bounce back from that and I think last year was a lot of bouncing back. There’s a famous quote from Novak Djokovic where they say, ‘you’re so gifted with your mentality’, but it’s not a gift.

“You've got to work at it, you've got to train yourself and really be proactive in your mentality —bringing yourself back and letting go of all the bad stuff that’s happened. In motorsport, it’s so unique in the fact that it is weekend in, weekend out and you've got to be so quick. The bad is how you learn and how you get better.”

Given the sting of the premature ending to her 2021 British F4 season, Pulling had unfinished business in the series. A full circle moment wasn’t far away, as she became the Championship’s first female winner with a victory on the Brands Hatch Indy circuit.

READ MORE: ‘Not what we wanted’: Pin looking to get back to winning ways after Round 3 disappointments

Her monumental achievement came straight off the back of a sensational F1 ACADEMY round in Miami, where she secured both pole positions and two victories, with a clean sweep of pole, the win and the fastest lap in Race 2. Plastered across the headlines, her performances have put her in the spotlight like never before.

Joking about the reception her British F4 win received, she says: “I had to turn my phone off for a bit because it was going crazy. It was so special. Everyone was saying it was a reverse grid race, but you’ve still got to do the job. I had the fastest lap and stretched a 5-second lead around Brands Hatch Indy, it’s literally like three corners! It was a pretty good job, so I’m quite pleased with that.

“I solidified that with getting another podium in one of the main races. Qualified at the front, finished at the front — just goes to show you what I’m capable of, what women as a whole are capable of. I’m proud to be that person for someone to inspire them, for them to say, ‘Oh, she’s doing that, I can easily do that’.

“There’s been some opportunities for silverware where I’ve made a mistake and tripped over myself a bit, so (I want to) tidy it up and bring some more home for the rest of the season.”

Keeping busy over the summer break the Rodin driver heads to Zandvoort for Round 6 of the British F4 campaign this month
Keeping busy over the summer break, the Rodin driver heads to Zandvoort for Round 6 of the British F4 campaign this month

Crucially for her is the additional track time she missed out on earlier in her career. Reaping the benefits, she believes her performances now are the proof of the potential she’s always had but hasn’t been able to fully harness until now.

“I’m 21, so people often say, ‘Oh you’re really experienced’,” she notes. “Actually, there are 17-year-olds out there that have done more actual laps and track time than me. When I competed in 2022, I did 10 hours’ worth of driving. What was on the TV is what I did, whereas this year and even last year, it’s been great.

“The dual campaign has definitely helped. I’m never going to complain ever about being on track, I can’t (…). The more track time I get, the results will come and it’s proven that I just needed a little bit more testing, a little bit more on-track experience. It’s been so valuable. The cars aren't identical, but adaption is really important for a racing driver and it's aided in that. You’ve got to drive the cars differently, so when you go from one weekend to another, you’ve got to be like ‘I need to change this to my driving ‘. You’ve got to be really proactive and really conscious of what you're doing.”

'Moving up the ladder, that’s ultimately what I want to do’

Whilst some might have pitched her as a leading F1 ACADEMY title contender from the outset, Pulling isn’t focusing on that frontrunner badge and has put the title fight to the back of her mind. Four poles and wins in six races, the Alpine driver has extended her advantage in the Drivers’ Standings to 66 points over Mercedes’ Doriane Pin and Haas’ Chloe Chambers.

READ MORE: INTRODUCING ABBI PULLING: The Alpine driver on singing, being a chatterbox and when she ‘drove with one arm’

“I’d come into this season a bit of an underdog,” she says. “I think because I had a struggle last year, I think people wouldn’t have said what’s happened this year would happen. I've not thought about it too much, I'm just not overthinking it. I’ve not looked at the points since Miami.

“I’m lucky because I’m doing the dual programme, it distracts me a lot and I’m so focused on that. I’ve not got time to think about anything else, which is actually a blessing in disguise. I'm not necessarily not thinking about it, I'm definitely acknowledging everything, but I'm not putting my energy towards it.

“I'm putting all my attention and my energy on more productive things. The process of how I'm going to do it rather than (focusing on) staying in the lead by the end. That’s not what I’m doing. I might lose some points this weekend, but at the end of the day, it is what it is. There’s a long year ahead, there’s more to go. Realistically, how often does a weekend like Miami happen? It doesn’t happen very often, so I’m taking everything as it comes.”

Four rounds stand between Pulling and claiming the 2024 title but the Briton is says shes taking each session as they come
Four rounds stand between Pulling and claiming the 2024 title, but the Briton is says she's taking each session as they come

Becoming the 2024 F1 ACADEMY Champion could open doors for Pulling’s future, with the prize of a fully-funded seat giving her a sense of security and helping her to make that sought-after step up the single-seater pyramid.

In her second season as a full-time member of the Alpine Academy, there are many avenues that have their appeal to her — whether that be Alpine’s Hypercar WEC programme or following in the path of her mentor Powell in Formula E, but first and foremost is continuing her pursuit of her Formula 1 dream.

“Moving up the ladder, that’s ultimately what I want to do,” she remarks. “The last couple of years, I’ve probably been sidestepping a little bit, so it would be nice to make that next step in a category and machinery above.

Asked where she saw herself five years from now, she replies: “Still racing (…) Ideally, in a single-seater — F3, going to F2, that would be amazing. Five years ago, I probably didn’t put myself here, it’s unpredictable. You don’t know where you’re going to be and you’ve just got to take the opportunities as they come.”

Staying true to herself, Pulling is determined to savour every second of whatever comes her way. After coming close to leaving her dream behind before it had even really begun, she is going to give it everything she can to push herself to the next level.

“(In motorsport) You don’t want to dive into it if you’re not enjoying it,” she concludes. “You have to throw yourself fully into it. It is literally life, every day is race car day. Every day you better yourself to be better in the car.”