The Alpine team of Formula One declared on Wednesday that physical ability is not a barrier for women to engage in their sport, as they established a scheme to have a female driver within the next eight years.

Only two women have ever started a Grand Prix: Maria Teresa de Filippis of Italy, who qualified in three races in 1958, and Lella Lombardi of Italy, who competed in 12 between 1974 and 1976, earning a point.

Since then, it has been widely assumed that physical strength is a barrier to women’s growth in sports.

Jamie Chadwick, champion of the W series, an all-female championship, said on Tuesday that getting to Formula One via its feeder series Formula Two and Three is “very tough.

Alpine’s CEO, Laurent Rossi, rejected that concept as the team started a mentoring programme for female drivers.

“The number one criteria is not physical ability, far from it,” Rossi told AFP.

“The proof is that Fernando Alonso continues to drive very well.

“If a 40-year-old man can drive in Formula One then a woman on top form at 28 years old is as capable.”

Rossi said there were examples of women in other industries working in similar extreme conditions.

“There are women who fly fighter jets, who are astronauts, who are used to much more powerful G-forces,” he said.

“It’s something that society wanted to peddle for years, and is one of the cliches that need to be eradicated,” he added.

In the coming weeks Alpine will search for up to five candidates aged between 10 and 12, with a view to having at least one of them racing by 2030.

“We really have to be able to detect potential from as young as possible so they can follow the training programme,” Alpine’s director of human resources Claire Mesnier said.

“Right now, I’m not sure that I can say that we’re exploring the whole talent pool, knowing 50 percent of humanity are women,” she added.

Mesnier said that Alpine’s current drivers, two-time champions Alonso and Frenchman Esteban Ocon, are participating in the programme.

“Esteban and Fernando will be the main ambassadors,” she said.

Alpine next race is at the Austrian Grand Prix on July 10.