A new international women-only single-seater championship will start in 2019 with the aim of helping females reach Formula 1.

W Series will launch next year and has received backing from a number of major F1 names including 13-time grand prix winner David Coulthard and Red Bull design guru Adrian Newey.

The all-new motorsport series will use Tatuus F3-spec cars and will feature races at a number of famous European-based circuits. Expansion into America, Australia and Asia is targeted for the future.

Participation is free and there is a prize fund of $1.5million, $500,000 of which will be awarded to the winner of the championship to help fund progress up the racing ladder.

“We at W Series firmly believe that female and male racing drivers can compete with one another on equal terms given the same opportunity,” said Coulthard, who will act as an advisory board member for the series.

“At the moment, however, women racing drivers tend to reach a ‘glass ceiling’ at around the GP3/Formula 3 level on their learning curve, often as a result of a lack of funding rather than a lack of talent.

“That’s why an all-new all-female single-seater motor racing series is required – W Series – to establish a competitive and constructive motorsport habitat in which our drivers will be able to equip themselves with the necessary skill-set eventually to move on up to existing high-level mainstream racing series and compete with the best male drivers on equal terms.”

The last woman to start an F1 grand prix was Italian Lella Lombardi in 1976, while former Williams test driver Susie Wolff – who has since taken over as team principal at the Venturi Formula E squad – completed a number of practice outings for the British team back in 2014.

Tatiana Calderon is currently the highest-placed female driver on the racing ladder, with the Colombian scoring regular points finishes in the F1-supporting GP3 series.

Briton Jamie Chadwick made history in August as she became the first woman to win a British Formula 3 race at Brands Hatch in the UK-based championship.

W Series CEO Catherine Bond Muir, added: “There are just too few women competing in single-seaters series at the moment. W Series will increase that number very significantly in 2019, thereby powerfully unleashing the potential of many more female racing drivers.

“W Series drivers will become global superstars – inspirational role models for women everywhere – and every organisation, every company, every sponsor and indeed every single person who helps W Series’ winners and champions achieve those ground-breaking successes will be able to celebrate their part in it, publicly, to lasting worldwide acclaim.

“W Series is an inspiring innovation whose time is now.”

18-20 female drivers will compete in the inaugural season starting in spring 2019 following a “rigorous pre-selection process” involving on-track testing, simulator appraisal, technical engineering tests and fitness trails.