Outside Line: The Rapid Rise of W-Series

I’ll admit that when W-Series launched last year, I didn’t give it much thought. While I was by no means opposed to it, I was sceptical it could secure a long-term place in the motorsports landscape.

However, considering what they’ve achieved in the past twelve months – and particularly this past Friday – I’m much more of a believer.

Having already produced one legitimate talent in Jamie Chadwick, the series took another big step forward this week with the announcement it will be a support race for F1 at the US and Mexican Grands Prix. I mean, as a junior formula, you literally can’t get better exposure than that.

And sure, a cynic could say this has as much to do with the lack of road-racing categories present in those countries as it does W-Series making itself a legitimate option, but it’s nevertheless remarkable progress for a racing series one season into its existence.

Adding to the announcement’s credibility, W-Series CEO Catherine Bond-Muir confirmed in a conference call with journalists on Friday that they would be paying for their own shipping, so you’d have to say there’s at least some financial solidity even if Bond-Muir admitted they’re a few years away from turning a profit. In that respect I assume the new partnership with Rokit has helped – although like most of you, I still have no idea what Rokit actually does. Supposedly phones?

All that considering, I’d argue W-Series has been quite a success for so early in its history, with the caveat that it has much more it needs to do to be a true launching-pad for an underrepresented demographic in motorsport. Surviving as your own product is one thing, but if the goal is to get women both into motorsport and then through to the higher echelons, it’s got a long way still to go.

As things currently stand, there’s still no on-ramp for girls at the grass-roots level – although a karting series is apparently something Bond-Muir is considering – so the barriers to entry are the same as they ever were, even if more youngsters might be excited about the prospect of racing. On the other side, as impressive as the rise of Chadwick has been (and she would’ve had a lights-to-flag victory in Asian F3 race over the weekend were it not for a jump-start penalty), the 15 superlicense points she got for winning in 2019 puts her well short of the 40 needed to race in F1, and frankly, we don’t know if she, or any other woman is good enough to cut it at that level.

Still, whatever the answer to that question is, I like to think W-series is helping us get it. Obviously, it would be unreasonable to expect we’d have the female Lewis Hamilton (or even Marcus Ericsson) after one year of racing. For now, what they’ve done is enough – they just have to keep developing.

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W Series to feature at US and Mexico Grand Prix weekends

The W Series is adding races in the United States and Mexico to its 2020 calendar, organisers of the all-female championship have announced.

The races at the Circuit of the Americas and the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez will form part of the weekend support package for the respective two Formula 1 Grand Prix events being held at the venues at the end of October.

It will be the first time that the W Series has ventured outside Europe, where this season it is set to run as alongside the DTM championship. Williams F1 development driver Jamie Chadwick is returning to defend her title.

The news was welcomed by F1’s managing director for motorsport, Ross Brawn, who said: “We are delighted to welcome W Series to two such spectacular events of the 2020 FIA Formula 1 World Championship such as those in Austin and Mexico City.

“The ability for the great crowds who traditionally attend the Austin and Mexico City Grands Prix to see these talented female drivers up close will definitely further raise the awareness of the importance of inclusion and diversity in motorsport.

“In just one year, W Series has contributed significantly to increasing interest in the topic of diversity and inclusion in motorsport,” he continued. “We are convinced that our sport must offer equal opportunities for men and women to compete together

“It is no coincidence that improving the diversity of the F1 grid by supporting and promoting driver talent from under-represented backgrounds is one of our strategic objectives.”

The addition of the two new races on October 24 and October 31 will give the W Series a high profile ‘double header’ over consecutive weekends as a climax to its second season of competition.

“We at W Series are absolutely delighted that, in only our second season, our championship has been welcomed by Formula 1,” commented W Series CEO Catherine Bond Muir.

Jamie Chadwick's 2020 car with ROKiT branding

© W Series

“We’re utterly thrilled that the final two races of the 2020 W Series season will therefore take place as part of the Formula 1 platform,” she added.

“Our two all-new races will follow six races on the DTM platform, making a very varied, extremely exciting and truly international eight-race championship, in eight countries across the globe.

“I’m particularly pleased that W Series will now stage races outside Europe, and the USA and Mexico are of course both very important new territories for us.

“Interest in and enthusiasm for W Series was enormous in our first season, 2019, among media and fans alike, and the addition of two all-new W Series races on the Formula 1 platform will inevitably increase that enthusiasm and interest.

“The fact that W Series will be even bigger and even better in 2020 than it was in 2019 will make the return on investment for our future sponsor-partners better and bigger, too.

“A lot of work has gone into stitching the W Series / Formula 1 deal together, but above all I want to thank W Series’drivers, the brave and talented young women who captured the imagination of the sporting world last summer.”

The full eight-race calendar for this year consists of:

  • May 30 – St Petersburg, Russiah
  • June 13 – Anderstorp, Sweden
  • June 27 – Monza, Italy
  • July 11 – Norisring, Germany
  • August 23 – Brands Hatch, UK
  • September 5 – Assen, Netherlands
  • October 24 – Austin, USA
  • October 31 – Mexico City, Mexico

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Chadwick retained as Williams development driver

Jamie Chadwick has been retained by Williams for the upcoming 2020 season and will continue on in a developmental role with the team.

Chadwick will be increasing her hours in the Williams simulator and will once again attend several races throughout the season and be ‘fully immersed within the team both trackside and in the factory at Grove.’

The 21-year-old became the first-ever W Series champion in 2019 and will also embark on another first when she takes part in the inaugural Extreme E series which begins in 2021.

“It has been a fantastic opportunity working with the team in my role as development driver,” Chadwick told the official Williams website.

“The time spent in the simulator has been invaluable and I have enjoyed every moment, immersing myself within the team.

“I look forward to continuing to work with Williams this year.”

Deputy team principal Claire Williams added: “I am delighted to confirm that Jamie Chadwick will continue her work in the Williams Racing Driver Academy this year.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Jamie develop, and excel, both with the team and her time racing in W Series.

“Jamie has done an excellent job promoting women in motorsport and we are extremely proud of the work she has done.”

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W Series winner Chadwick sets sights on F1

Jamie Chadwick created a piece of history over the weekend as she won the inaugural all-female W Series, but she is setting her sights higher as she wants to compete in Formula 1.

The 21-year-old finished fourth in the season finale of the six-race series at Brands Hatch to clinch the title ahead of Beitske Visser from the Netherlands and Brit Alice Powell, who won this weekend’s race.

Chadwick, who pocketed $500,000 for winning the series, won the event opener at Hockenheimring in May and the third race at the Misano World Circuit in June to set up her Championship success.

But now that she has made her mark she is looking for bigger and better things and it doesn’t come bigger than F1.

Chadwick, though, knows there are challenges ahead as the last woman to compete in Formula 1 was Italian Lella Lombardi in 1976.

“I’m under no illusions as to how tough it’s going to get,” she told Reuters.

She added: “If you look at all the drivers who’ve made it into F1, they’ve all come with significant backing. Whether that’s personal or through sponsors or a team, none of them have paid their way scraping the barrel.”

Chadwick also created history last year by becoming the first woman to win a round of the regular British Formula Three Championship while she is also a development driver for the Williams F1 team.

She is likely to return to the W Series next year, but she is setting her sights on “greater” things.

“I want to do as much as I can… my overall aspirations are much greater than just this, than the W Series,” she said.

“I want to go on and achieve a lot in the sport. Next year will be preparing myself in the best way to do that.

“This year’s been great, but really I need more racing under my belt to level up with the top guys that are out there, and hopefully next year can allow me to do that.”

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