Is segregation really the best means to rocket a female into Formula 1? There were plenty who said otherwise when W Series (see what they did there?) was launched last autumn. The all-female, one-make single-seater series kicks off next month and it’ll draw attention and contention in equal measure.
Devised by, among others, David Coulthard and Adrian Newey, the series is well intentioned. Unlike stick-and-ball sports, women can compete with men in motorsport, but still there’s a depressing lack of numbers and opportunity. W Series could change that.
A rigorous selection process led to 18 women being hand-picked to compete in the six-round series, which begins at Hockenheim on 3/4 May and ends at Brands Hatch on 10/11 August. Among them are five Brits, including Jamie Chadwick, 20, who last year became the first woman to win a Formula 3 race. Her profile is growing on merit, so surely she has the most to lose.
“You could say that, but I also have the most to gain,” she counters. “When I was looking at my options for this year, the new FIA F3 series wasn’t one of them because it’s €800,000 to €1 million for a season.”
In contrast, W Series entries are fully funded, so drivers don’t pay to race – and there’s big prize money: US$500,000 (£382,000) for the champion out of a total fund of US$1.5 million (£1.1m). Chadwick couldn’t ignore that.
“I’ll be open, initially the idea of racing just women wasn’t of interest,” she says. “It sounded like an awful idea. But the opportunity W Series provides is far greater than anything else. It isn’t all about the money: it’s for top F3 cars on great circuits and with the support you get, I don’t think I could turn it down.”
Coulthard and co have certainly chosen the right car to challenge their drivers. The Tatuus T-318 F3 is state of the art and powered by a 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbo, pushing 270bhp through a six-speed sequential ’box. Serious kit.
“It’s not about segregation, it’s about supporting female talent to the top,” says Chadwick. “Okay, there could have been other ways of doing it but, in terms of getting 18 girls racing in F3 cars, this was the only way.”
Her message to critics is wait and see. If a graduate springboards to a higher level – and perhaps even F1 – W Series will have justified its existence.