WORDS BY ADAM DICKINSON | IMAGES BY W SERIES
In 2020 the future of W Series looked impossibly bright.
Following a showpiece championship decider at Brands Hatch that saw Jamie Chadwick take the inaugural title, it seemed set to storm back with even more momentum for a scintillating second season.
The upcoming 2020 championship monopolised the second day of that January’s Autosport International Show led by Abbie Eaton who brought her speed and celebrity status to the championship, and openly admitted the reservations she’d had about joining its inaugural season had evaporated.
Championship adviser David Coulthard was in attendance alongside his jaw, W Series CEO Catherine Bond Muir and drivers Alice Powell and Sarah Moore, it completely stole the show.
Returning with a mix of the familiar European regional circuits like Brands and the Norisring alongside groundbreaking presence at two Formula 1 weekends there were clear signs of progression and even its bold, futuristic branding seemed streets ahead of any other junior championship.
But fast-forward to August 2022 and it’s not panned out that way. When Chadwick, shining star of the venture, took her second consecutive championship title last season it was with the assumption that the Austin decider was her last race in W Series.
After the race she was fairly bullish about that fact and the expectation was she’d take up an F3 seat, so there was consternation from some quarters when she was announced once again for this year’s series.
Chadwick’s now on her way to a dominant three-peat and has won all but one race this season. If she can’t get a promotion this season then that will indicate serious problems for the series’ long-term goals.
This isn’t trying to Chadwick-bash, quite the opposite. She’s an enormously talented and trailblazing racer who has done everything she can in W Series to further her career and even now is one of the bigger names in feeder series racing.
The only blemish on the 24-year-old’s record is a disappointing European Formula Regional season at Prema where she finished ninth - but she’s exerted a stranglehold over W Series that intertwines their fates whether they like it or not.
Simply put, if she can’t get a top F3 seat with the prodigious promise she’s shown, who from W Series can?
It’d be fantastic to see a teenage driver shine through as brighty, perhaps Abbi Pulling (or Juju Noda in future years) but Chadwick’s the celebrity in the paddock right now and the only one with serious F3 rumours swirling.
But right now there seems to be a divide between what W Series’ can potentially deliver, and its stated aim.
“We want to see women from all over the world racing in the upper echelons of motorsport, including in F1,” its mission statement reads.
“It is more than 45 years since a female driver last started a championship Formula 1 grand prix and, unless a positive intervention is made, it could be another 40 years before a woman has the experience and qualifications to start a Championship Formula 1 grand prix again.
“With the UN’s gender equality deadline of 2030 closing in, the world needs to fast track change. We believe that W Series can be an important cultural catalyst for female empowerment.”
Chadwick recently said that she’s been exploring Indy Lights options, and that hints at a potential broadening of the spectrum for what constitutes success.
So much of the publicity around the series has been F1-focussed, and that’s to be expected. But as Chadwick has shown, it’s incredibly hard to establish that link between a conceptually new championship and the equivalent next step on the F1 ladder.
If Chadwick makes a step up to any feeder series next season it should be celebrated, and perhaps that could provide an opportunity for the championship to diversify, then once its graduates have proven themselves away from the championship, F3 and F2 will be more receptive.
W Series has already done so much to help female drivers past present and future - Pulling would’ve been without a drive in 2021 if they hadn’t stepped in.
But the next 18 months will be crucial if it wants to rediscover its phantom 2020 momentum and ensure it’s not another 40 years before a woman has the chance to start a F1 grand prix again.