Why W Series risks failing to deliver on its mission of promoting diversity in motorsport

Two-time W Series title holder Jamie Chadwick announced a surprise third return to the championship, despite earlier hopes to secure a FIA Formula 3 drive in 2022. With Chadwick’s return comes critique – is W Series working as intended?

By Aisha Sembhi

Despite dominating the championship since its inception three years ago, and accumulating $1million in prize funds so far, Jamie Chadwick has been unable to progress beyond W Series and secure a seat in Formula 3. 

Her third return to the series raises the question: is W Series working as intended? Unless W Series can build a bridge between itself and F3 participation for its champions, it risks becoming a championship defined by gender, and therefore failing to truly deliver on its mission of promoting diversity in motorsport.

Free to enter

The W Series championship was established in 2019 as a female-only series, with the aim to prompt gender diversity in the highest levels of motorsport. Each season, a total of $1million in prize funds is awarded, with the champion receiving $500,000.

Unlike a typical feeder series, it is free to enter and individual participants compete in identical cars. Despite the introduction of a team-based system in 2021, W Series have confirmed that the championship will remain centrally-run with identical cars: “This is still very much a drivers’ championship, just with extra support from external names and brands.” Essentially, the series should behave as a meritocracy, where results are determined by an individual’s racing ability alone.

The progression W Series intends to nurture

With two championship titles and proven consistency in achieving podium finishes, Chadwick is a clear candidate for the progression W Series intends to nurture.

Alongside her W Series commitments between 2019 and 2021, she has amassed a refined motorsport portfolio. Chadwick joined the Williams Academy after the second W Series round in 2019, and has since undertaken development driver responsibilities for the team.

With the cancellation of W Series’ 2020 championship due to Covid-19 restrictions, she secured a drive in the 2020 Formula Regional European Championship with Prema Racing, ending the season in 9th in the standings (whilst teammates comfortably claimed the top three positions). She also participated in Extreme E last year, though missing two rounds due to W Series commitments. 

Failure?

Unlike other feeder series, W Series has no restrictions on the return of champions. On entering W Series for the second time in 2021, after her 2019 victory, Chadwick was candid in the reasoning behind her return: “I couldn’t secure anything anywhere else.” After winning her second championship, she expressed enthusiasm at the possibility of moving beyond the feeder series: “I think finding a new challenge is my motivation at the moment.”

Chadwick’s decision to participate in a third season of W Series, however, raises further questions. Yet another return, despite Chadwick’s repeated enthusiasm towards progressing to FIA F3 is, arguably, an indication of the series’ failure to deliver on its mission of promoting gender diversity in elite single-seater racing. It begs the question: if a two-time champion of W Series can’t secure an F3 seat, who can?

Earlier this month, Chadwick had highlighted the dilemma of funding in climbing the feeder series ladder: “I’ve said publicly that I want to step up and out of W Series to showcase the opportunity it has given me and the platform I now have going forward.”

“The next step is still four times the budget I have.”

Whilst Chadwick has not yet explicitly stated her reasoning behind spending another season with W Series, a primary concern regarding progression within the motorsport community is finance.

No upwards mobility

Jamie Chadwick has nothing left to prove. As it stands, the feeder series ladder does not allow for upwards mobility even for athletes who are proven to deliver results. If Chadwick is unable to progress, even with two lots of $500,000 and the reputability that comes alongside winning back-to-back championships, W Series runs the risk of losing credibility as a legitimate feeder series championship. 

W Series is, ultimately, an invaluable opportunity for women, who have too often been excluded from elite motorsport. Its provision of track time and experience as a free-to-enter championship is almost universally acknowledged as an objective ‘good’, especially given last season’s Formula 1 support races. It is a step in the right direction, but does not account for the financial support its champions will need to progress. F3 and F2 participation costs upwards of $1million, meaning W Series champions, even with prize money, are left stranded if they cannot secure sponsorship and funding.

Header photo credit: W Series

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One thought on “Why W Series risks failing to deliver on its mission of promoting diversity in motorsport

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  1. I think there is a misconception about what W Series is about. Yes, one of the goals is to progress women to the higher categories of motorsport. But first and foremost it’s mission is, imho, to get more girls and women into motor racing. When the numbers rise, it becomes (hopefully) easier to find the talent and budget needed to progress through it’s ranks.
    Even for talented male drivers, like Bent Viscaal, it is hard to find a budget to race in F3 or F2.

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