W Series in trouble? This is what we know

The internet is rife with rumours of a possible W Series demise as competition resumes this weekend in Singapore, where Jamie Chadwick could clinch her third straight title on Sunday. But what is actually going on? Here, F1 Feeder Series breaks down what we know so far and what questions still remain unanswered.

By Rachel Steinberg

On Wednesday, British newspaper the Telegraph released a report scrutinising W Series’ finances. Their story was based on publicly-available unaudited financial statements for the year ending December 31 2021. The financial statements, dated 5 September 2022, can be seen on the UK government’s companies registry Companies House and refer to “net liabilities of £7,572,802 as at 31 December 2021.”

The Telegraph also cited conversations with what it said were “multiple independent contractors” affiliated with W Series who, it reported, were owed “thousands of pounds, some of which date back months.” The article also suggests “a multi-million pound deal with an unnamed American investor” has fallen through and that host broadcaster Whisper TV, a company co-founded by David Coulthard, would not be sending a crew to Singapore. 

F1 Feeder Series has not been able to verify these claims, and the W Series would not confirm nor deny anything in the article was correct outside of CEO Catherine Bond Muir’s comments.

That sounds like a lot of money

It does, certainly, but it’s also not stratospheric when considered in the bigger picture of team budgets and sponsorships higher up the motorsport ladder. The Companies House report itself, which names Bond Muir and W Series chair Sean Wadsworth as directors, even said the net liabilities were “in line with expectations given the business is in the start-up phase.

“The directors have reviewed the cash flow forecasts for a period exceeding twelve months from the date of signing the accounts. On the basis of these projections, the securing of new sponsorship contracts and investors and the on-going commitment of the directors to support the business including by the provision of loans, the directors have concluded it is appropriate to prepare these financial statements on a going concern basis.”

Wait, so the report says there’s a “concern”?

No – that’s misleading. “Going concern” is a standard accounting term. In fact, its meaning is quite the opposite of how it might sound. According to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, “The accounting concept of going concern is based on the assumption that an entity will continue to operate into the foreseeable future.”

What has W Series said? 

A W Series spokesperson verified that Bond Muir’s quotes in the Telegraph story were accurate. The CEO told the paper: “We’re having lots of conversations at the moment and I’m very optimistic. We’ve had to fight from day one. It has always been a struggle but we’re fighters. We’re looking at our budgets. We’re confident that we’ll continue to raise money.

“You have to understand W Series is a brand new sport. Tennis has equality now because Billie-Jean King fought for those rights 50 years ago. Football is slowly starting to become more equal. Rugby? We saw recently that England’s women flew economy to the World Cup where their male counterparts flew business. It takes time. We’re only in our third season. But we have had a huge impact already and we are a force for good.”

Bond Muir has also spoken in recent press conferences around plans for the future, agreeing more track time for drivers—an issue cited by more than one person in the competition—was high on her priority list. 

So does that mean everything is fine? 

That is what is still unclear. Both the Telegraph and F1 Feeder Series asked W Series if the remaining season three races in Austin and Mexico City would be going ahead, and if drivers would be paid their prize money, but they declined to comment. 

What are some potential compounding factors? 

Let’s be clear: W Series has not confirmed they are in any kind of financial trouble, and the Companies House report suggests the directors were comfortable with the net liabilities cited in the unaudited financial statements. F1 Feeder Series has not been able to verify the Telegraph’s claims of significant monies owed to independent contractors.

That said, the UK, where W Series is based, is in the midst of a considerable cost-of-living crisis. Soaring energy bills, caused in part by the war in Ukraine alongside rising inflation have hit the country hard, affecting everything from mortgages to pensions and food prices.

On Monday, the British pound plummeted to a record low against the US dollar following the announcement of a tax-cut heavy “mini budget” from the government, led by new PM Liz Truss who only assumed office earlier this month. It’s hardly an ideal environment under which to negotiate sponsorship deals, especially in an American market Bond Muir has made no secret she views as the most critical to W Series’ long-term growth and sustainability. 

And, of course, we’re just coming out of a pandemic which saw W Series’ second season, and its first as an F1 support series, also affected. Limitations on attendances caused by Covid-19 likely meant less live exposure to W Series and its drivers for prospective investors and sponsors as a result. 

So what happens next?

A race in Singapore, a potential third title for Jamie Chadwick and, it seems, a lot of phone calls for Bond Muir and her team. Beyond that, it remains to be seen. Watch this space.

Header photo credit: W Series

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