W Series Leader Jamie Chadwick Joins the Williams F1 Driver’s Academy.
I admit; the ambiguous nature of this headline had me scrolling right past it this morning. I had no idea who Jamie Chadwick was, and I’ve read several news releases these past months about racers (all male) making it into one F1 driver’s academy or another. All this to say that the news didn’t grab my curiosity – at least not straight off the line.
That all changed when I dug a little deeper. After waking to find my inbox and social media ablaze with photos of Chadwick, so began my journey into the world of the W Series. I was surprised to find that I’m not as far behind as I initially feared; so, not such a Petrol Pinky. The W Series – the first all-female single-seater competition – had their inaugural event this May, and Jamie Chadwick was leading in the driver’s standing. She had also recently become a Development Driver for the Williams F1 team. Hence, the social media blast.
The Case against W Series
In researching some footnote information regarding Chadwick’s journey to the legendary Williams F1 team, I came across her impressive run so far with the W Series. Down the rabbit hole I went, chasing this young star and that’s where I stumbled upon article after article stating that the announcement of the W Series was met with some loud and scathing criticisms. I expected this, would have been amazed if that wasn’t the case. What I had not expected was to find that many of those speaking out against the all-women’s series were themselves female racers. This spurred me to dig even deeper.
I usually try to keep a neutral view on most subjects until I have heard from all sides, especially given that I am only just beginning to scrape the gravelly surface of motorsport. Up until this point, my discovery of the W Series felt like a win for women, and I could not help but do a mental fist pump. But when I read remarks made by racing drivers like Tatiana Calderon, Pippa Mann, and Simona de Silvestro who felt that the W Series was a ‘step backward’, I knew that I had broken my own rule; I had gone full speed ahead with my judgment, yet I was missing a critical side of the story.
Some female racers raised particular concerns with regards to the further segregation of women in motorsports. Calderon made the point that women drivers were already competing at levels beyond that of the W Series, which used Formula 3 cars. In other words, where the W Series made up in providing unique full-funded opportunities for young women, it lacked in helping advance those drivers who were looking to move up in motorsport.
I had to take a step back, digest this information, and reassess my position on the matter. On the one hand, Chadwick admittance into the Williams Driver Academy was living proof that the W Series could be game-changing for female racers who aspired to compete at the F1 level. Yet, Caldron and comrades were not wrong in their criticism. Would the budget being allocated for the W Series be better spent helping place female drivers in racing team affiliate programs?
For me, the key word in all of this was opportunity. W Series CEO Catherine Bond Muir stated that “We’re just a platform to give women an opportunity that otherwise they don’t have.” If Chadwick were proof, then I’d say the W Series was delivering on that mission.
Of course, I’m not discounting Chadwick’s impressive sprint so far in motorsport as contributing to her admission into the Williams program. She was after all the first woman to win both the British Formula Three race as well as the British GT Championship. It’s more than possible that Chadwick would have made it to an F1 team without the W Series.
The question is, did the W Series open the gate much earlier, giving the 21 year old a greater opportunity to develop her skills at the highest level of single-seater auto racing?
We have to remember that despite some increases in the entry of women in motorsport, there remains a gross under-representation of female racers at the Formula One level. Added to that, it has been 44 years since a woman driver started in an F1 race. Chadwick will train on an F1 simulator program at the Williams’ Grove factory alongside Nicholas Latifi, the team’s reserve driver. From there, it’s a matter of proving that she can ultimately compete at the F1 level with the men.
Chadwick and Williams – Paving the Way Forward for Girls?
As it often was with important moments in history, I found myself looking inward. If you asked a 10-year-old me to name a woman in Motorsport (be it engineer or driver), I would have had a hard time. Now ask an adult me the same question, and a day ago, I would have struggled to come up with a name. Now, I have three: Chadwick, Calderon, and Bond Muir. That might seem marginal to the larger stakes, but for this Petrol Pinky, it makes all the difference.