As it stands, the winner of the W Series championship gets $500,000 in prize money, the privilege to do it all again next year and, well — that’s pretty much it. The format has certainly provided women in single-seater racing some visibility as a support race on Formula 1 weekends, and it helps significantly that drivers don’t have to fund their own seats. On the flip side, taking the W Series crown, like Jamie Chadwick has done for the past two seasons, doesn’t necessarily make it easier to move up the ladder. Thankfully, the FIA might actually address that issue soon.
Michèle Mouton leads the FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission and has done so for more than a decade now. Speaking ahead of a screening of a new documentary about her career — a documentary I’d really love to watch if it were only available in the U.S. — Mouton told the media that while W Series has been an adequate tool for promoting women in racing, it hasn’t done enough to continue developing its best talent. From Motorsport.com:
“When you are in a preview to the F1 races in what I call a parade it is nice to see women driving around but if you look at the time and what they are able to do it is not enough,” Mouton said.
“You have to race with the best to see where you have to go. Now it is fun as they have nothing to pay, they are seen and promoted it is good, it is a good show.”
But she believes further integrating it into the feeder series platform would convince her more of its purpose.
“If this is just a series it doesn’t help but if this becomes a platform like we do with Rising Stars, where once you are elected you go up, then it would be fantastic,” she said. “If they don’t have to pay and drive for free, drive on F1 weekends and on top of that the winner goes to F3, this I will join them. My position is quite clear on that.
Mouton said that the FIA has “had discussions with [W Series] to change so the winner should go somewhere.” A guaranteed place in Formula 3 would be a good start though still ultimately infuriating, because the W Series already utilizes F3 cars. I imagine the FIA would rationalize F3 as a promotion because its grid is stronger, but it’s sort of disingenuous to proselytize W Series as an opportunity for women when it basically requires drivers to prove themselves twice in the same category.
That said, an F3 seat would at least be better than nothing. There’s a problem when you can be as good as Chadwick is and nevertheless end up mired in a cycle. You can’t easily move up to the next rung, which would be Formula 3, because $500,000 isn’t enough for a seat on its own. Additionally, you’d be vying for that spot against a pool of men that have had more seat time. W Series markets itself as a stepping stone for female talent, but if it essentially leaves its best drivers more or less where they were before they joined, it’s arguably not achieving its objective.
Two years ago, there was some discussion around forbidding series champions from contesting another year in the category, though that clearly hasn’t come to pass. W Series CEO Catherine Bond Muir said in an interview with Insider published this week that she wanted Chadwick to “stay within the W family,” but Chadwick announced an intent to move on, seemingly to sports car racing, just days earlier:
“The plan isn’t return to W Series. I need to look at something else,” Chadwick told Motorsport.com.
“I’ve done it for two years and won it twice, and I think I need to showcase it as a leg-up and a platform for further opportunities.
As it stands, the W Series champion nets 15 Super License points, whereas an F3 champion gets 30. It takes 40 points to compete in Formula 1 races, but only 25 to participate in a Friday free practice session. At the moment Chadwick has enough to do the latter and is currently employed as a development driver for Williams. With all F1 teams being forced to run first timers on at least two Fridays in 2022, hopefully we’ll see her on the track next year.
When W Series first started, a number of prominent women in motorsport came out against it, arguing that the series was practicing segregation under the illusion of equality. Some, like Claire Williams, were eventually won over. If W Series can ensure promising female drivers are kept on the right track — onwards and upwards, toward competing in top categories against the best talent regardless of gender — it’ll quell those criticisms. But if it leaves its brightest stars stuck in perpetuity with the hope of holding onto them forever, it’ll not only have failed its supposed mission. It’ll become what everyone feared it might.