The W Series, a women only racing series that launches its inaugural season in May, will do so live on British television thanks to a deal with former Formula One broadcaster Channel 4. The UK was its first announcement of TV coverage, but the series said it’s working on deals in “widespread geographies.”
The series also gave Channel 4 broadcast rights for zero charge this year to get more eyes on its races, but that won’t be the case everywhere.
The W Series, a free-to-enter series that will provide Formula 3 cars for the 18 women who qualified for it and award prize money, announced the TV deal on Tuesday. The announcement said all six races—which will run a format of 30 minutes plus one lap, regardless of red or yellow flags, a series representative said—will be live on Channel 4 this year, starting with the season opener at the Hockenheimring in Germany on May 4.
Channel 4 is, of course, where about half of the F1 season used to be shown in the UK, before Sky Sports got exclusive rights to the series for 2019 and put every race but the British Grand Prix, which Sky Sports said it would air free, behind a subscription instead of on terrestrial television.
W Series communication director Matt Bishop told Jalopnik the plan is for each race on Channel 4 to be an hour-long program with qualifying highlights, pre- and post-race coverage, and the commercial-free live race in the middle. The series hasn’t announced the broadcast team yet, but, when asked, Bishop said it’ll include both women and men.
The production company behind the broadcast, Whisper, is the same one that does F1 highlights for Channel 4, and Bishop said that feed will be available to any country that wants it in English. Channel 4, which the Guardian reported was thought to have picked up the F1 rights in 2016 for 25 million pounds, will get the W Series broadcast rights for free.
The series struck a no-charge deal in the UK to grow its audience, Bishop said, but that won’t be the case worldwide—some places will pay fees, others won’t.
“Every sponsor we’re talking to wants to make sure their logos will be seen by the optimal number—in other words, the highest number—of eyeballs,” Bishop told Jalopnik, adding that they’d revisit fees for Channel 4 next year. Similarly, not all of the situations will be the same for people who want to watch.
“Not all regions will be live, free-to-air coverage,” Bishop said. “Some will be on subscription-based channels. In the same way, some will be live, some will be highlights packages, and so on and so forth.”
Aside from broadcast details, the W Series a controversial thing—it’s the right idea with the wrong execution, basically. Funding women in racing is a positive effort given the almost entirely male fields at the top of the sport, but providing that funding on the condition that women race in a lady-branded series when they can easily compete with men, and win, is regressive.
The series’ advisory-board chairman is also former F1 driver David Coulthard, who once said it’s not the physical aspect limiting women’s ability to compete in high levels like F1. He, instead, figured it was the “mothering DNA.”
The entire goal of the W Series is to show that “women can compete equally with men in motorsport,” it said in its introduction announcement last year. “Mothering DNA” isn’t a great place to start.
But a lot hinges on the series, even if its premise is highly flawed. It, for one, is a way to show young girls that they can race cars—something a series like F1 can’t currently provide. It also shows women racing cars in a women’s series, which isn’t the right message to get across in a sport that traditionally hasn’t had gendered divisions.
Then, there’s the chance that TV viewership is a flop, further fueling the idea that women’s sporting divisions don’t get views.
Regardless, the W Series is here, and it’ll be on TV in currently unannounced regions across the globe. When it comes to how the broadcasts will look from place to place, Bishop only said the W Series will “be on television around the world, in one way, shape or form, in many territories.”
Since the series starts in a week and a half, it probably won’t be long before we know what shape or form those broadcasts will take.
Update: Monday, April 29, 2019 at 8:32 a.m. ET: The W Series announced some of the main people on its broadcast team, with Claire Cottingham as the lead commentator and Coulthard as the co-commentator. Lee McKenzie, known for her other Channel 4 coverage including F1, will present the broadcast, and Ted Kravitz will be the pit-lane reporter.