Jamie Chadwick Q&A: Why she’s racing in W Series
The British F3 race winner talks to Autocar about the new all-female single-seater series she’ll compete in this year
Ahead of the first race in the new all-female W Series championship on 4 May, Jamie Chadwick, first female to win the British GT Championship, talks to Autocar about what the series means to her, and why it’s a better idea than its most vocal critics suggest.
You have the highest profile of any driver in W Series, so is it fair to say you have the most to lose?
“You could look at it like that, but I could also have the most to gain. When I was looking at my options for this year, naturally a racing driver’s budget comes into it. I looked at what was possible. It certainly didn’t look like the new [Formula 1-supporting] FIA Formula 3 series was an option because the budget for that was out the window. We’re talking €800,000 to €1 million, and there aren’t many seats.”
So why did W Series appeal?
“I’ll be quite open, initially the idea of racing just women wasn’t necessarily of interest. But the opportunity that the W Series provides is far greater than anything else on the table. It’s a funded series, which makes a huge difference, but it’s also top F3 cars on great circuits and obviously it pays prize money at the end of the year. The support you get as a package, I don’t think I could turn it down when I looked at it like that.
The prize fund – US$500,000 for the champion from a total of $1.5 million – is something rare in motorsport today, isn’t it?
Above and beyond that, the fact that the series is funded was another incentive. I don’t want to keep dragging it back to money, because it isn’t all about that, but naturally in this sport it’s a big percentage of it. The prize fund makes a big difference too, but my incentive to do as well as possible goes beyond that. In terms of F1, the prize fund would only get you so far, whereas it’s the support and profile the W Series can offer that makes the difference.”
What were your initial thoughts when you heard about W Series?
“It is controversial. It sounded like an awful idea and I was the first person to have that response. It wasn’t very well explained to me at all. But I had a lot of people very close to me say you’ve got to take a look at it. This isn’t something to turn your nose up at. So I did some more research and listened to what they had to say. It’s not easy when you are talking about women in sport in general. It’s a fairly sensitive subject. This is not what you think. It’s not about segregation, it’s about supporting female talent to the top. Okay, there could have been other ways of doing it, but in terms of getting 18 girls racing in F3 cars this was the only way they could have done it.”
How about a programme that supports women in already existing series, like the old Racing Steps Foundation or the Red Bull young driver scheme?
“I would be biased and think ‘great, let’s have a Racing Steps Foundation idea to get us to F1’. But that’s not a fair way to look at it at all because, while I’ve had a great opportunity to race as high as F3, there are at least another 60 girls out there who haven’t. And given that opportunity, they could be half a second up the road from me, or even as good as Lewis Hamilton. You couldn’t discover someone like that without something like this. So in terms of discovering new talent at F3 level this is the better alternative to something like Red Bull or Racing Steps.”
So it’s the opportunity that appeals?
“It’s only six races over a short period of time. It is not necessarily the only racing I’m going to do [Chadwick will also race in the Nürburgring 24 Hours with Aston Martin]. My plan is to fill my year as much as possible, but W Series gives me some great security.”
How do you feel about women racing against women?
“All of us want to race against the best and naturally if I want to make it in the sport I have to race against men, as I have throughout my whole career. This year I’m looking at it that I just want to be out racing, and once they’ve got their helmets on it doesn’t matter who they are.”
So say it goes well and you win. What do you do next?
“Retire with the prize money! No, the nice thing is it ends in August, so that gives you an opportunity. Everything is getting earlier in motorsport in terms of doing deals. In an ideal world I’ll have US$500,000 in August and I’ll know how much I need to find to make the next step up.”
You have probably spent your racing career dealing with the ‘women in motorsport’ question. Do you accept that is not going to go away?
“A little bit. I race because I love it. I do it naturally, and the female thing is just a topical conversation. When I started at 11 or 12 years old in karts I was completely oblivious to the fact I was the only female and I never got asked about it because it wasn’t something that anyone really cared about at that stage. I’ve gone through my whole career like that. But now I’m at the point where people are noticing and saying I’m breaking through a few boundaries. But it’s not something I’m consciously aware of. It’s just what I do.”
Women’s sport is contentious at the moment. Does motor racing have a problem?
“Yes, but no – a terrible answer to your question! Yes, in the sense that obviously there aren’t enough women in the sport. There is no reason why it should be so male dominated. But from my experience, I’ve never really felt like it’s been an issue, and I try and relate that to younger girls coming through. It is a great sport to be involved with. You hear some horror stories, but you do in all sports. The sport is open and desperate for a female to succeed and make it to the top. We just need more getting involved. I’ve had a really positive experience.”
Tell us about the car.
“It’s the new F3-spec Tatuus and it’s a new car for me. Everyone loves the old F3 Dallara, but in terms of the way the ladder is at the moment, for learning this is the perfect car. It’s cool for me because although it’s the same chassis it’s a very different car and probably the most powerful I’ve driven. I’m really looking forward to racing it.”
The people involved in W Series, including David Coulthard and Adrian Newey, must be a big part of the attraction.
Massively. That’s what I’m saying when I talk about the support network. You now it’s a serious project when you look at the names involved, behind the scenes as well as out front. I wasn’t sure how the driver assessment in Austria was going to be and went with an open mind, and it was really professionally run. That reinforced my decision to do it.”
What do you say to the critics of this series?
“I don’t want to say anything to them. I want to wait a year, get the first year of W Series done and look at it then. It’s not about now, it’s about getting more women into the sport in the future. It’s going to be game-changing. I can’t see it as damaging. Speak to men as well and they say if there was something like this for them – if you have brown hair you can race, for example! – they would do it. Racing drives never turn down opportunities.”
Source: Autocar Online