W Series: The Story So Far
As the inaugural season reaches its half-way point, we’ve created a handy little round-up to bring you up to date with the world of W Series - and why it’s definitely worth following what happens next…
What is W Series?
Launched in October 2018, W Series is the first ever all-female single-seater motor racing championship. Each driver taking part is given a mechanically identical car capable of the same level of performance, with the intention being that talent will trump any other potential advantage. Prominent names in motorsport, such as former Formula 1 driver David Coulthard and technical officer Adrian Newey, are amongst those backing the series, whilst Catherine Bond Muir, a former intellectual property solicitor who specialised in sport, is CEO. The ultimate goal of W Series is to shake up the motorsport industry – in which women have rarely been given the same opportunities as men – and to give women the chance to build their experience and skills as drivers, thus putting them in greater contention for roles in the top tiers of motor racing. However, the announcement of W Series prompted some controversy from fans and established names in motorsport.
Why the controversy?
There is obviously gender segregation in many other sports, so what’s the issue in motor racing? Well, many critics of W Series have argued that, unlike other sports, motorsport is an area where men and women can compete at the same level, so they feel that it is unnecessary to separate women. IndyCar driver Pippa Mann was amongst those to express this viewpoint, having called W Series an “historic step backwards”. However, others have argued that it offers a vital platform for women to break through into the very top levels of motorsport - after all, female drivers have remained largely absent from modern-day Formula 1, with only two women starting a race since the championship began in 1950, so action is definitely needed to address this. Raising funds for a career as a racing driver is incredibly difficult and, with so few women drivers reaching the likes of Formula 1, it’s thought that this lack of female visibility has made the challenge of pursuing such a path even harder for women.
Who’s taking part?
Firstly, W Series has aimed to make motorsport far more accessible to women by not requiring drivers to pay a fee. Drivers were selected by competing in two qualifying rounds, where they were whittled down from 60 to just 18 competitors (along with two reserves). The process was vigorous and saw the drivers take part in plenty of on-track testing as well as mental and physical fitness assessments and media exercises. Some of the drivers who reached the final line-up have already experienced success in motorsport, such as Jamie Chadwick who became the first woman to win a BRDC British Formula 3 Championship race last year. Meanwhile others taking part are lesser known but have been pursuing their love of racing for many years.
When did it start and how long is the season?
W Series kicked off on 3-4 May, with the first race taking place at Germany’s famous Hockenheim. This was followed by Zolder in Belgium on 17-18 May, and Italy’s Misano on 7-8 June. The debut season is comprised of six races so is now at the half-way point, with the next race set to take place at street racing circuit Norisring in Germany on 5- 6 July. The Netherlands’ Assen will host round five on 19-20 July, before the finale is held at Brands Hatch in the UK on 10-11 August.
Who’s leading the way?
Jamie Chadwick currently leads the championship by 13 points after winning two of the opening three races. The 21-year-old from Bath earned a particularly impressive victory in Misano, where she surged past pole-sitter Fabienne Wohlwend at the first corner and continued to defend her lead from title rival Beitske Visser. Visser – the winner in Belgium – is in second place in the championship. Meanwhile Chadwick’s fellow Brit Alice Powell is in third, despite a spectacular crash in Misano which saw her car briefly become air bound. Fortunately she escaped uninjured, but has lost ground in the title battle.
What’s the reception been like?
W Series already seems to be a hit with many viewers, despite the initial controversy. After the opening round at Hockenheim, fans took to social media to praise the first race for being “amazing”, “impressive” and “very entertaining”. Interest seems to be continuing to grow too; earlier this month W Series hit almost 100,000 followers on social media, and they also recently quizzed fans on whether they’d be interested in purchasing merchandise for the series. There was a resounding yes – put us on the waitlist, guys! Meanwhile Jamie Chadwick has earned plenty of praise for her impressive display so far and is already reaping the benefits, having been announced as Formula 1 team Williams’ development driver as part of their Driver Academy.
How can I follow W Series?
W Series has been able to reach a large audience after securing a deal with Channel 4 to broadcast each race live on free-to-air terrestrial, which is pretty great considering that even Formula 1 no longer has free-to-air live coverage in the UK. Formula 1 pitlane reporter Lee McKenzie fronts Channel 4’s show, with Claire Cottingham and David Coulthard sharing commentating duties. Races are also live streamed on the W Series Facebook and Twitter accounts. And if you want even more action, check out their YouTube for behind-the-scenes clips and interviews.