When Lewis Hamilton celebrated his sixth Formula One title in Houston, he moved up to second in the list of all time Formula One winners, just one championship victory away from Michael Schumacher. Notably, that list remains entirely populated by male drivers, despite motorsport being open to all genders, but according to Jamie Chadwick and Catherine Bond Muir, the inaugural champion and CEO of W Series respectively, that might not be the case for much longer.
“Could we see a female Formula One champion? It's certainly possible, and it’s so important that we’re creating a pathway for women to compete at that level,” Bond Muir told the sport industry during the final Sport Industry Breakfast Club of the year.
“Something was broken in motorsport. As other sports were pushing the agenda on female empowerment, motorsport was going backwards and it was concerning for the entire community.”
W Series, which debuted in 2019, is a female-only single seater motorsport, with six races around the world. Chadwick, who was crowned inaugural champion, now has her sights set on the top of the sport, and says that it wouldn’t have been possible without the new series.
“I wouldn’t be here without W Series, it genuinely has changed my life. I’ll admit I had my doubts when it first started, but it has appealed to an audience beyond motorsport and that has allowed me to gain exposure and gain credibility on a mass scale.
“It has turned around my commercial career for sure – most classes of motorsport need fees to enter, but W Series doesn’t which allows me to focus on my racing, market myself and attract new sponsors.”
Chadwick is W Series’ ultimate case study, a champion who is now looking to loftier heights as a result of increased exposure – but Bond Muir is eager to stress that it’s both a developmental platform and a destination in itself.
“Both options are not mutually exclusive. For some drivers, we’re giving them a platform they didn’t previously have to reach the very top of our sport, but for others we’re creating a high-performance, globally viewed platform to race against the best women in the world.
“Nearly $5 billion went into personal sponsorship in motorsport this last year, but all to men. Our central proposition is to change that and ensure commercial success for our drivers. Conversely, we also want to ensure women aren’t dropping out of the funnel to elite level, which currently exists.”
The dual approach to the development and exposure of W Series’ drivers is admirable, but Bond Muir concedes that it is a business as well, and needs to be commercially viable to continue.
“W Series will be profitable in year three and that is something we’re proud of. The motorsport community has been welcoming of the idea and I’m thankful to all our ambassadors and investors for helping us grow. We’re six races now, and plan to be eight next year – with two in the Americas – before expanding to Asia. Our aim is to settle on a 12 to 14 race calendar and I’d be happy with that success.”
Sponsors, meanwhile, have been watchful in their approach to W Series, but Bond Muir believes the proof of concept is now there.
“We did a lot of value in kind deals in year one, because sponsors loved the idea but needed to see it in practice. That conversation has now completely changed, and because of how well year one has gone, the negotiations are much more centred around cash-based sponsorship.
“We don’t, however, just want to offer sponsors a sticker on the car, or the sleeve of a race suit. We want to work with sponsors who will help to tell our story and move the conversation along. Motorsport has been a macho environment and we want to change that, so we want sponsors and partners who are going to do the same.”
While Bond Muir is excited for the future of W Series, Chadwick’s may lay away from the female-only series. The 21-year-old has designs on Formula One but knows it’s still a long journey to get there. She does concede, however, that Formula One remains in a class of its own, though that isn’t necessarily a disadvantage.
“What Formula One and W Series do is very different, so while it seems easy to compare them it really isn’t. The proposition is so different – Formula One can be very technical with lots of rules, which some people love, while W Series has started from scratch and can innovate every day.
“It has captured the imagination of the world and that’s an incredible thing. Of course, I’d love to drive in Formula One, but its not the only top level of the sport. I’d love to drive in Formula E - my goal is to race at the top level, and Formula E is an incredibly high level.”
For now, Chadwick will race again in W Series next year – despite a new rule change that bars a reigning winner from racing in the following championship – and is aiming to secure super license points to bolster her journey to the top. At the age of 21, the world is her oyster and sponsors will start to take notice, but she’s happy just getting recognised.
“I can walk through the Formula One paddock now and people give me respect – I even met Fernando Alonso and he knew everything about W Series, it was incredible!”