Earlier today, the newly-formed Jenner Racing W Series team announced that two-time series champion Jamie Chadwick would be joining them for the upcoming 2022 season. And that’s truly terrible news for a whole host of reasons — most of them being the lack of progression the W Series has provided for promising women in motorsport.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve been skeptical of the W Series. While I love seeing a podium full of great women celebrating their hard-won accomplishments, I’ve always been afraid that the series would just become a convenient place to discard promising female drivers. And with Chadwick taking on her third season in the series after winning two championships, I can’t help but feel that those fears have come true.
Hear me out: The W Series has been great for many things. Drivers like Alice Powell have had a second chance in motorsport after their careers stalled due to to a lack of funding, and the series has helped introduce great talent to a wider audience.
But Chadwick shouldn’t still be there.
The W Series is the equivalent of a Formula 3 series, and drivers who win in F3 generally move forward. If you win regional British F3, maybe you move to another regional F3 series, or you compete in the overall European championship, or you head up to Formula 2. There’s movement. There’s growth.
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But Jamie Chadwick hasn’t moved. She’s stayed in the W Series while competing tangentially in other regional single-seater championships. She should be signing somewhere else. But the W Series is going to be her primary mode of competition for the next year. For her dominant efforts, Chadwick only took home $500,000 per year — nowhere near enough to give her the money to become an attractive prospect to teams without outside sponsorship.
It’s frustrating. Chadwick isn’t just a great female driver, but she’s an incredibly solid driver overall; she’s just lacked investment from a sponsor or team. Now, she’s going to spend another year in a series where she’s already proven herself, leaving her with nothing to gain and no better prospects for the future.
The format of the series needs to change if it wants to become a legitimate championship and a legitimate step on the ladder for the women of racing. The W Series as a standalone championship offers no momentum or growth for women. There is no guarantee that they’ll move forward.
Instead, the W Series needs to consider itself a mere part of the wider motorsport landscape. It should be pursuing partnerships with, say, Formula One teams or with junior racer academies like those sponsored by McLaren, Ferrari, and Red Bull. It should be working with Formula 2 or regional Formula series to enable competitive women to graduate from the W Series into something greater — thereby enabling more promising women to find their footing in the W Series. It should be pursuing deeper partnerships to offer bigger prize packages.
Instead, the W Series has become a place where female talent goes to stagnate. And if it stays that way, it’s going to do more harm to the women of motorsport than good.