Jamie Chadwick is dominating W Series again, but her struggles to advance her career exemplifies barriers women face in racing

Sometimes, in the cutthroat world of junior production driving, careers fall apart long before they should. This is especially true for women, who often work with smaller budgets and fewer opportunities than men in their respective positions.

As 2019 W-Series runner-up Alice Powell put it when asked why she took an extended break from racing: “I didn’t run out of talent.”

The urge to find a driver capable of reaching Formula 1 seems stronger than ever, but the most proven woman driving single-seaters today, soon-to-be three-time W-Series champion Jamie Chadwick, doesn’t seem to be get out of the regional Formula 3 series and move up.

The W series is almost unique among junior series in that it doesn’t force the champion to continue. If you win Formula 3 or Formula 2, you are not allowed to return in the following season. It’s a system with its own problems that often condemns talented drivers to brewing tea behind an F1 team’s garage for a year before a place opens up for them to progress.

However, as a result of the W-Series manner, Chadwick has contested a third title – or actually won almost undisputedly. However, her future looks uncertain and she goes into the summer break (the championship takes place in Singapore on September 30) with a question mark over what she will do next. Or how she’ll take that step to progress from a championship meant to be a stepping stone.

“My goal is always to get through,” said Chadwick before the break. “I really want the step up. I know I still have to perform this year, but I still have an eye on the future.

“Any feeder series is the target, so Formula 3, Formula 2, but I’m also looking at opportunities in the US and possibly Indy Lights too. So I’m just exploring all the options. We’ve got a nice big break after that.” Budapest so would be some time to really understand what we are capable of and what the best opportunity is.”

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It seems very clear that Chadwick cannot return for a fourth season in the W Series, for her sake and for the sake of the Championship. However, it’s much less clear where she’ll go from here, having just turned 24 and the professional part of her career beckoning temptingly but seemingly out of reach.

The last two women to drive in Formula 3 and Formula 2 respectively were Sophia Flörsch and Tatiana Calderón. Flörsch entered the series during lockdown and in an uncompetitive Campos car and did not score a point in the 2020 season.

Calderón had spent more years in Grand Prix-supporting junior series and was a member of the Sauber junior program but still struggled with the HWA Racelab car she found herself in for the 2019 season, which featured the exceptionally talented Anthoine Hubert before tragic death on the track earned him a race win that season. But subsequent reserve drivers, all very experienced, found a similar lack of performance as Calderón.

Former F1 driver David Coulthard was one of the founders of the W Series and now of More Than Equal, a program specifically trying to get a woman into F1. He said Chadwick understandably had to consider whether she would be able to be competitive in F3 or F2.

“Motorsport, once you have a platform, should be a meritocracy,” Coulthard told the media ahead of last month’s British Grand Prix. “Nevertheless, we know that in Formula 2 there are only one, two or three teams that actually win consistently.

“So it’s about getting into F2 and it’s about getting into F2 with the right car. And that depends on the individual teams. And when you’re trying to get a driver on a two-car team, there are a number of things to consider.”

That could explain why Chadwick was unexpectedly left without an F3 drive this year. The plan hadn’t been to continue in the W series; She had won back-to-back titles (barring a pandemic-quality hiatus) and had no plans to return. Her announcement that she was joining Jenner Racing for a third round in the championship was more dejected than most drivers’ autograph videos, and she released another a few days later, assuring fans that she was trying to get into formula 3 to come, but that was easy didn’t always work out.

Bruno Michel, CEO of F3 and F2, said he didn’t know why their deal went through.

“I don’t really understand why she didn’t get a place in Formula 3, to be completely honest. There were teams that were willing to take her,” Michel assured journalists earlier this season. “I know there was a discussion with a team, I don’t know what happened in the end.

“I think it’s a shame because I think she would be ready for Formula 3.”

However, Michel also warned that female drivers entering F3 and F2 will need to qualify well enough to be at the top of the series’ partially reversed grids. Qualifying 12th in F3 gives you pole for the sprint race, a potentially big opportunity to pick up points that Flörsch – whose best qualifying result of the season was 17th – missed.

“We absolutely need to prepare young female drivers to be successful at reaching the level of Formula 3 and being successful means we have to be sure that they can at least qualify in the top 12 there,” explained Michel . “If it’s going to be at the end of the grid, it’s going to be counterproductive because we’re going to have a lot of people saying, ‘Look,’ what exactly is what we don’t want.

“We strongly believe, very strongly believe, that there is absolutely no reason a female rider can’t achieve the same result as a male rider, but it’s a matter of preparation.”

And preparation is a big hurdle. Chadwick has now contested 116 races in single-seater cars, more than any other W-Series driver. In comparison, before getting into an F2 car, Lando Norris had driven 162. Chadwick has clearly closed the gap, but she is ultimately inexperienced compared to her male counterparts.

In male-dominated areas of sport where there is no gender segregation, such as motorsports and e-sports, the overwhelming reality is that little girls start later and don’t gain as much experience as early. The four-year gap between Norris, who started karting when he was 7, and Chadwick, who started when he was 11, is easy to spot.

W-Series CEO Catherine Bond-Muir said that asking why Chadwick didn’t reach the career highs of her male peers has a simple answer: she was at an earlier stage.

“If you look at our current best driver who is undoubtedly Jamie and compare to their peers who are Lando [Norris] and George [Russell]they’re the same age, they socialize, they’re all friends,” Bond-Muir explained. “If you compare the number of hours the guys have put in since karting and in the single seater pyramid, they’ve put in tens, if not hundreds of times as many hours in a car as Jamie.

“That’s why Jamie doesn’t compete on an equal footing based on experience alone.”

And Chadwick doesn’t just drive for himself. If she gets a good ride in F3 or Indy Lights, then she represents a (slightly delayed) major success for the W-Series program. If she doesn’t, there are inevitably awkward questions to be asked about whether the series’ careers of women really advances or locks them into a lower category queue.

Coulthard indicated that the FIA, motorsport’s governing body, relied on the series to push Chadwick forward.

“It has been suggested by some prominent people within the governing body that we should force them to spend their money on the next step. We’re not forcing anyone to do anything that boys aren’t being forced to do or men aren’t being forced to do.”

And with no secure seat, Chadwick remains in limbo. While a third title will certainly put her in a better negotiating position, given the prize money last but not least greases a deal, she has the added pressure to make it work. Teams can smell desperation and they make you pay for it, financially. So unless a Trevor Carlin or the sadly deceased Jean-Paul Driot – both junior team principals who scouted talent through money – shows up, they may find themselves in a weaker position than their budget suggests.

In any case, the costs are enormous. FIA Formula 3 is somewhere in the range of €3m for a season and Formula 2 is said to cost up to €6m or even more in some cases depending on spare parts. The W Series costs nothing to compete and actively pays their drivers, giving most of their drivers much more freedom to focus on their racing careers rather than working as stunt drivers or plumbers to make laps off the track get.

If Chadwick doesn’t find a place, it will be a problem for her career. And unfortunately women in motorsport. However, it should not be laid on her shoulders, nor should the reputation she already has for her gender. This needs to be looked at at a systemic level. The truth is that there are still tremendous barriers for women to advance in motorsport and one media-friendly, very remarkable woman’s struggle to climb the ladder should be seen as a brutal example of that, not her failure. Jamie Chadwick is dominating W Series again, but her struggles to advance her career exemplifies barriers women face in racing

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