Single Seaters

What’s the fuss about W series?

Feature Image Credit: W Series press release

On the 10th of October it was announced that in 2019, a new free-to-enter single seater motor racing series aimed at female racers only, would be launching.

The series will race for six rounds, in identical cars for 18-20 drivers during the first season, all of whom will have to have passed a rigorous pre-selection programme. According to the organisers this selection process will involve “on-track testing, simulator appraisal, technical engineering tests, fitness trials, ect,” all under the eyes of personnel with decades of F1 expertise. The series is to be called W Series

According to the organisers of the series as stated in their press release, “at the heart of W Series’ DNA is the firm belief that women can compete equally with men in motorsport. However, an all-female series is essential in order to force greater female participation.”

As expected, the decision to promote a women’s only race series was very polarising, and within minutes of the series announcing themselves on social media people were clamouring to share their opinions on the series. There were arguments being made on both sides for and against the creation of the series. Many people against the series feel it is a step backwards for women in racing, arguing that the segregation of women will not help the cause overall of women in Motorsport. While those for the series argue that it is the opposite, that the series will empower women in racing and give them new opportunities they may not have previously had open to them.

So what are the arguments for and against the creation of W series, and can either side be truly seen as “right” in this debate.

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One of the biggest arguments against the creation of W series is the fact that people feel women and men can compete on the same level in the same series. Unlike other sports like skiing, swimming, or football for example, due to the nature of the car and driver working together, Motorsports is one of the few areas women and men can compete together in on a level playing field. And female drivers have proved, and are currently proving that you can race in a series against the men and succeed.

This year alone in mixed gender fields we’ve seen Jamie Chadwick take her first win in British F3, and become the first woman to do so. Flick Haigh, along with her co driver Jonny Adam, take not only the first win by a female driver in British GT but the first championship as well. And Motorcyclist Ana Carrasco break similar ground by becoming the first female winner and champion of the World Supersport 300 Championship.

With women in mixed gender fields having so much success, many feel that the idea of segregating women off from the men is a step backwards in the development of women in Motorsport.

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Others have argued that the money being used to create W series could have been better spent on supporting drivers in series that currently exist, rather than create a separate series for them to race in. IndyCar driver Pippa Mann, who has been one of the biggest critics of W series, has stated that the series contacted her about racing for them for the inaugural season. They highlighted to her that they were aware she didn’t have the funding to compete full time for a series in IndyCar, and that their series came without the need for funding. Meaning she could race full time for them.

Mann and many others have pointed out that the cost to start the series would have been better invested into supporting current drivers as they compete in their own series around the world. Rather than segregate women off in their own racing series. They argue that if they’re interested in raising the profile of women in motorsport, supporting drivers in their current bids for success in their respective championships will raise their profile and make them more visible. Others have suggested that a Red Bull style “Young Driver” system would be a better way of ensuring that women can progress up the career ladder and into the top echelons of Motorsport. Either option they feel, is a better option than W series.

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W series have highlighted they feel there is a “glass ceiling” girls hit at a certain level of racing, and one of the main factors is a lack of sponsorship out there for female drivers. The money that has been spent on creating a separate series could easily have been invested in supporting current drivers in their fields. The drivers for W series will have to go through a rigorous selection program. This program could easily have just been applied to current female drivers to secure funding for their respective campaigns. If a female drivers has the correct funding she may then be able to progress further on in her career. Or she may not have to drop out of her field due to a lack of funding. Therefore reaching the aim of seeing more women in motorsport and raising their profile without the need for segregation and a separate series.

In a similar vein of argument to supporting current drivers, some people have suggested that the money for W series would have been better invested on a grassroots campaign in karting aimed at encouraging and supporting girls through the beginning of their careers in racing. W series will be using a Tatuus T-318 Formula 3 car, which means that the series will be a more intermediate level series rather than a grassroots level. The issue is if the girls are not coming into and coming up from karting to go into a racing series like W series, then running a women’s only championship will not help. The girls will not be there to fill the seats, rendering the championship obsolete in ways.

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There is also an argument to be made that once a woman has won the series, there’s not a huge amount in place in terms of post W series for a series they could progress onto. The series is being toted as another F3 feeder series, of which there is a saturation of racing series at the same level both at a national and international level. If a woman wins the W series there is still no clear path on where she could go next. Compared to something like F2 and F3, there is a clear sign of natural progression. If a driver does well or wins in F3, then the chances are they will likely be picked up by an F2 team and be able to race there. Charles Lecerc is a great example of a driver who has performed in the lower series. And is now getting the oppertunity to race in Formula 1. W series does not have a clear series to progress on from, and that is not the only issue facing a potential post W series champion.

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Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff came out in 2015 and estimated that to manage a young driver from karting through to a level where they could be considered for a Formula 1 seat, you would typically need around €8millon. This estimate by Wolff will likely have increased year on year as racing gets more expensive, and this may not even cover the costs needed to be in a front running team for the best chance to win a championship and get noticed.

While a fee-free season may help young women struggling to find sponsorship, the issue may not magically disappear merely because they won a championship. The lack of companies and people out there wishing to chalk up money for female sponsorship is likely to still be an issue even after becoming W series champion. While the $500, 000 prize money for winning hardly seems like anything compared to the €8million euros quoted by Wolff to make it into a position to challenge for a Formula 1 seat. Simply put, a fee-free season with no clear path through to the next level of competition is not going to help the young girls out there struggling for sponsorship or a drive post W Series.

However, despite all the arguments against the creation of W series there are some compelling arguments to be made in favour of the series. One of which is the fact that a series like W series is aiming to provide a catalyst for change, and promote the idea of women racing and competing to get into top level motorsport.

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Formula 1 has been running now for 68 years since the first championship race held in Silverstone. There have been nearly 1000 Championship Grand Prix races held during this time with nearly 900 drivers contesting in these races. Of these 900 or so drivers, only two of them who qualified to race have been female. These two drivers are Lella Lombardi, who started 12 races and still holds the record for being the only female points scorer in F1 with ½ a point. And Maria Teresa de Filippis who started three Grand Prix’s back in 1958. Apart from these two female racers, and the small handful of female racers who either failed to qualify for a race or were free practice and test drivers only, there has been a significant lack of female Formula 1 racers.

It’s even worse in lower down feeder series to Formula 1. The current F2 series, which was the GP2 series that started in 2005, has failed to have a female driver start a race at all in its 14 year history. W series has pointed out that they feel when girls reach the GP3 levels of feeder series, they hit a “glass ceiling” and are unable to progress further. W series was created with the goal in mind to help girls past this glass ceiling. They hope that by providing a fee-free series and choosing their competitors on talent alone, they will boost the drivers profile past this glass ceiling. And therefore allow them to be picked up by bigger feeder series like F2 and progress through the ranks to F1.

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W series have also pointed out that the argument for using the money for a karting level initiative may still not have the desired result of getting young girls into racing and through the feeder categories. As they point out the approach of throwing more money into karting does not necessarily mean there will be more coming out of karting. At the moment in grassroots karting boys are still vastly outnumbering the girls. Add into the fact as previously mentioned that girls are struggling for funding, encouraging more girls into karting will just lead to more girls hitting that “glass ceiling.” The creation of a women’s only series that is fee-free and based on talent, as previously mentioned, will help with funding issues. It’s also hoped that this series will provide a positive trickle down effect throughout the lower levels of motorsport. Which will hopefully have a two pronged effect of encouraging more girls into junior karting, and more sponsors for female drivers as well.

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W series also hope that by running a female only series they are able to provide strong role models for young girls out there wishing to get into racing. Arguably there are already females racing out there for young girls to look up to. Racers like Jamie Chadwick, Tatiana Calderon (who we recently interviewed), and Ana Carrasco are great examples of role models for young girls looking at getting into racing. And while she has retired now, Susie Wolff continues to inspire young girls to chase after their dreams with the formation of her Dare to be Different initiative. However the like of Calderon and Chadwick have to share the live feed of their race series with all the other racers. Take Calderon for example, she is the lone female in the GP3 grid at the moment among 24 racers, which means 23 of the drivers we see are male.

If a young boy tunes in to watch GP3 he can look at 23 racing drivers and pick any of them for a role model to emulate in his own racing career. The chances are if he sees a car on track, it’ll be a male racing driver. If a young girl watches the same series, she only has one driver she can see racing. And like her male counterpart, the chances are if they’re focusing on a driver, it’s likely to be one of the male ones.

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By creating a women’s only series you allow 100% of the drivers to be female. When a young girl watches W series she will be able to see female racers every time, and like her male counterpart watching GP3, she can then have the pick of her role model to emulate. Often there is the case of “if you can see it, you can do it,” and there are many cases of if younger children see someone they admire doing something they wish to do, they are more likely to feel the goal is achievable. Which in turn meant they will therefore strive to do it themselves. By creating a series filled with female racing drivers, there is a chance you will inspire more girls to chase the dream of going into racing. Which will hopefully increase the number of girls participating not just at karting level, but hopefully at other levels as well.

One area that has arguably been overlooked in all of this is the effect the W series may have in other areas of women’s motorsport as well. Like female racers who want to see a driver they can look up to and emulate, young girls wishing to get into an engineering, PR, mechanical, or even team boss role want those role models too.

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Again, like female racers, there are of course women in all of these roles in other series. But for example in Formula 1 there are currently ten teams on the grid, all of which have a male in the top job. The closest young girls get to a team boss in Formula 1 is Claire Williams, who is the Deputy Team Principal at Williams racing, under her Father Frank Williams who is still the Team Principal. For a young boy looking at role models for team bosses he has ten to chose from. That doesn’t begin to account for people in high positions like Chase Carey and Ross Brawn.

If W series can provide employment for females in roles such as team bosses, mechanical and engineering roles, and PR and journalist roles, then again young girls will have someone to look up to and emulate. Which may begin to shake of the age old belief in society that Motorsports is “a boys thing.” If this stigma of motorsports being a “a boys thing” can be dropped, then more young girls may begin to see that they too can have a career in motorsports like their male counterparts.

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Lastly, no one is saying to women in motorsport you can now only get into motorsport if you go through W series. Far from it. The traditional route through things like F3 and F2, touring car, and other feeder series To F1 and other series beyond that are still open to women. If a female racer feels like a more traditional route is the best option for her, she is still welcome to go through that route to reach the upper levels of their sport. W series is just opening up another path for these women to explore should they so wish to enter the series.

Ultimately weather you are for or against W series, the series will still be going ahead in the spring of 2019. The first round will be held on the 3rd – 5th May at Hockenheim in Germany and will finish at the final round in Brands Hatch in the UK on the 10th – 11th August. It is yet to be seen if the aims and wishes of W series will be fulfilled in terms of inspiring young girls into racing, while providing an opportunity to get past the “glass ceiling” for those females currently racing. While it is also yet to be seen if the negative feelings surrounding W series will have an effect on the popularity of the series. And if this will have an outcome on the aims and wishes of the series to move forward.

Debates about the series are likely to continue up until the first round, and possibly onwards into the first season as well. Weather you fall on the side for W series, or the side against W series there is at least one bit of common ground both sides of the argument can agree on. And that is they both wish to see more women taking part and succeeding in Motorsport. Maybe that is the lesson that should be taken away from this argument. Whichever side you fall on, we all have the same common goal in mind at the end, to see more women in motorsport.

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