It’s not just ‘toys for the boys’ as the all-female series will be part of the support package for Formula 1 going into 2021 and beyond…
Earlier in the year, W Series CEO, Catherine Bond Muir, promised a bigger and better 2021 for the all-female race series when she spoke to gather press. Oh, boy: did she deliver! The announcement last week that the series will link up with Formula 1 as part of the support race package was met with widespread delight, and so it should. It’s the result of lots of hard work behind the scenes from everyone at W Series HQ after a year that saw real world racing cancelled.
Along with the announcement, Catherine sat down with the gather press to discuss the announcement and plans for 2021. With the news that the series would support Formula 1 on eight race weekends, the question everyone’s lips was what races we could expect to see the W Series at? “You will understand that F1 has only recently finalised all the dates in their calendar”, Catherine began. “Because of COVID, it’s taken everyone a lot longer, and as a result, we can only start planning our calendar as soon as they gave us what their final calendar was. So at the moment, what we’re doing is just doing a massive logistical exercise to see where we can go and where we can afford to go.”
With the series already racing at the US and Mexican Grand Prix weekends, how would the race calendar shape up? “I have got a list of 10 different possibilities of permutations of races”, Catherine explained. “I have absolutely no idea, but I think it is likely that we will have a later start in Australia – and that is putting my COVID hat on. The later that we leave it in the year, the better it will be, and whilst I don’t know what the date of the last race is, our season may well end in Mexico, but that hasn’t been confirmed.”
Going a bit further, Catherine said, “We would prefer races to be closer together to create a momentum to the season. It’s constant compromise, which is what has defined my life at the moment, but hopefully we will produce a really exciting calendar when it comes out.”
The big news coming out of Formula 1 is the inclusion on Saudi Ariba on 2021’s calendar. It would be quite the head-turner to have an all-female series arrive and race in a country who’s take on women and equality does not need to be explained by me in a motorsport feature. What was the prospect of the series racing in Formula 1’s newest destination? “I have no objection about going to Saudi Arabia provided we can establish a meaningful relationship, and I think that would take some time to put together”, Catherine said.
One of the contributing factors to the W Series’ success was that coverage was on free-to-air TV. Would this continue, or would Sky be jumping in to take a slice of the pie? “We’re remaining completely independent, so our strategy in our first year will be exactly the same as our strategy for TV rights this year, and that is we will always go to the broadcaster with the greatest reach.” This means that subscribers to Sky Sports F1 will currently have to switch to terrestrial to watch the W Series.
Expanding further, Catherine said, “We are not looking for big-bucks TV deals. What we’re looking for is reach. The most important thing for us at the moment is to build the brand of W Series. We want to be a truly global, international series, and the only way that we can do that is by getting into as many households as possible.”
In the absence of real world racing in 2020, the W Series Esports League took place and was a great success. Coverage for that alongside the normal internet sources was the BBC and its iPlayer service. However, speaking to Catherine it seems Channel 4, the series’ broadcaster in 2019, will be doing much the same in 2021. “We are certainly speaking to Channel 4, but you will understand that no broadcaster is going to commit to W Series until the commissioning editors agree that they can actually broadcast on the dates, and since we don’t know what dates we’re racing at yet, we can’t do any broadcast deals.”
There are lots of reasons why the series need to agree their dates as quickly as possible. For sponsors, for getting any broadcasters in place, but also because there is an FIA meeting at the beginning of December, and they need to put their dates in before that.
On the subject of Esports, Catherine was asked if the Esports League would contiune in some format. “We will certainly progress with our Esports”, Catherine explained excitedly. How that is going to happen is the subject of many meetings at the moment at W Series HQ. For Catherine the biggest importance of the Esports series it the opportunity of reaching any young girl in the world provided they have a computer. “If we look at what the mission of W Series is, which is to encourage more women into racing and motorsport and to improve the prospect of women in motorsport, we need to attract as many women and young girls as possible into the sport, so Esports is our real opportunity to touch millions and millions of girls across the world.”
Coming back to the real world and the announcement the W Series will be linking up with Formula 1, questions about how and if the series will race with DTM, for whom the series supported in 2019. Would the series be racing with DTM at all in 2021?
“I’m not so sure that would happen”, Catherine began. “I think having a round of eight races with Formula One is possibly going to be enough, and I think there’s a big crossover on the period of time that we want to be racing and when the DTM races will take place.” The W Series leave DTM this year with heavy heart because unquestionably, the series would not be what it was if Gerhard Berger [chairman of ITR, the promoter of DTM] hadn’t given a platform to race in 2019. “They were a fantastic partner for us, and it is no reflection on DTM at all the fact that we have done this deal with Formula One”, Catherine explained.
It has been quite the journey for the fledgling series since its launch and first race in 2019, to now be embarking on a new chapter with Formula 1 is quite the achievement. What is the driving force behind the series to get to this stage and what is in store going forward. “The driving force for W Series, is really to promote motorsport to women”, Catherine explains. “When we started out on this mission the Venn diagram was extremely small, and now, that has changed, enormously even since in the last couple of years, and I think W Series is part of that reason. There are obviously lots of initiatives going on round the world, but actually to be part of that movement and to be in the middle of that change is actually, really heartwarming.
It’s about the team. The people who work at W Series are an extraordinary group of people. They believe in W Series. They enjoy and love the mission of it. We have a good laugh and lots of fun, but there’s a huge amount of hard work that goes into this too, and I think the team should be rightfully proud of what they’ve achieved.”
And where does the series go in the future? Catherine was happy to share her thoughts: “I think that is we need to be involved at all levels of motorsport. I think there is a big gap to be filled between engaging young girls at an Esports level and having W Series in a global championship level, and I think W Series needs to permeate into the world in between those two points.”