The importance of W-Series: Bridging the inequality Gap
Let me bring you up to speed if you've been living under a rock. W-Series is a women's-only single-seater race series that has been running for the past three years. Motorsport has, for a long time, been a male-dominated sport.
Gender equality has been non-existent. The reasons are likely pinned on the sport that mirrors society, and that's not a good thing. But in many other industries, we've already seen more equality and steps in the right direction to address the imbalance. W-Series is that initiative in the motorsport world, which is why it's so important to nurture it. In many ways, it's bigger than just a race series.
Looking at Formula 1, the organisation has been a strong supporter of the W-Series and also allowed it to share the racetrack at many races on the F1 calendar. This worthy initiative has helped shed a spotlight on the series, further enhancing its possibility to thrive. Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have come out in support of the series. But is F1 doing enough? Hamilton himself came out in criticism calling on the F1 bosses to help when the news broke that the last three races would not happen. But expect free passes from something other than F1. We saw that with Colton Hurter and the Super License points saga not budging.
The reason for the earlier ending of the season? Sadly, the contracted funding from the principal investor did not materialise, and you need money to make anything happen in motorsport. But what does this mean for the series in the long term? Well, for starts, it's too good of an opportunity to miss out. Hence, the bets are that Catherine Bond Muir, CEO of W-series, and her team are working hard to secure funding for 2023 and have sufficient measures in place for this not to happen again, future-proofing the series. We live, and we learn, right? Regardless of this minor hiccup, the future does seem bright with three years of hardy experience under the belt as the series looks towards starting its fourth year.
What is essential in the transformation process is that the series is one of the critical tools we need to accelerate the transformation and create a space for women to compete, and it needs to be protected at all costs. But it is not without its questions. The issue does, however, come in as to where the series sits in the progression of a driver's journey to F1. Is it merely the top step with nowhere to go from there?
Take the allocation of Super License points. Regarding championship positions, getting first place earns you 15 Super License points, effective from 2020. You'll earn the same for winning a DTM or Indy Light championship. Compared to F2, another male-dominated series, a championship win earns you the 40 points you need straight away. But here's the kicker, winning the championship in W-series twice to get extra points won't help you, as the FIA only recognises one year for the 15 Super License points. So, someone like Jamie Chadwick missed out this year staying in W-series, and the move to Indy NXT is a strategic one she has just completed, teaming up with Andretti Motorsport, who we know has made moves to join F1. I like where this is going.
The earning criteria and super points allocation will need to be revised as time passes. The qualifying weighting at present just doesn't fit the mission for a series that wants to put a driver into an F1 car. But we do need to take a long-term view of this. We can't expect anyone to get into these cars and do well. That is setting someone up for failure. This is only the beginning; at some point, there will need to be a moment of cross-pollination between an F1 feeder series like F2 and W-series. The solution could lie in championship winners awarded on merit a drive in an F1-supported F2 team. That way, everyone gets a chance to fight it out for F1 glory and the winners who are there on merit and prepared to take on the challenge.
Boss of F1, Stefano Domenicali, said in a recent interview "Realistically speaking, I don't see - unless there will be something that will be like some sort of meteorite coming into the earth - a girl coming into Formula 1 in the next five years,". Again, not to be taken out of context, but you can read into that. It's validation as to the systemic imbalance the sport will need to overcome, and judging by the current happenings, that doesn't seem too unrealistic.
A silver lining is that these conversations are happening. W-series is an excellent incubator for female talent to get more eyes on the subject of equality. Jamie Chadwick, for instance, has now won the championship for the 3rd year running but has yet to get a drive in an F1 Free Practice session even though she is part of the Williams academy for one valid reason. F1 rules say you need 25 Super License points to participate in a Free Practice session. This means that the 10 points Chadwick earned in the Asian F3 series gives her what she needs to at least get into a Free Practice session with Williams.
What I'd prefer to see done is the series bridging the gap. As the series grows, the revenue-earning potential is to swap out the current spec F3 car for the F2 car. Sure, it will come at a higher cost, but that will develop the talent better and have a series more aligned with the F1 journey. That will justify an increase in Super License points.
Great women drivers have always existed. We only need to refer back to the great Michelle Mouton, who raced in an era of rallying that should never have been. Group B was and will be, the ultimate no-rules series that should have killed more than it did. That's got to say something about the calibre of driver that managed to survive as Michelle did in her Audi Quattro S1. There are more examples like this. It's about how best to position the feeder series for women, starting with bambino karting.
For Chadwick, who's been the only winner every year, she had to leave but is she the victim of her success given the current gap between F2 and W-series? Regardless, if she can get an F2 drive at some point, she must take it and treat the next two years as a development process. That's one way to look at it, but she will be up against a tough challenge. With time, the W-series will prove its weight in gold and not only be the motivating factor for more girls to enter racing but, with the correct positioning, provide a realistic avenue into the top-tier of motorsport, F1.
Words: Brent vd Schyff