Visible Women

The feminist race for Formula One equality - why we should talk about the W Series

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Hannah Mendelsohn
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W Series driver Sabre Cook ready to race

There’s a big motorsport series launching and it could be the key to getting women onto the Formula One starting grid

We’ve all heard the jokes saying women can’t drive as well as men, but this weekend 18 racing drivers will categorically show the world that women can be just as fast and furious when they take part in a brand new, all-female motorsports racing series.

The W Series is made up of six races across Europe and starts Saturday 4 May with its first race in Hockenheim, Germany. The drivers will be competing in Formula Three cars, which are often seen as a stepping stone to competing in Formula One. What’s more, those taking part were selected on merit, and don’t have to pay to enter with cars provided by the racing series. 

If anything can wave the chequered flag on Formula One’s gender imbalance, it’s the W Series.

Women have raced in Formula One in the past, but it’s certainly not the most inclusive of sports. While men become megastars, only two women have ever made it through qualifications to race in a Grand Prix, and the last woman to do so and the only woman to score points in Formula One – Lella Lombardi – raced between 1974 and 1976.

In giving women their own racing platform, the W Series is breaking down the barriers that have historically stopped women from competing on the same level as their male counterparts. And there’s no real reason why women couldn’t join Lewis Hamilton on the starting grid. 

When the series was launched last year, former Formula One racing driver and W Series board member David Coulthard said: “In order to be a successful racing driver, you have to be skilled, determined, competitive, brave and physically fit, but you don’t have to possess the kind of super-powerful strength levels that some sports require. You also don’t have to be a man. That’s why we at W Series firmly believe that female and male racing drivers can compete with one another on equal terms given the same opportunity.”

British racing driver Jamie Chadwick before the W Series starts
W Series: British driver Jamie Chadwick is one to look out for in this exciting new racing series

Coulthard said the gender gap is down to women racing drivers reaching a glass ceiling. He said: “Often as a result of a lack of funding rather than a lack of talent.”

W Series organisers aren’t messing around – as well as no entry fee, every competitor will receive a slice of the $1.5 million prize fund and the champion will receive a pay-out of $500,000 to help them progress through the ranks and perhaps take their place in the Formula One starting grid. 

While that’s a drop in the ocean in comparison to Formula One’s millions, it’s significantly more than the now-defunct European Formula Three Championship with a total prize fund of €500,000.

The series could dramatically increase equality in motor racing. Catherine Bond Muir, the W Series CEO, said she first started dreaming up the concept while on maternity leave because she believes there are  “too few” women competing in single-seaters series at the moment. 

She added: “W Series will increase that number very significantly in 2019, thereby powerfully unleashing the potential of many more female racing drivers. W Series drivers will become global superstars – inspirational role models for women everywhere.”

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All six races in the W Series championship will be broadcast on Channel 4 with full coverage of the race and build-up. For the first time girls will see themselves in the racing seat and with five British drivers in the starting line-up, there is inspiration a plenty for aspiring female racers. Ones to watch include Alice Powell, Jamie Chadwick, and Sarah Moore who have all racked up some impressive wins and female-firsts in their racing careers so far.

The inaugural W Series race at Hockenheim will air on Channel 4 at 2:45pm 1 May. The series comes to the UK on 10-11 August for the final race of the series at Brands Hatch, tickets are available now

Image: Getty