Written by Aiden Hover, Edited by Umut Yelbaşı.
With Jamie Chadwick recently announcing she will join Jenner Racing for W Series’ 2022 season, her third consecutive year in the championship, many have begun to question the worth and point of the series.
Already a two-time W Series champion, Chadwick will be looking to make it three in a row with her new team, but what will that actually achieve for her? If winning a series twice in a mostly dominant fashion is not enough to help Chadwick progress her career to higher levels of motorsport, then serious questions need to be asked about the value that W-series brings to its competitors.
First, however, it's important to recognise where W Series has succeeded. In fact, in many areas this success has been groundbreaking. In terms of value to its competitors, the series has enabled many drivers to race, who otherwise would not be able to, and in this way its been invaluable. By eliminating the financial burden and ensuring that talent is the only barrier to entry - as it should be in racing - it has offered second chances to those who had previously been forced to give up racing. Pioneering what probably is the fairest form of motorsport, through rotating equal cars and team members, the series ensures that the driver is the star of the show and can truly show her worth.
Furthermore, the exposure W Series is able to bring to its drivers is matched by very few other feeder series - aided in no small part by its support role on the Formula One calendar. The benefits of racing on the same track and on the same weekend as the Formula One cars is immeasurable. Oftentimes in motorsport, success is never about how you do but who you know, and the best way to meet and be noticed by these important people is to be in the Formula One paddock amongst them.
Despite all of this, however, the most successful driver within the series has been unable to progress out of it. With the goal of the series being to ‘see women from all over the world racing in the upper echelons of motorsport, including Formula One,’ it's fair to say that in this way it is failing. As an alternative feeder route into single seater racing, W Series is limited in a number of ways.
To begin with, the car itself makes it hard to draw comparisons to more traditional series. Despite using a Tatuus F3 T-318 chassis that has been homologated to the latest FIA F3 specification, the car is significantly slower than its Formula Three counterpart due to its less powerful 4-cylinder turbocharged engine that reaches only 270hp - 110 less than in F3. Additionally, the series runs with slower Hankook tyres compared to the Pirellis used in Formula Three, so any performance or speed comparison made between the drivers of the two series is useless as their equipment is very different. Therefore the W Series drivers only have each other to compare against and, unfortunately, this is where our next issue arises.
The drivers that make up the W Series grid are extremely diverse. With large age gaps and varying levels of motorsport backgrounds, the range of talent and intentions is bound to be vast, so comparisons are tricky. Additionally, very few drivers are at the same stage of their careers - a fact not found in the likes of Formula Two, Three or Four, or even in Indy Lights where each driver is still relatively young, finding their feet in the world of motorsports and aiming to progress through single seaters. This leads to a situation where even when drivers such as Chadwick win multiple seasons in a row, their achievements are discredited against the likes of Oscar Piastri as the talent pools they are competing within are simply too different.
Jamie Chadwick has proven herself to be the best driver in W Series but unfortunately this means very little on the global stage of single seaters. Whilst this is for sure a harsh reality, it is still reality and has meant that Chadwick’s career has become somewhat stagnant.
That said, W Series is by no means a failure and very much deserves its place in the motorsport world even just for the reasons listed earlier, as well as its ability to shine a light on women in motorsport. Where it is failing is bridging the gap to more prestigious categories.
As it stands, the season champion receives $500,000 in prize money and 15 Super Licence points aimed to further their career. The 15 points awarded is less than what is awarded for winning Formula Regional, which runs with similar cars and is the first area that should be improved. Upping the reward to 18, in line with Formula Regional championships, will make it far easier for drivers to build their portfolio and make themselves eligible for greater opportunities, such as Formula One tests.
Moreover, W Series could do more to ensure seats are actually attainable in higher categories. Whilst the half a million dollars is for sure very useful, it is nowhere near enough to fund an F3 seat, which would be a logical next step for the likes of Chadwick. Ideally, the prize money would simply be increased to fill the gap, but we live in the real world and money cannot simply be “magicked” out of thin air. However, W Series could work together with the FIA to ensure an F3 seat is made available to the champion at a reduced cost through sponsorship or other forms of funding.
Obviously this is very optimistic thinking, but W Series has an ever growing fan base, and as the spotlight shone onto its drivers through the F1 connection continues to shine brighter, the series will inevitably become more profitable, which could be reflected in the prize pool. Regardless of the solution, W Series needs to do more to ensure the level of competition is comparable to other series’ through improving the car and talent pool, as this is what makes its winners attractive to promotion.
So, is W Series a failure? No, but it still has a long way to go until it's a success.
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