Written by Archie O’Reilly, Edited by Sameena Khan
It is fair to say that people were not happy when two-time, soon-to-be three-time W Series champion Jamie Chadwick announced that she would be spending her third year in the series in 2022.
Having been crowned W Series champion for a second time, there was little doubt that Chadwick at least deserved the chance to prove herself higher up the series ladder. But things ultimately came down to the fact that seats in FIA Formula 3 and above (and even below) are ludicrously expensive, and Chadwick was unable to secure sufficient funding in a short time.
There are no two ways about it: the financial aspects of motorsport are incredibly harsh. As you progress up through the Formula 1 feeder series, it only gets tougher to get a drive - especially a top one. W Series chairman Sean Wandsworth suggests that a seat in F3 would have cost $1.2million for 2022, with an FIA Formula 2 seat $1 million more than that. The prices are even higher when it comes to driving for the best teams.
Of course, talent is also a factor, and many people are not convinced about Chadwick’s true pedigree. However, plenty suggests that she has at least warranted an opportunity to prove herself.
Chadwick’s racing career commenced through karting when she was only 11 years old. She gained her first car experience in 2013 with a scholarship in the Ginetta Junior Series, which the likes of Lando Norris also competed in before she started racing in the British GT Championship in 2015. In the GT4 category, she excelled and took six podiums, including two wins, en route to winning the championship in her maiden season. As a result, she became the first-ever woman and the youngest driver to win a British GT championship.
The following year, Chadwick only completed select rounds in the British GT championship, with her next step being the BRDC British F3 Championship with Double R Racing in 2017. Again, Chadwick started the season as an 18-year-old, competing in her first season in single-seater cars. She ended the championship in ninth, having taken only a single podium from 24 races. However, she did beat teammate Guilherme Samaia (who competed, albeit unsuccessfully, in F2 in 2020 and 2021).
In 2018, Chadwick continued as the only woman on the British F3 grid with Douglas Motorsport, improving to eighth place in the eventual standings. In addition, she became the first female winner of a British F3 race during the season, taking one further podium from 23 races. Chadwick was again the class of her team, comfortably beating all three teammates.
Compared to those heading the British F3 fields when Chadwick was racing, 2017 champion Enaam Ahmed is now competing in the Indy Pro 2000 Championship, while 2018 winner Linus Lundqvist is currently top of the Indy Lights standings. Kush Maini - now in F3 - finished third in British F3 in 2018, with current F2 driver Clement Novalak competing in 11 races and finishing 18th in the standings.
In 2019, Chadwick competed in the opening three races in the F3 Asian Championship, where she finished fifth twice. She also competed in the MRF Challenge Formula 2000. She became the first woman to win that championship, picking up nine podiums - six wins and three second-places. Jack Doohan, currently racing in F2, competed in the final five races, during which Chadwick picked up three victories.
The inaugural W Series season commenced in 2019. Chadwick stood on the podium five times, winning twice across the six races. She ultimately edged Beitske Visser to the championship by 10 points.
2019 also saw Chadwick as a development driver with the Williams F1 team. Then, at the latter end of the year and into 2020, she competed in Asian F3 full-time, taking four podiums from 15 races with Absolute Racing. Joey Alders was the champion, with Chadwick beaten by Doohan (second) and Nikita Mazepin (third); Doohan has had a strong rookie season in F2, while Mazepin made it into F1 for 2021 after finishing fifth in the 2020 F2 standings following this Asian F3 campaign.
Chadwick beat all her teammates in the Asian F3 championship. This includes current Andretti Autosport IndyCar driver Devlin DeFrancesco. He was defeated by 38 points - a margin likely too large to have been overcome by DeFrancesco, given that Chadwick got all her four podiums in the final six races in which he did not compete. She also notably beat Haas F1 reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi across the season while less notably beating former F2 driver Alessio Deledda, who competed in all rounds.
With W Series postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic, Chadwick competed in the Formula Regional European Championship - actually viewed in higher esteem by the FIA than W Series in terms of Super Licence points (25 given to the winner compared to 15).
For Chadwick, a ninth-place finish in the championship with only one podium - coming in the first of 23 races - and one top-five finish was a disappointing return given that she was racing for the successful Prema Powerteam.
Chadwick’s teammates, by contrast, made up the top three positions in the standings by the end of the 2020 FREC season. Gianluca Petecof topped the standings with 359 points, Arthur Leclerc (currently near the top of the F3 standings) and Oliver Rasmussen joined on 343 points behind. It was a brutal campaign for Chadwick, who ultimately finished on 80 points despite finishing inside the top 10 of every race bar three.
Some more well-known names competed in the same championship too. For example, Dennis Hauger took six podiums in eight races that he competed in (winning once and finishing second four times) before winning the 2021 F3 championship, while he was established F2 race-winner Juri Vips beat Chadwick by a single point despite only competing in eight races.
That FREC campaign is often held against Chadwick, though there are caveats.
Chadwick has confirmed that she raced with a car brought in externally after she secured sponsorship, also telling Eurosport’s ‘Breakdown Podcast’: “I had a really bad year in 2020 where I was with a top team and a lot of the reason I struggled in that year was with physicality. The team did try and help me change it (the car) from an engineering point of view to make it lighter. But I always felt at a performance deficit.”
Though into 2021, Chadwick returned to W Series for its second running, again showing her ability to win the championship. With Veloce racing, she achieved a podium in all bar one, winning four of the eight races. She finished a convincing 27 points ahead of Alice Powell.
And if you thought that was dominant, try to take in the fact that Chadwick is currently 75 points clear of Powell and Visser in the 2022 W Series standings after only six races (143 points to 68). She won the opening five races to reach a streak of seven wins stemming back to the end of last year. She was finally halted by Powell in the most recent round in Hungary after a disappointing qualifying finish of fifth following brake issues.
Now with Jenner Racing, it is an understatement to describe Chadwick as 'the class of the field'. Credit is owed to Chadwick for continual improvement as a driver, constantly extending the margin to many of the same competitors as in the previous two editions of the W Series.
If Chadwick ends up spending any more time in W Series beyond this year, it will show failings in terms of the series' intention. However, that is no slight against the W Series, which has provided an excellent showcase of female talent in motorsport.
Rather than a lack of capability, there has often been a lack of opportunity for women in motorsport. Still, W Series offers that opportunity - especially given that those involved drive for no cost. For many, it has kickstarted or even restored the hope of progressing higher up the motorsport ladder.
The series also gives drivers the chance to race in front of large audiences at the track and on television, with popularity increasing the appeal for teams in other categories to have female drivers. Undoubtedly, there would also be astronomical commercial gains from promoting a driver from W Series further towards F1.
But there are also drawbacks to W Series being somewhat unrepresentative, which has been a cause of debate regarding Chadwick's actual pedigree as a driver. Moreover, while the car's chassis is homologated to the latest FIA F3 specification, the engines are 110hp less powerful, with the Hankook tyres also slower than the Pirellis used in F3. To an extent, this does decrease the prestige of the W Series, which is held in less esteem by the FIA, given that 15 Super Licence points gained by the winner are less than all Formula Regional championships.
The primary goal for Chadwick is obviously to be promoted to reach F1 - that is the dream for nearly every driver. But, if nothing else, she viably wants to be a pioneer for women in motorsport across future generations. As she told The Press Association, she is “happy to be the guinea pig” and simply represents women to test the waters. Suppose Chadwick doesn’t become the long-awaited female F1 driver. In that case, she could still be a significant figure in starting a trend of women at least progressing onwards from the W Series. If no chance is given to Chadwick, you will never know what could be achieved.
She has been vocal about feeling that a lack of female role models can contribute to stagnation, which has been a cause of limited funding for women over the years. On the Driving Force Podcast, she spoke about women being an “unknown quantity” in the present day. Thus sponsors are tentative about taking a “big risk” and investing in a female driver. This further outlines the importance that Chadwick is allowed to make the next step in her career, allowing her to further establish herself as an example at the top end of motorsport.
There remain some issues to understand and overcome, particularly on a physical front (as mentioned regarding Chadwick’s FREC campaign). Regardless of the amount of time spent in the gym, Chadwick has cited issues with struggling with a lack of power steering in most formula cars due to women being genetically weaker than men. Additionally, she has claimed she lost positions late in races due to an inability to maintain her level due to a physical drop-off.
Other issues include steering wheels not compensating for the lower hand thickness of women, the closeness of pedals sometimes restricted, and cockpit sizes often hindering female drivers. Chadwick will be the first to admit that none of this is proven. Still, W Series has been an effective way to demonstrate the merits of designing cars, and even things such as race suits, to better suit female drivers.
Again, all of this links back to Chadwick’s will to be a guinea pig to help to improve certain things for the future. Regardless, there is an apparent belief that drivers can be equally successful despite acknowledged differences. Chadwick can be the one to show this.
So, what could actually be next for Chadwick? She is set to wrap up her third W Series title once the extended summer break concludes. Thus it feels unfathomable that she would spend another year in the series as much as it has benefitted her. There was enough scrutiny off the back of last year’s victory, with the backlash forcing her to log out of her social media accounts for a period. Things are growing stagnant in W Series, with Chadwick no longer receiving Super Licence points for her efforts.
The logical next step is F3, with it helpful to see how a driver progressing from W Series may perform in that category. Leapfrogging to F2 would likely be too ambitious for the time being, though success in F3 would render that further progression feasible.
Three years is the timeframe that Chadwick has set if she is to make it to F1. Other options such as Indy Lights are being explored to open an avenue to IndyCar. Furthermore, there are series such as Formula E, which has hosted ex-F1 drivers and those that narrowly missed out. In contrast, Chadwick has already competed in Extreme E on occasion. A failure to make it to F1 wouldn’t make Chadwick’s career unsuccessful - only very few drivers make it anyway.
Many people have argued against Chadwick due to results such as in FREC in 2020. Still, there will always be a caveat over physical struggles. And that campaign was instead an outlier among successes in various categories. Chadwick has often been near enough on par, sometimes beating, drivers presently in categories above W Series. She has talent, and her ever-improving W Series results have proven that she is improving as a driver.
As Chadwick said in a column for The Players’ Tribune, F1 has always been the goal, but she never firmly believed it was possible. “But now it seems achievable,” she says.
Whether it is achievable for her or another driver in the future remains to be seen. Still, it would be fair to believe that Chadwick’s involvement either way - as the one to make it or even as a trailblazer - will be invaluable.
The reality of her quality as a driver remains slightly unknown. But that gives a reason for her to become the first to be promoted from W Series, then we will gain a true sense. If you never try, you’ll never know.