Under the Visor: Jamie Chadwick

W Series champion Jamie Chadwick has revealed the secret weapon which is allowing her driving career to go from strength to strength: confidence. The 21-year-old driver, who has been lauded as Formula 1’s first female hope in 44 years (since Italian Lella Lombardi started her last Grand Prix in 1976), says: “I think it’s the same for athletes in all sports – it’s about confidence and self-belief, about backing yourself. There are a lot of variables in motorsport. Anything can happen, anything can go right or wrong, but if you know you’ve prepared and done the best job possible in the build up to the weekend, then it’s just about having the confidence to see it through.

“Confidence is a massive thing. I was in a really good position last year because I came into W Series having just won a championship and after the first few rounds I was really confident. But you could tell that, as my confidence started slightly to tail off, the results began to tail off slightly too.

“I’ve been out in Asia, racing, and it’s been the same there. I had pole position and there was no way I wasn’t going to win that race – just as at Hockenheim – because I’d imagined it in my head. That positive frame of mind makes a big difference.”

For someone so young, Jamie oozes a sense of purposefulness and professionalism that makes it hard to believe that moments of self-doubt may exist, especially during a period of such sustained success. The 2019 W Series crown was added to an already glittering array of motorsport trophies. In 2015, at 17, she became the first woman and youngest driver to win the British GT Championship. In 2018, at Brands Hatch, she became the first woman to win a British F3 race. Last year, she became the first female winner of the MRF Challenge series in Chennai. And she earned her first points towards an FIA Formula 1 Super Licence in February after finishing fourth overall in the Asian F3 series at the Chang International Buriram circuit in Thailand.

Even so, there is a sense that Jamie never takes anything for granted. Her solid work ethic and surprising modesty allow her always to remain eager to learn more, and recently she took some serious advice from a woman who she unashamedly describes as “my idol”. Olympic gold medallist Jessica Ennis-Hill was invited to talk to W Series contenders as part of a recent four-day driver development programme. Jamie smiles broadly as she explains:

“She’s genuinely my idol. I’m a massive fan. I went straight over and had a conversation. I’ve never spoken to someone so in tune with everything. She’s a massive inspiration, on every level, for all of us.

“Everything she said resonated and was so relatable. I don’t think anyone in our country has had as much pressure on their shoulders as she had during the 2012 Olympics. The fact that she dealt with it and succeeded with a massive smile on her face is so admirable.

“The most interesting part of our conversation was when she was talking about dealing with failure; being able to look at negative moments in your life and analyse them, learn from them and overcome them.

“Jess said she always had to be there, ready to give of her best, knowing she’d done everything she could possibly do. That’s how I try to approach racing.

“We get to race pretty often so, although the pressure is high, you can quickly come back from a bad race. By contrast, the Olympics are only every four years, so you only do a couple in your whole career, maybe three if you’re very lucky. I asked Jess how she dealt with that because I’ve been in a position where I’ve felt the pressure, even though I had a chance to redeem myself just a couple of weeks later, and it really takes over your body. She answered: ‘Just have belief in your training and everything you do so that when you get on that starting grid you know you’ve done everything you can, and what will be will be.’ So true. So wise.”

In keeping with that philosophy, Jamie started last year’s inaugural W Series championship in a strong position after a series of high-profile wins – but she admits the all-female set-up stretched her in surprising ways. She says:

“I’m always going to remember the 2019 W Series. Aside from the big high of winning it, there was a nice element of 20 female racing drivers being given an opportunity and all being in the same boat. None of us really knew what to expect going into it, but we all bonded and gained a level of respect for one another as a result.

“I sensed we’d get on because we’d all had very similar experiences as individuals. So when we all come together, it’s natural that there’s quite a lot we can talk about and share. Obviously it was competitive and no-one necessarily wanted to talk a great deal to one another on the race weekends, but because of the way W Series ran it we were sharing data – everything we did in the car – so there wasn’t really anything to keep close to your chest. Initially, I found that difficult. I didn’t like the fact that everyone could see and know everything I was doing, but I had to get on with it, and it was the same for everyone.

“While there wasn’t any really disastrous moment for me, I definitely had peaks and troughs. I struggled a lot with maintaining mental strength. Personally, the development was the greatest I’ve had in my career and I think that was because we were sharing everything.

“I’ve had the same engineer for most of my career, and that’s my comfort zone, so to get thrown into the W Series environment, where you share the engineers race by race, was so different for me. Obviously, I was lucky to have success early on, which helped me to maintain my confidence and motivation, but there were still low points where I had doubts about whether I could hold on to my championship lead, and there was pressure on me throughout the year.

“I was very lucky last year as I was still able to have people I trusted around me, like my manager Rupert Svendsen-Cook, who’s more like a mentor and friend. He’s an ex-racer himself, and he’s seen me through the highs and lows of the last few years, and he knows exactly how I work. Then obviously my parents. They’re not from a racing background at all, but that’s kind of nice in a way because sometimes they don’t get it and it’s just perfect. When I doubted myself, they were simply there to remind me I could do it.”

Jamie’s parents work in finance and property. Though they are far from being dyed-in-the-wool racing people, they have backed their daughter’s dream to the hilt. “It was a big investment early on for my dad. He’s a businessman so he can’t quite work out the logic of some of the decisions that get made in motorsport, but he can see how much both my brother and I have learned from it.”

Ultimately, Jamie says she has her brother Ollie to thank for leading her to a sport which is now an all-consuming passion. She recalls: “My brother went to a karting party. He was tiny when he was younger so very light and quick. He fell in love with it and persuaded my parents to invest. By the time I came along, he’d been my guinea pig, if you see what I mean. From my side, it was random in terms of a career path – there was no obvious route – so I just followed the path of something I enjoyed. The opportunity was given to me to have a go and I jumped in.”

Jamie, who was born in Bath and attended the private Cheltenham College school, is now close to her brother – a businessman who sells electric scooters – but relations were not always so smooth. “My brother and I would play football in the garden and every time it would end in a massive argument – we just couldn’t do it. Of course, I’m going to say it was more his fault than mine.

And what about karting rivalry? “Ah, well, he got into karting a couple of years ahead of me, so he was a little bit quicker and a little bit better to start with. There was only one year where we raced against each other and only one kart race where we raced against each other.

“It was in the wet. I overtook him on the last lap and, when I drove into the pits, I got a massive hit from behind. It was him. There was a three-hour journey home and it was all kicking off in the car with poor Mum and Dad trying to mediate. It’s a lot better now. He’s stopped racing and is very supportive of me. He just gets it and that’s really nice.”

On reflection, Jamie believes her younger school years prepared her for the experience of being a lone female in a largely male-dominated sport. She says: “I was at a really small prep school which had only four girls in my year so that meant that in break times we’d all play football with the boys. So, in my head, being a girl in the minority never seemed odd. When I got to karting it was exactly the same – just a continuation of what already felt normal.”

Being a high-profile racing driver is now a normal part of Jamie’s identity, but does she ever consider trading it all in for something less high-octane? “I was in Thailand not long ago and I thought, ‘I could definitely move out here and have a coconut shack and an easy life.’” But then she pauses, laughs and adds:

“No, not really. My life is now racing. If I couldn’t drive for whatever reason, I think my Plan B would be to try to get a team principal role or something similar. I’ve learned too much in this world to turn back now.

“My sole focus is on being a Formula 1 driver, and that’s a good place for me to be mentally. I’m very relaxed in the car: it gives me a feeling of calm. You’re in the car and you’re on your own. OK, you’ve got people on the radio, but, in the end, you’re in the car on your own.”

Of all her female rivals, Jamie currently seems to have the edge on achieving that elusive Formula 1 dream. Williams took her on as a development driver at the beginning of 2019 and she walked away with US$500,000 prize money after winning W Series in the same year. So would she change anything about a sport that looks set to catapult her into the history books? For instance, she was recently photographed, ready to race in Asia, with a scantily clad grid girl holding an umbrella over her car. Jamie says: “In that moment, I’m not at all aware of stuff like that. I’m helmeted and in my own little world. OK, yes, it’s a shame that just about the only females you see at that moment are the grid girls, but they’re doing a job too. It’s not their fault. Having said that, W Series doesn’t have grid girls of course.

“Going forward, it would be nice for other women, like some of the female mechanics, to be more visible. The times are changing but there’s still often quite a lot of surprise still when I take my helmet off. The great thing about W Series is that you know that every driver underneath those helmets is female.”

With or without her helmet on, Jamie Laura Chadwick is unquestionably going to be an athlete to watch for a long time to come.