W Series: a game-changer

What is W Series?

W Series is a ground-breaking racing championship for women that launched in October 2018. From day one, our ambitions have been big, and they’ll only get bigger. We’re here to shake up the industry, push aside stereotypes and change the face of motorsport, quite literally.

We firmly believe that women and men can race one another on equal terms provided they are given the same opportunity.

At a time when most other female sports are growing exponentially, there are, in real terms, fewer women racing single-seater cars at the higher levels now than there were 10 years ago.

It is more than 40 years since a female driver last started a Formula 1 race and, unless a positive intervention is made, it could be another 40 years before a woman has the experience and qualifications to take part in a Formula 1 race again. We believe something has to change.

W Series is a catalyst for that change.

In our first year we’ve already given 20 women the opportunity to race relevant cars on relevant tracks, giving them the relevant experience, confidence and qualifications to put them in contention for drives in the upper tiers of motorsport.

W Series: the reason why

You may wonder why W Series is necessary, especially when both men and women can (and do) race against each other already. Here we try and answer your burning questions and explain this need for change.

As things stand, women are not barred from competing in any motorsport series, are they?

Absolutely not. However, the full picture is rather more complex. In the 70-year history of Formula 1 more than 1,000 Grand Prix races have been run, and about 900 drivers have raced in them.  All but two of the drivers have been male (a few more women have taken part in Grand Prix weekends but not competed).

The most recent of those two female drivers was Lella Lombardi, who started 12 Grands Prix, the last in 1976. The first was Maria Teresa de Filippis, who started three Grands Prix, the last in 1958, which is more than 60 years ago. In the modern era of Formula 1, female drivers have been, and remain, absent.

In more junior single-seater formulae, the proportion of female drivers is tiny, something that has not changed in recent years.

Why have there been no women in Formula 1 during that time?

Formula 1 is the absolute pinnacle of global motorsport and remains incredibly difficult to reach – for anyone. However, we believe there are two key influences that disadvantage women more than men.

Toto Wolff, the team principal of the Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport Formula 1 team, recently estimated that it costs around €8 million to manage a young driver from junior karting up to contention for a Formula 1 drive. That is a very daunting investment for anyone (male or female) to consider, but the lack of visible female talent in Formula 1 has made the challenge of financing even harder for girls and women.  Simply put – there is no precedent.

So how can W Series change all that?

Our drivers do not have to pay to race in W Series. They are selected purely on their ability rather than how rich their backers are. By bringing together the best female talent into one series, at a time when women’s sport is attracting more attention and coverage than ever before, we believe we will create a platform that will be highly attractive to sponsors, partners and fans.

W Series’ races in 2019 were broadcast to over 340 million households, on major channels including a landmark, free-to-air partnership with UK broadcaster, Channel 4.

Live motorsport coverage is currently rarely broadcast on UK terrestrial channels, making the partnership for both W Series and women’s sport a record-breaking one.

Is W Series a truly driver-led championship?

All our cars are mechanically identical and rotated after each race, and therefore set up to remove any hardware advantage from the competition.  This means quite simply that races and championships will be won by the most talented drivers, rather than those with the wealthiest backers and the fastest cars.

How did you pick your drivers?

W Series qualifiers are subject to intensive selection – both through the application process but also through lap-time benchmarking against previous W Series drivers, not only on our in-house SIMs, but also in our Tatuus T-318 race cars.

Will female drivers ever be able to compete on level terms in Formula 1 with the best male drivers?

Absolutely no question, as there are no physical reasons why not – but this will take time.  Not every male driver is as quick as Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel, and neither may the best W Series drivers ever be as quick as multiple Formula 1 world champions; it would be unreasonable to make such a speculative claim so early. But, in time, with practice and experience, we expect that the best graduates from W Series will be able to compete in Formula 1 on level terms with their male rivals.

Will there ever be a female Formula 1 grand prix winner?

We certainly hope so, with practice and experience! And if there were – or when there is – then overnight she would become the biggest sports star in the world, bar none. And every organisation, every company, every sponsor and indeed every single person who has helped her on her journey to that ground-breaking success would be able to celebrate their part in it, publicly, to lasting worldwide acclaim.

But surely you could achieve the same effect by investing money in karting for girls?

More money being pumped into junior go-karting for girls is to be welcomed, of course. However, ‘more in’ does not always mean ‘more out’. Girls often hit a ‘glass ceiling’ after junior karting, and if more girls are engaged in junior karting it is likely that more girls would hit that glass ceiling. That is why we are hoping that the establishment of W Series will have a positive trickle-down effect throughout motorsport, encouraging more girls into junior karting and more sponsors for women drivers as they move on up into Formula 4 and on up through all the other motorsport series. The greater the number high-profile female role models we can create, the more we believe we will inspire young girls to go karting.