Making a big difference is often the summation of a series of small steps and the all-female W Series is putting its best foot forward as the new season opens on the Formula One bill in Miami this weekend. The drivers are, of course, pursuing individual ambitions but in doing so this generation of women are breaking the ground for the real change that is to come.
The W Series held its first season in 2019, a concerted effort to address the paucity of female drivers in motor sport. F1 has not had a woman compete at a grand prix since Lella Lombardi raced in Austria in 1976. The stated goal of W Series was to address that deficit.
The series embraced radical ideas from its inception. It meets the costs of the drivers, who compete in single-make F3 cars, and rewards them with prize money to help their careers. Added to the F1 bill last season, it has been successful in changing perceptions and showcasing the talent of its female protagonists, revitalizing the careers of some and opening new doors for others.
Yet with season three about to begin, returning a woman to F1 still looks a long way off. This was never going to be easy nor accomplished overnight. Britain’s Sarah Moore is entering her third season in the series and the 28-year-old from Harrogate knows how hard these women are working. They will be racing on the same track as their male F1 counterparts in Miami but their reality could not be further from the gilded privilege of F1’s stars.
In 2020, with the W Series canceled and her driver coaching job impossible because of the pandemic, Moore took to driving a supermarket delivery van to make a living. Even with the return of the series in 2021, there were still bills to be paid so when the racing was over for the weekend, she continued climbing behind the wheel of the van until November last year. Moore is grateful to the W Series for giving her the chance to race but behind the scenes the relentless pursuit of furthering her career grinds on.
“We’re chasing the sponsorship side alongside a full-time job which we have to do to provide ourselves with an income to pay our bills,” she explained. “We have to train, eat the right things, it’s a lot of hard work. Sometimes it can be quite draining, it’s also emotional. You get turned down by most people more than you are accepted in terms of sponsorship. It takes a lot to keep fighting. ”
Moore began karting when she was four and went on to win the Ginetta Junior Championship in 2009. In 2018 she became the first woman to win the Britcar Endurance Championship. She wanted to make it to F1 but accepts that she will not be the driver to do so, yet is confident that the younger generation coming into the series now such as Britain’s Abbi Pulling, the 19-year-old who is already part of the Alpine F1 team’s junior driver affiliate program, are coming through at the right time.
“From W Series I would like to see a woman go on and reach F1,” said Moore. “But for me, I have just wanted to become a professional driver to get paid to do what I enjoy doing.”
Moore has already made her mark on at least one level. With a second place in Austria last year, she became the first openly LGBTQ driver to stand on the podium at an F1 race weekend, a moment she is proud of for what it meant for the gay community rather than herself.
Other drivers have enjoyed the benefits of showcasing their talents. Most recently Beitske Visser earned a World Endurance Championship drive and Alice Powell has secured new drives, a development job in Formula E and is now a development mentor at Alpine’s academy.
The series’ first two seasons were won by Jamie Chadwick, last year after a fierce battle with Powell that went down to the final race. Chadwick was taken on by Williams as a development driver, however that she too is racing on in W Series rather than moving to one of the F1 feeder competitions has led to accusations the series is failing in its objectives.
It is an unfair and hasty critique. Chadwick notes the huge costs of securing a drive in either feeder series, F3 or F2. Conservative estimates put a seat in F3 at £ 650,000 for a season and in F2 at £ 1.5m. Chadwick is adamant that simply taking any drive just for the sake of it would not do her, or the women who follow her, any favors.
“I feel the responsibility in doing the best job in how I approach the next step,” said Chadwick. “So if I go into a completely uncompetitive seat and am underprepared and don’t do a good job I don’t want that to reflect on the W Series.”
The series has been a victim of its own success, believes Chadwick, who this season will race for the team backed by former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner. Such has been its popularity and exposure there has been an expectation that a driver moving on to the next step was a given but that is far from the case. “There is a perception that it is the series that will feed you into F1,” said Chadwick. “But you still have to go through F3 and F2 to progress to F1.”
Which means Chadwick is knuckling down for another fight this season while attempting to ensure she is also preparing as best she can to step up to F3, and finding the backing to do so, making sure to get the small steps right so racing can make the great leap forward. “For W Series and the credibility of women in sports we have to do things the right way, like any male driver would,” she said.