In 2018, I watched Jamie Chadwick become the first ever female winner of a British Formula Three race: One year later I was back at Brands Hatch to see her crowned as the inaugural W Series champion.

Fast forward to now and after two successful campaigns in the all-women series (2020 didn’t happen due to COVID), the girl racer who wants to be well on her way to a career in Formula One appears motionless, consigned to a third season, and in a possibly unwinnable position.

So why has Chadwick been forced to return to W Series yet again? And will she ever secure the funding needed to grasp a rung on F1’s ladder of progression? There are difficult answers to both questions but if the two-time champion is to build on her role as a Williams F1 development driver, then she, her management team and stakeholders within W Series need to understand why they’ve so far failed to deliver her potential.

Winning in British F3 in 2018

Firstly, we need to look at where W Series really stands in motor racing’s hierarchy. In the simplest of terms, despite its prominence on the Formula 1 support grid, it ranks somewhere between national Formula 4 and 3 championships. It certainly doesn’t yet produce drivers of a higher standard. And this is Chadwick’s first problem; she might be one of the most talented of all female single seater racers, but line her up alongside GB3’s 2021 champion Zak O’Sullivan or other winning graduates from the series (such as Ayrton Simmons, Christian Mansell and Reece Ushijima) and we simply don’t know if she has the pace to compete against them. Yes, she had that one British F3 win but the reality is that she was one of ten winners that year, and of the races finished, on eight occasions she was outside of the top ten.

Winning W Series in 2019, and its cancellation (due to the pandemic) the following year should have provided Chadwick with the opportunity to shine. She joined Prema, one of the finest teams in single seater motor sport, for a season in the Formula Regional European Championship (the FIA’s lower level F3 series). She earned a podium at the opening round but then saw her ambitions slip to the (mostly) lower reaches of the top ten. Meanwhile, her teammates went on to finish P1, P2 and P3 overall. She was clearly in the best car, but equally clearly couldn’t make it count.

Returning to W Series in 2021, Chadwick found herself facing fierce competition from former GP3 racer Alice Powell. Powell made her reputation by winning the BARC Formula Renault title in 2010, going on to become the first female driver to score a point in GP3 two years later. Between them, Chadwick and Powell have notched-up some important firsts, but to put that 2012 GP3 season into context, Powell finished 19th in the standings; she’s not F1 material, and to hurry to one of my conclusions, I don’t think that Chadwick is either.

Chadwick won the title at Brands Hatch in 2019 but Powell pushed hard to win the race

Back to W Series: Its mission is to promote women in motorsport, believing that they can compete equally with men if given the same opportunities. What’s not to like about that? It just needs the addition of a reality check. Jamie Chadwick is a talented racing driver; who needs to focus on a career that allows her talent to shine (say in sports cars or GT racing). She wasn’t just excellent when she won British GT’s GT4 title (with Ross Gunn) in 2015, she was outstanding, and what women’s motor sport needs more than anything right now are ambassadors who excel in an unrestricted environment. The million dollars currently burning a hole in Chadwick’s pocket could be being used to invest in a career that could easily see her as a works GT3 or LMP2 driver, forging a path to success in the World Endurance Championship or similar. It might not sound as glamorous as Formula 1, but it should be enduring.

But what if she wins for a third consecutive time? Will any of the top F3 teams finally be convinced to sign Chadwick if she delivers the budget? I don’t think so. Prema’s line-up for 2022 has three drivers who are not only incredibly well funded but are also proven winners against their peers. Chadwick can’t tick either box. If she genuinely wants to have a go at earning her place in Formula 1, she first needs to take a step back and win consistently in mixed company, either in GB3 or Formula Regional.  The problem is that neither W Series nor her management seem to be telling her this. For its part, W Series shouldn’t just be handing out cheques, it should be creating viable pathways for its graduates, whilst Chadwick’s management team should be acknowledging that its role should be directed towards securing her longevity in the sport and not keeping her shackled away from the true test of international competition.

There are a lot of positives to W Series, principally that it’s created a platform that has genuinely engaged girls and young women from all around the world with a message of equality, but with Chadwick’s failure to progress, it also now seems to be telling them that you can only succeed if you have $4m+ in the bank.  Moreover, by placing the championship on Formula One’s support grid, it’s also putting it out of the reach of many. I was talking to a colleague about this just the other day. He made the point that at Brands Hatch, there were girls with their families, walking through the paddock, faces painted, learning about the cars, the drivers and the series, grabbing autographs and then finding a vantage point from which to watch the race. If you want accessibility and engagement, it doesn’t get much better. In contrast, F1 weekends aren’t just restricted (in terms of access), they can be prohibitively expensive too.

Young W Series fans in the Brands Hatch paddock

Finally, there’s the biggest ‘what if’ of all: What if she doesn’t win this year? Powell, Emma Kimiläinen, and Beitske Visser are all previous race winners and each is eligible to compete again as a top-eight finisher last year. And then there’s Abbi Pulling. A seven-time podium finisher in British F4. Despite her limited experience in the car, she raced to a brilliant P2 in Austin last time out. She’s another with far more talent than budget and is likely to take valuable points away from the champion as the season progresses, and who knows, she might even steal her crown.

Abbi Pulling raced to the podium seven times in British F4

But the story here is not about the racing, or the hype surrounding Caitlyn Jenner joining the championship as a new team principal (though this will certainly drive publicity in its direction). It’s about the issues that W Series needs to address in order to lift the cloud that fogs it it. It’s about the need to show the thousands of young fans that they can succeed in a mixed motor sport environment (away from F1); it’s about the need to deliver structured progression for its graduates, and it’s about the need to understand that currently, its drivers are not ready to take-on the best in class. It won’t always be like this, the potential is clearly building. But it must learn where it stands; it must find the best ways forward for its alumni; and it must create and maintain basic opportunities and programmes (such as esports) for the young fans who are destined to become the racers of the future.

If it can get the gearing right, it won’t only be Jamie that we’re talking about.