Ahead of W Series’ fourth round at Silverstone Circuit, F1 Feeder Series spoke with two integral pillars in W Series’ development: two-time British Grand Prix winner and Chair of W Series’ advisory board, David Coulthard, and CEO of W Series, Catherine Bond Muir.
By Aisha Sembhi
The 2022 W Series season sees the championship’s return to the home of British motor racing – Silverstone Circuit. David Coulthard and Catherine Bond Muir speak passionately about the potential for the free-to-enter, female-only series to establish the next generation of motorsport legends.
“I think it’s well known that my drive is in memory of my sister,” Coulthard says, “She was winning races in karting, but then lost the opportunity because of me. The family got excited that maybe I could have the chance to race. I just don’t want any other girls in karting to miss out on the journey to cars and beyond.”
Round 4 at Silverstone Circuit
3 July 2022 marks Round 4 of the 2022 W Series season, which will support the British Grand Prix. It will be the home race of six drivers: Jamie Chadwick, Abbie Eaton, Jessica Hawkins, Sarah Moore, Alice Powell, and Abbi Pulling. “I wonder whether W Series will ever have that number of drivers from one country again.” Bond Muir says, “From our point of view, Silverstone will be a spectacular race for us. We want the crowd to come out and support British drivers.”
I wonder whether W Series will ever have that number of drivers from one country againCatherine Bond-Muir
Ahead of Round 4, Coulthard offered some advice to the W Series grid:
“The key thing is that Silverstone is fairly unique on the W Series calendar, in that it’s a high-speed circuit. The W Series car will be, for a large part, absolutely flat out. It will become an exercise in fingertipping your way around the racetrack.”
“You have these two areas of the track where you break away from the high speed – Club corner, and down into the complex in front of the BRDC suite. It’s actually quite challenging to go from high-speed, sweeping corners, to suddenly having the brakes switched on and remembering the fact that the car loses speed and downforce – and then also not locking up and losing corners.”
“I guess there’s no sounder advice other than to be fast!”
Rising Stars and High Expectations
When asked about particular talents to pay attention to on the grid, Bond Muir has one young driver in mind: “Abbi Pulling. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jamie [Chadwick] was in front of the grid for the race, but I do expect [Pulling] to give her a good push.”
Coulthard reiterates this sentiment, praising Pulling who is currently second overall in the championship standings: “What’s impressive with Abbi is her age as well. To have that maturity develop is very impressive.”
The 2021 season saw W Series’ first visit to Silverstone Circuit, where eventual runner-up Alice Powell secured a grand slam victory. Bond Muir makes note of this: “Obviously, Alice will be up there – she won last year and beat Jamie. It will be an unbelievably competitive race.”
Regardless, Coulthard expects performance from the entire grid.
“I don’t really want to highlight any one individual. The reality is that we create the platform for the drivers, but we can’t drive the car for them. They need to show their skills and their development, and entertain us along the way!”
if they cannot find a happy place in their mind to develop and deliver a result, I don’t know what more we can do to give them a platform to performDavid Coulthard
The former Formula 1 driver reiterates the harsh reality of motorsport, warning those athletes at the bottom of the standings that time may be running out for them to prove themselves. “Whoever’s having the most difficult season so far… I hope they get their act together at Silverstone. I know what the journey’s like as a racing driver – it’s an emotional one at times. At various points in your career, the penny drops and something clicks, and you find your form. Those who’ve had a difficult start need to find their form, or else the writing’s on the wall.”
“They’ve all got a fantastic opportunity to be at Silverstone on a Grand Prix weekend, with zero cost of doing so. They’ve earned the right to be there. But if they cannot find a happy place in their mind to develop and deliver a result, I don’t know what more we can do to give them a platform to perform.”
W Series goals and intentions
W Series was founded in 2019 as the first all-female single-seater championship, with the hopes to promote gender diversity within a sport that is historically overwhelmingly male. “We will, in my lifetime, see women competing equally with men, provided they’re given the same foundation and support and development,” Coulthard says. “We want to give these women the opportunities that were afforded to some highlight names in F1 right now – Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Charles Leclerc, and the likes. They’ve all been supported from an early age and given the opportunity to develop their skills.”
If they’re good enough, they get the opportunity. If they’re not good enough, sadly – just like the boys – nature takes its courseDavid Coulthard
Coulthard reiterates the tough nature of single-seater racing, reminding this year’s W Series hopefuls that progression is not guaranteed.
“If they’re good enough, they get the opportunity. If they’re not good enough, sadly – just like the boys – nature takes its course. We’re not trying to force someone forward based on desire – we’re trying to help develop talent, and for that talent to then showcase itself on the highest level.
“It’s no different to what I say to my 13-year-old son, who’s karting – if someone else has the same talent as him, and if they work harder, it only makes sense they will have more success. This is an industry where you don’t just turn up and drive. It takes every waking hour of commitment, development, and desire. Anyone who doesn’t have that doesn’t deserve to progress. Talent is not enough.”
Despite the seemingly slim chances of single-seater hopefuls ascending to the top flights of the sport, both Coulthard and Bond Muir emphasise the potential for W Series to catalyse gender diversity beyond the driver’s seat. “I remember the early days when we’d discuss what the mission statement was. From my point of view, a lot of focus was on this being about finding the next female for F1.” Coulthard explains. “That’s great, and would ultimately be a fantastic thing. But between now and then, it’s about creating more professional roles within motorsport.
W Series has enabled women to show they have the skill both in and out of the car.Catherine Bond Muir
Here, Coulthard and Bond Muir reminisce on the successes of former W Series athletes outside of the driver’s seat: “Clearly, we’re focused on driving. But what we can see in the likes of Naomi Schiff, who isn’t racing with us this year, but is very prominently positioned with Sky Sports. W Series has enabled women to show they have the skill both in and out of the car.”
Naomi Schiff is a former W Series driver, who joined the Sky Sports F1 commentary team in 2022. She also presented the Mercedes W13 launch on behalf of Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, alongside fellow female motorsport journalist Natalie Pinkham. “We’re delighted for Naomi,” Bond Muir says, “It’s a reminder that W Series, and all motorsport as a whole, is open to all.”
On the question of progression beyond W Series, both Coulthard and Bond Muir share a similar sentiment – the championship exists to platform female drivers, and provide them with tools for progression. Beyond this, it’s up to the drivers themselves to secure promotions.
Current championship leader and reigning champion Jamie Chadwick’s third return to the series prompted discussion on whether or not W Series was working as intended, and if progress beyond W Series was at all possible.
Our best driver at the moment is, unquestionably, Jamie ChadwickCatherine Bond Muir
Coulthard and Bond Muir rebut this notion by highlighting the inequalities that Chadwick has faced since the beginning of her career. “Our best driver at the moment is, unquestionably, Jamie Chadwick. Compare her to her peers, Lando [Norris] and George [Russell]. They’re the same age, but let’s compare the number of hours that the boys have had racing, from karting onwards into the single-seater – they’ve had tens, if not hundreds, of times the number of hours in a car then Jamie has.”
Bond Muir explains, “Therefore, just in experience alone, Jamie isn’t on a level playing field. What we need to do next is work hard to level up at an earlier stage.”
“I think Jamie is a fantastic racing driver”, Coulthard continues, “W Series gives her a platform for income and exposure. But in the end, she has to drive the car and has to make a decision beyond W Series where she spends her money.”
“It’s been suggested by some former individuals within the governing body that we should force them to spend their money on the next step. The boys aren’t being forced to do this, we let nature take its course. W Series was founded on a belief by [Bond Muir] and others that we can effect change over time.”
A new look
For W Series CEO Bond Muir, representation in motorsport transcends gender alone. She highlights her position as Chair of the EDI Committee at Motorsport UK.
“Under that main committee, we have several sub-committees promoting LGBTQ+ rights, women in motorsport, racial diversity, disabilities and accessibility.”
“Our thesis is that motorsport is welcome to absolutely everyone.” Bond Muir explains, “Historically, you could’ve looked at motorsport as being ‘male and pale’ – I think if you go into certain paddocks now, the look and feel are very different. There are lots more women at all different levels of motorsport, from team managers to engineers to mechanics. Plus, there are just more female support staff generally around the paddock, which I think is a fantastic thing.”
If a transgender driver applied for W Series, and she was fast enough, we would welcome her with open armsCatherine Bond Muir
“We need to keep informing people that, whatever background you’re from, whatever your racial diversity, sexual orientation, or gender identity is, is that W Series will welcome you. For example, If a transgender driver applied for W Series, and she was fast enough, we would welcome her with open arms.”
“There is an awful lot more work for us all to do,” Bond Muir notes, “But I do think that there is a good start, and there is a good foundation to build upon. Hopefully, we will see a very different motorsport in 10 years’ time, compared to what we saw 10 years ago.”
Coulthard supports this move towards modernity in motorsport, though re-emphasising his belief that staunch dedication will provide a stable enough foundation for athletes with potential: “I don’t think motorsport is exclusive in that you’ve got to come from some sort of social background. If you’ve got talent and you’re good enough, and you’ve got the hunger and focus, you’ll have the opportunity to at least experience it, or show your skills.”
The Championship’s growth
Bond Muir notes how the landscape is already changing for young girls interested in motorsport: “I’ve done karting recently with my young son, and we speak to different kart tracks who say, for the first time, they’re seeing female-only parties coming through. I think that W Series is having that effect at the grassroots.”
Ultimately, they need to go and compete against the men, equally, and beat themCatherine Bond Muir
“But if we talk about the future – I think it would be great that our next generation can go up the feeder series ladder a bit more. Ultimately, they need to go and compete against the men, equally, and beat them. We can only control our particular platform.”
For this season’s Silverstone round, Bond Muir hopes to build upon the unprecedented viewership success W Series experienced in 2021. “Last year’s Silverstone race was our highest ever TV audience. We’re live again on Channel 4 and Sky Sports, so we’re hoping to have an even larger audience this year. Viewership has a massive impact – the larger the TV audience, the more sponsors are attracted to us, and they pay more money. Therefore, we can continue to develop young drivers.”
‘Watch the fourth race of the 2022 W Series season live from Silverstone on Sky Sports and Channel 4 on Saturday 2 July’
Header image credit: W Series
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