British driver Jamie Chadwick has paid tribute to Lewis Hamilton and his fight for equality as she prepares to open her defence of the trailblazing female-only motor racing championship in Austria this weekend.
The W Series will take place on the undercard of eight Formula One events, starting at Spielberg’s Red Bull Ring on Saturday.
Last year’s championship was cancelled amid the coronavirus outbreak, but W Series’ deal to dovetail its calendar with this year’s Formula One schedule provides a major boost to a championship which will also be aired live on Channel 4.
Indeed, Chadwick will start her bid for glory in Spielberg on Saturday just 30 minutes after the conclusion of Hamilton and Max Verstappen’s qualifying tussle for the Styrian Grand Prix.
It is 45 years since a woman last competed in a Formula One race – but seven-time world champion Hamilton has led the fight to improve diversity in F1’s white-male dominated world.
“What Lewis is doing is fantastic,” Chadwick told the PA news agency.
“He is pioneering to create a more diverse sport and that is across the board.
“It is giving the likes of myself and others opportunities that we definitely wouldn’t have otherwise had.
“What the W Series has done is very impressive because they have professionalised women’s motorsport overnight – which if you compare to any other sport is unheard of.
“Motor racing is such a male-dominated world and we need more and more girls getting involved, coming through the ranks and making it more diverse at the top level. W Series is aspiring to do that.”
Chadwick is the championship’s best-known driver. She was signed to Williams’ development programme two years ago, and has competed in the off-road all-electric Extreme E series this year.
But Chadwick is acutely aware that she has to retain her title to stand any chance of fulfilling her F1 dream.
“Yes, I would say it is a must if I want to progress in my career,” she added. “The ultimate goal is Formula One, but I know I will not be there unless I can have success in the feeder series’ – Formula Three and then Formula Two – so I need to achieve that before I can justify a seat on the grid.”
The winner of the second instalment of the W Series will be awarded 15 super licence points by the FIA. Twenty-five points are required to participate in an F1 practice session, and 40 for a race.
Lella Lombardi was the last female to start an F1 race in 1976, while Susie Wolff became the first female racer in more than two decades to take part in a grand-prix weekend during practice at the 2014 British Grand Prix.
But Wolff, married to Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, retired at the end of the following year fearing it would be a long time before a woman reaches the pinnacle of the sport.
However, Chadwick concluded: “I really do think there is an appetite for it, and if you look at the position I am in, it shows that there is an interest in wanting women to succeed.
“But the talent pool is not big enough to see girls filter through to the top.
“Even in the two feeder series we have only seen two women (Tatiana Calderon and Sophia Floersch) in recent years so if you have only got 20 slots on the F1 grid, one of them is not going to be a woman because they have not even made it to F3.
“That needs to change and over the course of the next few years that will start to change and the demographic and the way the sport looks will be very different.”
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