W Series' Uncertain Future
W Series, the all-female motorsports championship had a premature end to the 2022 season after its Singapore round last October. Financial issues tied to a backer's failure to pay left the series without the funding to complete the final three races in Austin and Mexico City. While the organizers held their heads high last year, speaking of focusing on fundraising for 2023, it's been eerily quiet since then. So now, with the Formula One season just one month away and a lack of news from the championship, is the W Series dream over?
The series, founded in 2018, aimed to promote female talent in motorsports and provide a platform for women to compete at the highest level of racing. The inaugural championship took place in 2019, then two additional seasons on the Formula One support bill followed in 2021 and 2022 after a Covid-enforced 2020 gap. Despite some memorable racing and a growing fanbase, questions about the business model dogged W Series from its inception.
The championship is unique in that it does not require the drivers to bring any funding to secure a drive, instead aiming for the best female talent, regardless of the size of their bank balance. However, operating this way requires significant sponsorship funding. Puma became the highest-profile name to put their name alongside W Series back in 2021, but it seems the championship needed far more brands. The U.K.'s Companies House records showed a £7.5 million deficit when the season concluded prematurely last year.
Today, the primary issue for any potential next phase of W Series comes from the simple fact that any new financial backer must plug that multi-million dollar gap before they can concentrate on the future. That's a significant chunk of change and requires a belief that the return on investment will cover that outlay. In a business reliant on sponsorship rather than drivers paying, that's quite the ask.
With W Series' leap from a support slot on the German DTM bill in 2019, where they only race on European tracks, to joining Formula One with an international calendar came additional logistic costs. Sea freight, long-haul flights, and booking hotels with inflated F1-related rates would've been a gamble that the W Series organizers hoped would pay off by increased exposure. But, instead, it may be that the championship aimed too high too soon.
After challenges from its genesis, the financial pressure for W Series was just one more barrier to overcome. One of the main criticisms from many was that the series was not genuinely inclusive, as it only allowed female drivers to compete. This point led to criticism that the series was not breaking down barriers for women in motorsports but instead creating a separate and unequal category for them. Furthermore, their champion in 2019 and 2021 (and later 2022), Jamie Chadwick, could not find a drive in a higher-level championship, such as Formula 3, which also opened questions about where W Series sat on the motorsport ladder.
Despite these hurdles, the W Series had some worthy championship scraps thanks to some talented drivers and exciting races. The series also received support from some of the biggest names in motorsports, including Lewis Hamilton and David Coulthard. However, famous drivers and thrilling racing doesn't pay the bills, and by October 2022, the announcement of a curtailed season came.
Information on plans for 2023 remain sparse, but with departures from their communications staff, their drivers' social media not containing any car testing, and no updates to their website for four months, the future is uncertain. This year, Formula One will run a female-only championship of its own, F1 Academy, but it appears aimed at younger racers and, so far, hasn't shown any of the high-production value that W Series offered.
W Series' demise will disappoint motorsports fans and anyone hoping to see more motorsports gender equality. However, it also serves as a reminder of the difficulties that can arise when trying to promote diversity and inclusion in a highly competitive and male-dominated field. Irrespective of W Series limping on or fading away, the fight for better opportunities for women in motorsports will continue. Hopefully, one day soon, we will see truly equal representation.