OPINION: Confused W Series is positive discrimination at its finest

by Sam Hall

The all women-driver ‘W Series’ championship was launched on Wednesday morning to a mixed reaction. After a similar idea was suggested by former Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone in 2015 but was laughed out of the room, why and how has the idea actually come into actuality.

What are the headlines here then? W Series is a fully funded, women driver only championship which will race six rounds with a prize-pot of $1.5 million. The championship will initially be run across “some of the best and most famous circuits in Europe, most of which have staged Formula 1 races for many decades. In forthcoming seasons the W Series schedule is set also to include races in America, Asia and Australia.”

The cars are to Formula 3 specifications and the aim is to catapult drivers into GP3 or Formula 2.

W Series is a controversial idea so allow me to get my opinion across from the very start. This is a horribly thought out idea although it does have the best intentions at heart.

It is true that there are not enough female drivers making it through the ranks and it is also true that only two female drivers have ever raced in Formula One. This is something that needs to change and I completely applaud anyone who fights to improve female participation but a fully funded gender specific championship?

Can women race competitively against men? It is a simple question and one which I can answer quickly and without question, yes. Yes, they can. Why then, does communications director Matt Bishop say in the promotional video, “So what do we want to do? We want to reset the balance, to disruptively and provocatively intervene, to enable women racing drivers to go on and up so that they can race against men competitively.”

Right there and then, as those words exited Bishop’s mouth, I was gone. W Series is a championship to gift women a race seat because it will help them to become good enough to race against men. That is what the championship sets out to be, that is what it labels itself as.

Look back at when Bernie Ecclestone first suggested an all-female Formula One side show. The idea was shot down in flames as women drivers came out to question why their aims should be so different to those of their male counterparts.

“I have raced my whole career as a normal competitor. Why would I look for a race where I was only competing against women?” said former Williams reserve driver, Dare to be Different founder and Venturi Formula e team boss Susie Wolff back in 2015.

The main difference between this championship and the idea originally suggested by Ecclestone is that the is not an end goal for a female driver. W Series is a stepping stone. Much like the lower and mid-Formula championships, this is a platform to jumpstart a career and get noticed by a team that races in a higher level championship.

Fast forward to 2018 though, and Wolff retains her stance. “My view on this, and I know that this is the shared position of the organisations I work with, is that we should continue to encourage and create opportunities for women to compete on the same level as men.

“We fundamentally believe that the best opportunity to identify top female talent is by facilitating a dynamic where more women can compete and rise to the top in a mixed competition on equal terms.”

The opinions of current drivers seems to range from it being a good side championship to race on while focusing your main attentions elsewhere to the complete negative.

Jamie Chadwick, the first woman driver to win a race in British F3, said, “W Series is giving female drivers another platform to go racing. It’s no secret that motorsport is an incredibly tough industry often dictated by financial factors.

“As a funded championship, W Series not only offers a fantastic opportunity for top female talent to race but will also encourage many more young females to enter the sport. I’m a racing driver and, if I could, I would race 365 days of the year. I will still race against men in other championships but W Series is the perfect supplement to help me develop and progress further through the junior motorsport ranks. I’m excited about what’s to come!”

European F3 driver Sophia Floersch represents the other side of the debate saying on Twitter, “I agree with the arguments – but it totally disagree with the solution. Women need long term support and trustful partners. I want to compete with the best of our sport. Please compare it with economics: Do we need separate Women Management / Advisory Boards? No. Wrong way.”

Backing this opinion is former Indy Lights Series driver Pippa Mann who said, “What a sad day for motorsport. Those with funding to help women racers are choosing to segregate them as opposed to supporting them. I am deeply disappointed to see such a historic step backwards take place in my life time,” before later adding, “One more tweet on this subject.

“For the record, I stand WITH those who feel forced into this as their only opportunity to race. I stand AGAINST those who are forcing the above mentioned racers into this position as their only solution to find the funding to race.”

Another stumbling block in the championship’s basic understanding of motorsport is the issue surrounding funding.

Louise Dearlove, championship executive assistant, says, “Motorsport is an expensive sport, you need the funding and women are not getting that funding, so they’re not getting that opportunity. So, they’re not developing their skills, they don’t have the experience, many of them spend half their time trying to fundraise, rather than out there on the track, getting the race time they need to be able to develop.”

What is wrong with this then you ask? Well, nothing actually but that is just the point. This is how drivers of both genders spend the vast majority of their time. Motorsport isn’t soccer where you trial at a club, get picked up and off you go. Motorsport involves going door to door around local businesses when you are starting out, it involved countless hours promoting yourself on social media.

Hundreds if not thousands of male drivers fail to make it. Not because of a lack of talent but because of a lack of hard currency in their wallet. This is not a gender specific issue although largely because of the comparatively low numbers of women racers out there, the issue is highlighted.

As I said right at the start, W Series has all of the right intentions. Increasing female participation in motorsport, showcasing the talented drivers is what I think we all want to see but if the championship is to prepare them to race against the men, something they would have been doing all throughout their junior careers, this is catastrophically bad idea.

Were it my money in play here, I would have gone right down to the grass roots level. Sponsored young drivers setting out on their journey and through the lower Formulae. Gain them the reputation that would get the sponsors onboard and allow the women to race freely against men.

W Series is positive discrimination at it’s finest. To me, the championship says, ‘Have a present from us girls. A free championship for you to race in and launch your careers because you’ll never win against the boys – but it’s free and look, lots of prize money!’

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