Jamie Chadwick keeping all lanes open to realise F1 ambition

By the time you read this, Jamie Chadwick may already have one foot on the other side of the Pond. The two-time W Series champion took part in an Indy Lights test with Andretti Autosport at Sebring, Florida, on Wednesday and, depending on how it went, she may already be dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, preparing to set sail for the New World.

While clearly being a fantastic opportunity for Chadwick – racing in the main support series to IndyCar, and for a big team such as Andretti – it would in many ways be a shame.

Chadwick’s stated goal is to drive in Formula One. W Series’s stated goal is to help a female driver to reach Formula One for the first time since 1976. She is clearly the best driver in W Series. Yet despite successive titles, despite more than double the number of points of her nearest rival in this year’s standings, teams in F3 and F2 do not appear to be beating a path to her door.

It raises various troubling questions, both for Chadwick and for W Series.

Is the all-female formula fit for purpose? Is the standard across the board seen as so low by F3 and F2 teams that they are not willing to take a chance on its champion, despite the guaranteed PR boost Chadwick’s presence would bring? Did Chadwick’s lacklustre year racing for Prema in the Formula Regional European Championship in 2020 – when W Series took a hiatus due to Covid – scare off potential suitors?

Is Chadwick being too picky? She claimed at the start of the year that she had options for this year in F3, but a lack of available “competitive seats” meant she ultimately decided her best option was to remain in W Series.

The 24-year-old says she “understands” the reluctance of F3 teams to take a gamble on W Series drivers, especially given the lack of testing days and the fact that they would be stepping into a formula with no power steering. “Male or female, those teams just want to win,” she says.

Which is not to say she does not believe a woman is capable of success in those series. Chadwick notes the F3 test given to Abbi Pulling, Hamda Al Qubaisi, Chloe Chambers and Nerea Marti at Magny Cours last week.

“I haven’t spoken to them about it yet,” she says. “But I hear they went OK. I’m really intrigued to hear what they have to say because I’ve not driven that car myself. And that’s what it’s all about. Getting that experience; understanding what you need to do to progress. That’s what makes this next step from W Series the hardest, I guess.”

Has she got any test days lined up in F3 or F2 then? Because time is fast running out to organise them. “The F3 opportunity I haven’t had just yet, but there is a bit of interest in maybe doing an F2 test,” Chadwick replies. “But it isn’t for a few months. It’s in November. So we’re pushing hard for that. But like I said, I want to have options. I know F2 is a massive jump [in one go]. So it might be looking at combining programmes. To not see it as ‘OK, I go to America and that’s it’, but keeping doors open.”

‘I see a lot of people saying I should be in F1 next year. And I really shouldn’t’

Reading between the lines, she might take up the option from Indy Lights and then try to line up a seat in F2 for 2024? “Perhaps,” she says. “But I think from my side, the fact this opportunity has come to us and they’ve shown an interest … to have the opportunity to go out and see what it’s all about, is so valuable.”

Having a seat lined up for 2024 if she does move Stateside would certainly be sensible. As IndyCar star Colton Herta found out recently, Indy is not a great pathway to F1 since it does not yield the requisite FIA Super Licence points. Chadwick thinks that system “should potentially be looked at” given the burgeoning interest in F1 from the US. But she accepts that, as it stands, she is going to have to do F2 at some point if she wants to reach F1.

Whatever she decides, there will be huge interest in her next move. Much of W Series’s credibility is tied to her fortunes. The formula is facing its own difficulties with perennial funding issues and questions about its viability. Does it have a future?

“I can’t see how anyone can criticise W Series,” Chadwick argues. “It’s given us all this massive platform. Yes, a lot of people couldn’t care less what I do in my career and I get that. But what’s amazing is the amount of people that really do care. I see a lot of people saying I should be in F1 next year. And I really shouldn’t! I’m nowhere near that level. But the fact W Series has created this perception and, I guess, fanbase, is amazing.

“OK, potentially W Series has a way to go in terms of getting the next woman to F1. But they never said that was going to be the goal within three years.”

What about the next five? Stefano Domenicali, the F1 CEO, said recently he doubted a woman could do it in that time frame. Chadwick smiles.

“Yeah absolutely. F1 remains the ultimate goal, but I also want to have a career in the sport,” she says. “And you’ve got to weigh up the best options to have that. Not just put everything on the line, financially and performance-wise, where you give yourself one year and then that’s kind of your only opportunity.

“Working on the basis that at some point I will have to go through F2 … I have to work backwards from that. So it’s about exploring the options. Whether to do F3 or whether to do Indy Lights for a year. With Indy Lights, the seat time looks to be significant, particularly compared to F3, the budget seems plausible with a top team in Andretti. Whereas, at the moment, those opportunities don’t seem to be quite there in F3 … but I’m keeping all options open.”

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