(Editor’s note: First in a series highlighting drivers such as Jamie Chadwick in Extreme E, which will begin its inaugural season this weekend in Saudi Arabia)
The inaugural season of a racing series held exclusively for female drivers raised some questions about its validity, and the doubts were shared by its eventual inaugural champion.
But Jamie Chadwick watched as the W Series “professionalized women’s motorsport overnight” in 2019, helping build a wave of momentum for women in racing that she has witnessed during her brief career.
“I was surprised it took off so much as well, to be honest,” Chadwick, 22, told NBC Sports. “Massively. I was skeptical when it first started. I didn’t feel it was necessarily the best way to approach the situation. But in retrospect giving that many women that kind of opportunity and a platform, everyone bought into it and gave it this popularity that was completely unexpected. But also for sport and women’s sport, it was far greater than anything we’ve seen in recent years.
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“It was really cool to be a part of that and obviously to have won the championship, it gave me this whole new level of opportunity whether it be this Extreme E drive that I got off the back of it, or the Williams development role that I also have in Formula One. It’s definitely the right thing and a positive move.”
Though the W Series went on hiatus in 2020, it will return this year, and it’ll be a part of an expanded Exubf schedule for Chadwick that also includes another inaugural series – Extreme E, which will launch its debut season this weekend in Saudi Arabia.
The new circuit started by Formula E founder Alejandro Agag will feature electric-powered SUVs competing in corners of the globe affected by climate change, raising social awareness about issues such as deforestation, desertification and sustainability.
In addition to environmental activism, Extreme E also promotes gender equity through its format, which will pit 10 teams with a pair of female and male drivers whose performances will count equally as an average toward an overall score.
“It’s not this token gesture female that’s there for PR,” Chadwick said. “Every team has to have the same dynamic within the team. That’s a really cool way of doing it. (Racing is) a sport that we should be able to race equally on and want to see men and women competing at the same time, but unfortunately, there just really aren’t enough women involved in the sport.
“By giving us all this opportunity to be racing in Extreme E, which is the highest level that I will have raced in within the sport, it’s promoting this whole new sort of opportunity and giving young girls who might be watching from just starting in go-karting, some sense of goal they can go on to achieve. If you can see it, you can be it, and Extreme E is really offering that, which is super cool.”
Chadwick will be teamed at Veloce Racing with Stephane Sarazin, a Frenchman who has excelled in sports cars, single seaters and rally.
“He’s someone I’ve actually looked up to growing up, so it’s quite cool to actually now be teammates with him,” Chadwick said. “And he’s an incredibly versatile driver. He’s perfect to be able to teach me and utilize his experience and knowledge of all aspects of the sport.”
In two test sessions, Chadwick has grown comfortable with the electric power delivery (“It’s quite different the way it feels under your right foot, but you adapt quite quickly. Once you get a feeling for it, it feels like any other race car.”). Extreme E also seems a good fit for her team.
Veloce Racing started in driver management (including the representation of Chadwick) and since has moved into eSports (Veloce Esports) while marketing itself as being “disruptive” in racing and sports.
“The young bucks on the scene,” Chadwick said of Veloce. “If you look at the guys behind it, it’s an incredibly young team, and they’re all incredibly fresh and keen to really make a stand in motorsport. They went into eSports a few years ago before eSports and motorsport really took off. They were at the start of the curve, and I’d say are the global leaders for motorsport and eSports. To marry that with Extreme E, which is very much a similar sort of belief and feeling, is really cool.”
Extreme E counts big names such as former Formula One champion Jenson Button and three-time Dakar Rally winner Carlos Sainz. There are American entries from Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport and teams owned by Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
As with many drivers in the series, Chadwick is a racer first but also has embraced the branding of Extreme E as well as its exotic locales.
“I just saw it as an amazing racing series I wanted to be part of,” she said. “The actual bigger picture of environmental and gender equality messaging wasn’t the first thing on my mind. But actually as time has gone on, and I’ve been educated and been taught so much by Extreme E and learned all these lessons in almost a David Attenborough kind of script, it really has changed my perception on what Extreme E offers, and I’m really proud to be part of the racing series but part of the bigger picture, too.”
The larger goal is the upper echelons of single-seater racing for Chadwick, who recently was re-signed to a developmental contract with the Williams F1 team and is hoping to make Formula 3 or Formula 2 with an eye on F1.
Having won multiple championships in ladder series, the British native said she hasn’t encountered much resistance to advancement as women in previous generations.
Her success in the W Series has helped with attracting sponsor deals (including an IBM commercial that runs in the United States). That often is trickier for women because “brands and sponsors and people looking to put money into a driver have not seen a female succeed, so it doesn’t seem the most logical thing to invest in, but the sport is desperate for women to get to the top. There is a lot of support.
“I’ve actually been really pleasantly surprised by how welcoming the sport is of trying to make it more diverse,” she said. “It’s a perception thing where they see it’s a male-dominated sport, but actually within the sport and a personal point of view, it’s not so much of an issue. The harder thing is not necessarily being able to see someone that’s achieved what I’m trying to achieve.
“So there’s definitely an aspect there that I’m hoping we change, and something like Extreme E will for sure make a more clear pathway, but I think it’s just a numbers game. We just need more and more girls to start in the sport to ultimately make it to the top.”
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