Loot is elusive in this sport we call motor racing – and it’s never been harder to find than it is right now. On any given day of fun, it’s 60-40 – 60 per cent car, 40 per cent driver – which means that well over half the battle for any driver of talent is to find the money to pay for the car. In F1 terms that means taking around £15m to a team for your year’s racing; in F2 it’s £1.8m; in F3 it’s £900k. Bear in mind also that major sponsors in F1 are today about as plentiful as an overtake in the Monaco GP and you have a clear picture of why the “ladder system” to the top is pockmarked with glitches. Money rules. Talent runs secondarily. And the gap is widening.
I say this because we need to put the 2019 all-female W Series into context. Here’s a new championship that not only corrects an historical imbalance weighted in favour of males but also turns the whole motor racing financial system on its head. Jamie Chadwick, who won the 2019 W Series by finishing a nervous fourth at Brands Hatch on Sunday, takes with her into the autumn a prize fund of $500,000 (£415,000). A further $1m in prize money was split by the remainder of the drivers.
That in itself is amazing – is unique in prize money-starved European motor sport. (The Indy 500 and NASCAR series, both staged in the US, are the only parallels.) On top of that, Jamie, and all the other women who won an entry in the 2019 W Series, can also luxuriate in the knowledge that their racing cost them absolutely nothing – and that 12 of them have all earned guaranteed free drives in the 2020 series. The W Series car, on the open championship market, roughly equates to a running budget of about £300,000 per year – so that’s effectively £750,000 that Jamie’s cleared by just driving well and winning races. And for a driver who finished, say, 11th, that’s a season’s free racing with a nice dollar bonus at the end.
The guys out there rightly feel neglected. They launch ambitious “investor” schemes to try to finance their racing – and can do little about the almost-zero media exposure in single-seat motor sport in categories below F1. The W Series, by contrast, has the financial incentive and is massively raising the bar in terms of marketing, presentation and media presence. Matt Bishop, who you might have read on the snooker pages of this site, should take much of the credit for that.
There’s a rider, here, of course: the W Series needs to attract serious sponsorship in the medium and long terms if it is to maintain its momentum and then to grow – probably as a global franchise. Loot is elusive, as I say, but my gut feeling is that the W Series will find it and will nurture it.
Creatively and with a beat.