From The Straits Times    |

Had she not turned down the trial for the England under-18 hockey squad, British racing driver Jamie Chadwick could have been a professional hockey player. 

Instead, she decided to compete at the Ginetta Junior scholarship weekend – a fund for young racing drivers offered by British racing and sports car builder Ginetta – where she triumphed and proceeded to race in the  2013 Ginetta Junior Championship season alongside her teammate and brother, Oliver. 

“The speed, the adrenaline, the sporting element of it all,” she describes, when asked what drew her into the world of racing. “When I was younger, I loved going karting. Even though it was a male-dominated world, I was in a team with my actual older brother and a couple of guys that were like older brothers. I enjoyed working with the team, and racing was much more of a team sport than I had thought.”

Racing in the W Series

She is currently competing in the W Series, an international single-seater racing championship that’s exclusively open to female racing drivers to help them climb the ladder of motorsports to F1. To truly discover the best drivers with skill and to eliminate the barriers to entry, the W Series championship is free-to-enter and the drivers compete in mechanically identical cars, the Tatuus F3 T-318.

2019 marked the inaugural racing season for W Series, and since 2021, the racing series has been a support race for Formula One. The series is making its Asian debut in Singapore this year at the Marina Bay street circuit as the sixth race of its 2022 season. 

This is Jamie’s third season in the W Series; she’s driving for the Caitlyn Jenner-owned Jenner Racing team this year. “I wanted to have the opportunity to be involved with a team that I felt had big goals and aspirations,” she says, of her decision to join Jenner Racing. “Caitlyn has just got a huge amount of experience in the sporting world, including motorsports, so her knowledge was really good. I think from that side of things, she felt like a really good fit for someone that could also mentor and help support me for my career portfolio as well.”

The championship fight

She clinched both championship titles in 2019 and 2021 (the 2020 season was cancelled due to the pandemic). She’s currently in the lead this season as well, with 143 points to date. The second-place contender, fellow Brit Alice Powell, as well as third-place contender Dutch driver Beitske Visser each have 68 points – which means that if Jamie wins the Singapore race, she automatically secures the championship title for the 2022 season. 

“I’m definitely a little apprehensive about the race. The humidity is one thing, and the track is another – it’s a tough one and I’ve been trying to learn it on the simulator,” she tells me, a couple of days before her first practice on the Marina Bay street circuit. “It’s such a challenging track, especially after such a long break – it’s been two months since our last race. [The season itself] has been good so far. The ultimate goal is to try and obviously win the championship and score as many points as possible.” 

The road to F1

But Jamie is no stranger to challenges. She has her sights set on making it to Formula One, the pinnacle of motorsports. If all goes to plan, she will be breaking a nearly-fifty-year dry spell for female drivers on the F1 starting grid.

Motorsports, in general, continue to be dominated by men. Female drivers have been struggling to make it into the upper echelons of the sport, with Formula One chief executive Stefano Domenicali noting that he does not realistically envisage females competing in F1 over the next five years.

“For me, my goal is to be in Formula One within five years,” asserts Jamie, when asked about her thoughts on Domenicali’s comments. “In five years time, I’ll be 29, and I definitely want to be [in F1] then. From my side, if I can still have success in the feeder series of Formula One, I don’t see any reason why I can’t be in Formula One within the next five years.” 

From my side, if I can still have success in the feeder series of Formula One, I don’t see any reason why I can’t be in Formula One within the next five years.

Jamie Chadwick

But while she’s on-track to doing so, with her role as a development driver for the Williams Racing F1 team as well as her wins in the W Series that makes her one of the most proven female drivers currently in single-seaters, she’s struggling to move out of the regional Formula 3 series and climb up the ranks to the FIA Formula 2 or 3 feeder series.

“There are a few factors, really. Obviously, time in the car is key. I’ve not driven a Formula 2 car yet, and to get an opportunity to drive that car, it’s quite tricky outside of the season. You can only drive those cars in the race season or in the official test,” she says of the biggest obstacles that are barring her from moving up. “Budget is also part of it. We’re trying to secure the budget and there’s a lot of things that need to fall into place, and it takes quite a long period of time trying to get these things in place.”

What we need to see is young girls having exactly the same pathway as the boys have had in Formula One, she says. “For that to happen, it’s not going to be within five years, because even now in karting, there are still very few girls starting in a similar place as the boys.”

She notes that there are also definitely several factors as to why there are fewer girls in karting. “I think [the absence of] role models is one – you know, the cliché saying that ‘if you could see it, you can be it’ type of philosophy. There isn’t anyone young girls in karting can aspire to be like in Formula One to make it to the very top level,” she says. “And that’s why I think the W series has had a really powerful and positive impact because it’s given visibility to women in the sport, which is key and I think something that we need to promote more.” 

On her future

Does she see herself returning to W Series for a fourth season if things don’t work out? “I mean from my side, I would like to think that there are opportunities now outside of the W Series. That said, the opportunities within the W Series have been amazing, but I’m hoping that at least for next year there’s a more solid plan.”

Her plans for next year are still to be decided, she says, but she has been eyeing the different options. She reveals that she has been using the downtime before the Singapore race to explore opportunities, including heading out to the United States to test in Indy Lights, the feeder series to IndyCar, the highest class of North American open-wheel single-seater formula racing cars. 

“The experience was good. Physically, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be, but it was still tough,” she notes, describing her time in the car for the Indy Lights testing. “I feel like it’s a level that I’m very capable of getting to, and a season of competing in [Indy Lights] would prepare me physically for even the likes of a Formula Two potentially. I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t such a big step from something like the W Series, which is good.”

And while the road has not been easy, the young British racer is still purported to be potentially the first woman to make the move from W Series to either Formula 3 or Formula 2. How has she been dealing with the weight of expectation placed on her shoulders? 

“I try not to focus or think too much about it,” she says. “I think as a sportsperson, you would put the most pressure on yourself. It’s important to learn to manage the pressure yourself and shut out everything else – at least, that’s how I deal with it.” 

It’s important to learn to manage the pressure yourself and shut out everything else.

Jamie Chadwick

She doesn’t necessarily see herself as a leader in this space, but acknowledges that there is a certain sense of pressure. “I very much see it as a responsibility whatever I go on and do next does reflect on W series to a degree, but I see it in a positive sense I guess. But there are also so many top female drivers at the moment that are leading the way. And not just drivers – there are a lot of top women in the motorsports industry now,” she says, citing Natalie Robyn, the new CEO of the FIA. “It’s definitely starting to change.”  

Ultimately, she’s optimistic for a future where there will be more women in motorsports. “I hope we can have a much greater split of women in the sport and that it’s not just racing drivers, but generally across the board in the industry,” she enthuses. “Unfortunately, it’s currently still seen as a male-dominated sport. I want to see [the ratio] get a little bit more even across the board, and for the sport to be more accessible and diverse.”