Why Jamie Chadwick can break new ground for female driving and take F1 by storm

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Jamie Chadwick is on course to becoming the first female F1 driver in over 40 years (Picture: Getty)

There can be few, if any, names more exciting in global motorsport right now than Jamie Chadwick, no driver with more potential to explode the sport than the 23-year-old two-time winner of the W Series.

The Williams development driver delivered on the difficult second album in the women’s-only class last weekend, her four wins and seven podiums essentially a huge tyre-nudge closer to becoming the first female Formula One driver in more than 40 years.

I will get to just how far off that destination might still be in a moment, but can we allow ourselves to contemplate that possibility for just a minute or two? We haven’t had a woman racing behind the wheel of an F1 car since Lella Lombardi in 1976.

That was six years before women were allowed to spend their money in English pubs without being refused service, believe it or not, never mind the idea of going into the same pubs and seeing athletes of their gender competing on the widescreen TVs which would one day be on the wall.

To have a female racing in the premier class of motorsport in today’s world, would feel entirely of its time, and would bring a whole new level of publicity, profile and badass-ery to both driver and the sport itself.

Aside from her talent and ability to cope with intense pressure, what I love most about Jamie is what appears to be her absolute normalness amid the inevitable hype. Her engagement with the regular world and lack of obvious pretension make her a gloriously refreshing change in the world of elite sport, even among those whose superstar potential hasn’t yet been realised.

Lella Lombardi was the last female driver behind the wheel of an F1 car (Picture: Getty)

When I spoke to Jamie earlier this year for a magazine article, I was struck by her lack of swagger, her eagerness to engage and her general lack of starriness. Ironically this is what will be the making of her if, and when, her time comes.

The interview involved a four-way Zoom chat with other established stars of their sports. Even in the company of F1’s own Valtteri Bottas, cycling’s Mark Cavendish and MotoGP’s Cal Crutchlow, Chadwick seemed wise beyond her years, unfazed by the hullabaloo that surrounds her, undaunted by the enormity of her declared ambition to join Bottas on the starting grid. The others, in turn, showed a respect for Chadwick that betrays their belief she will, indeed, one day realise that ambition.

If Jamie Chadwick does make it to the top ranks, it is this hyper-normality, the genuine girl-next-doorness that could make her the most exciting star of Formula One.

In the uber-glamorous, obscenely monied, thrustingly macho world of motorsport, Chadwick is a breath of fresh air and not just because of her gender.

Chadwick said her F1 dream was a ‘step closer’ after her second W Series championship win (Picture: Getty)

So how far is she from making it to the top? It is true winning a second season of the W Series still leaves her some way off. The class was founded with the intent of helping put a female driver into F1 but, in only its second season after a Covid-cancelled 2020, there is still no established pathway, or even a competitive field to rival the likes of F2 or F3.

Chadwick can, of course, only race and beat the drivers she’s faced with and, as important as the back-to-back series win, is the crucial 15-point tally added to her FIA Super Licence. A minimum of 40 points are needed to race in F1 but those 15, added to the ten she won last year for coming fourth in the Asian F3 Championship, give her the 25 required to take part in F1 Friday practice.

Under new rules, Formula One teams are obliged to use a rookie in two free practice sessions next year.

Should Chadwick get her chance, I’d be willing to bet there would be considerably more interest afforded to FP1 on that particular weekend, than usual. Whatever comes next, another W Series title defence is unlikely. A rule change means Chadwick could only return to retain her title if she makes herself ineligible for further Super Licence points. Given her declared career ambitions, and those of the Williams development team on her behalf, some sort of change of racing scenery is surely beckoning.

Chadwick was the first female and the youngest driver to win a British GT in 2015 (Picture: Getty)

Not that any next step will be entirely new. Lest Chadwick’s success in the women’s class should cloud our perspective, let’s not forget she has been racing against, and beating, the boys for as long as she has been in the sport. The first female and youngest driver to win a British GT in 2015, the first female to win a British F3 race three years later at Brands Hatch, and the first female to win the MRF Challenge in India the following year, Chadwick’s gender has only mostly been of relevance to those of us watching on and tasked with categorising these wins for the purpose of context and history.

That historical context matters, though it should not detract from the individuality of Chadwick’s journey. She is but one driver, trying to make it to the top of her sport, along with countless others.

That she may feel a pressure as the only woman with a realistic chance of doing so in the last four decades is inevitable, but hopefully she will feel the support too. I, for one, will be cheering every screech of tyre in this remarkable young woman’s career, and applauding her every effort in both success and defeat.

Already she is nudging the garage door open for those who come after her. I sincerely hope she barges her own way through first.

@SportsOrla


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