In late 2018, news about the upcoming W Series broke. An FIA sanctioned all-female open-wheel series, run with identical Tatuus Formula 3 cars. Big names like David Coulthard and Adrian Newey are attached to the project, as is a prize fund totaling $1.5 million, with the winner earning $500,000 to help fund the next step in her racing career.
Women are under represented in motorsports. Teams don’t even give female drivers a chance. Sure there’s Danica Patrick who raced in IndyCar and Nascar. but look at the heavy criticism she received for not winning races or championships despite being in top-feam equipment.
Lella Lombardi is the last woman to score a point in a Formula 1 race, and that was more than 40 years ago at the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix. The handful of women who’ve tried to reach F1 since then haven’t even qualified for a race.
The W Series makes sense. If series and teams won’t give qualified women a shot, women should have their own series to show their skills behind the wheel. On the 55 woman short list is Canadian kart racer Taegen Poles, who has been selected to take part in a shootout for a full season of competition the W Series.
Opinions about the W Series are polarized. Carmen Jorda caused a storm last year when she advocated a women-only series on the grounds that they had a physical disadvantage and could not compete equally with men at the top level. Claire Williams said this year that an all-female championship would be a “regressive step”. Even IndyCar veteran Pippa Mann claimed that the W Series is a a historic step backwards.
Lost in the news cycle is the historic announcement that Heinricher Racing (with Meyer Shank Racing) formally announced an entire female driving lineup in the No. 57 Acura NSX for the 2019 IMSA season, including:
- American Jackie Heinricher
- England’s Katherine Legge
- Brazilian Ana Beatriz (for endurance races)\
- Swiss driver Simona De Silvestro (for the 24 Hours of Daytona)
In the weeks since the announcement, a training injury has sidelined Heinricher with a back injury, but two-time IMSA champion Christina Nielsen has been announced as the replacement driver in the all-female squad.
Rather than competing in a women’s-only series, these racers have chosen to compete on an international stage, the IMSA series, as a group of strong women, together. Is the W Series a “powderpuff race” enforcing gender stereotypes, implying that women must have a special spectacle just for females to participate in a male-dominated sport of racing? Does it make a mockery of the abilities of female racers? Or will it break the glass ceiling many women in motorsports have reached? Time will tell. But racers like Heinricher, Legge, Beatriz, De Silvestro and Neilsen are doing their part to break down barriers all by themselves. That’s an inspiration for all young racers.