2019 has seen several talented women making a name for themselves thanks to the introduction of the W Series.
The series finale at Brands Hatch saw Jamie Chadwick beat Beitske Visser to become the first ever W Series champion.
As a result, Chadwick recieved $500,000 to help further her motorsport career.
Additionally, drivers who finished in the top twelve of the Drivers’ Standings will be guaranteed a spot in W Series’ 2020 season.
Despite this, Chadwick conceded that the prize money is not enough, should she choose to pursue after a competitive Formula 3 seat.
“I think that’s the bit people don’t get,” Chadwick told motorsport.com last month.
“When I say personally I want to step up to F3 but realistically it might not be an option, that [the budgets involved] is why it might not be an option.
“There are 30 seats in that series, but maybe only six that you really want. To do it with the right team is another half a million or something. The prize money in W Series is fantastic, but sadly in motorsport it can be swallowed just like that.
Chadwick added: “Hopefully the attention this has brought on and the exposure it has provided will help will generate some more funding, but if not it’s nice to know there is the chance to do another season here [in the W Series].”
Powell’s Second Chance
Whilst Chadwick has recieved a lot of attention thanks to her exploits in the W Series, several other drivers produced good performances. One of those drivers is Alice Powell, who returned to racing in 2019 after a four-year absence.
Powell was one of the most consistent drivers in the W Series, winning the season finale at Brands Hatch. Furthermore, Powell claimed five podiums; more than any other driver in 2019.
The non-championship race in Assen really brought out Powell’s speed and consistency. Starting from the back of the grid, she climbed her way up to second place.
She even came close to winning the race from eventual winner Megan Gilkes and once the chequered flag was raised, she was only three thousands of a second behind the Canadian.
Had she not been involved an innocent in a first lap incident at Misano, it is viable that the title showdown would’ve been a three-horse race.
As mentioned earlier, Powell’s returned to racing this season after being away from the action for four years. But the reason for her leaving was not down to a lack of motivation or poor performances.
Instead, little funding meant that Powell was unable to further her career, and forced to sit on the sidelines until an opportunity presented itself.
Thankfully, it did with the introduction of the W Series and now Powell’s talent and consistency can be showcased to fans and interested teams.
But why should a driver as talented as Powell have to sit out because she cannot afford to do what she loves? Does this story highlight a worldwide issue in motorsport that needs to be rectified?
The Necessity of Sponsorship Money
These days, a driver’s talent only get them so far up the motorsport ladder.
High entry fees often present barriers that end their hopes of making it to the
top. So whilst being constant race winners, a lack of cash in the bank means that all the hard work could end up being or nothing.
Alternatively, the presence of sponsorship can help subsidise these fees, with the promise of promoting their branding on the car. However, it’s easier said than done.
Companies have to consider whether the costs of sponsoring a driver is worth the rewards they receive. Furthermore, a driver’s results in previous categories also plays a decisive factor.
Regardless, these considerations don’t ensure companies are guaranteed to sponsor top drivers, but good results help increase the likelihood.
For much of her career, Powell’s lack of backing meant she had to initially put her motorsport on hold. This was despite becoming the first woman to win the Formula Renault BARC championship (2010) and the Asian Formula Renault Series (2014).
She’s demonstrated her talent but is still unable to gather enough sponsors to climb up the ladder.
Is it because she is a woman? Is it because she hasn’t achieved enough for companies to be interested?
The reasons aren’t entirely clear. What is clear is an overhaul is needed so that the best drivers are provided fairer opportunities.
The Benefits of the W Series
When the W Series debuted this year, it prided itself on two things.
Firstly, it promoted an all-female grid to tackle the male-predominance gender motorsport and show that women can race just as well.
Secondly, it wanted to take a driver’s financial situation out of the equation by having no entry fees to compete.
Instead, candidates were be put through several challenges and assessments. This process determined which drivers would compete in the 2019 championship series.
For Powell, this was the perfect opportunity to return to racing without the worries involved with gathering sponsorship. Subsequently, the British driver made her mark in the W Series and is already beginning to reap the rewards.
Last month, Powell made her IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar debut for Heinricher Racing in the GTD class at the Virginia International Raceway.
Despite her four years away from motor racing, it’s clear to see that Powell hasn’t lost any speed or consistency.
The W Series was exactly what Powell needed. Her 2019 season is one example of how the category has provided several opportunities for women to on the bigger stage.
She is likely to stay for 2020, but hopefully Powell’s performances will show others that she can compete and pursue F1.
Even without it, her prize money will propel Powell into the world of racing should further opportunities present themselves.
For now, all Powell can do is continue to deliver the results and the rewards will come. Powell has proven the speed and the capabilities to deliver strong results, and her time will definitely come.