Plans to launch an all-women racing series next year have divided opinions among existing female racing drivers.
W Series will be a free-to-enter, single-seater racing series that aims to increase female participation in motorsport. The grid will be formed of 18-20 drivers who will be chosen by a pre-selection programme to race in identical F3-level cars for a total prize fund of $1.5 million.
The series claims to have a “firm belief that women can compete equally with men in motorsport” but argues “an all-female series is essential in order to force greater female participation”. The series is also backed by former F1 race winner David Coulthard and legendary F1 designer and engineer Adrian Newey.
However, reaction among existing female drivers, who have spent their careers to date racing against men, has been mixed.
Pippa Mann, who has entered the Indy 500 seven times during her career, said the introduction of an all-women series would represent a step backwards for female drivers hoping to compete at the highest level.
“What a sad day for motorsport,” she said on Twitter. “Those with funding to help female racers are choosing to segregate them as opposed to supporting them. I am deeply disappointed to see such a historic step backwards take place in my lifetime.”
European F3 driver Sophia Floersch added: “I agree with the arguments [made by W Series] — but I totally disagree with the solution.
“Women need long-term support and trustful partners. I want to compete with the best of our sport. Please compare it with economics: Do we need separate Women Management/Advisory Boards? No. Wrong way.”
Charlie Martin — who is hoping to become the first transgender racing driver to take part in the Le Mans 24 hours — told CNN: “While it may create opportunities for some female drivers, it sends a clear message that segregation is acceptable.
“We no longer discriminate in sport based on race, so it is particularly jarring that we feel it is acceptable to do so based on gender in 2018. As racers, we want to compete against the best drivers — regardless of age, race, sexual orientation or gender — and prove we are the best at what we do.”
However, Tatiana Calderon who is a development driver for the Sauber F1 team and has scored 9 points in the GP3 series this year, believes W Series has the potential to help aspiring female racing drivers.
“Having raced for more than a decade in karting, Formula 3, GP3 and World Series among others, but having been a very small minority in getting that far in motorsport, I know how difficult it is for female drivers to get opportunities to progress their careers,” she said.
“Hopefully this series help provide those opportunities to some young rising female talent and eventually allow the best to prove that we can compete at the same level as men.”
Jamie Chadwick, who is currently eighth in British F3 and became the first woman to win a race in the series in August, also believes W Series will create opportunities for female racing drivers.
“W Series is giving female drivers another platform to go racing,” she said. “It’s no secret that motorsport is an incredibly tough industry often dictated by financial factors.
“As a funded championship, W Series not only offers a fantastic opportunity for top female talent to race but will also encourage many more young females to enter the sport. I’m a racing driver and, if I could, I would race 365 days of the year.
“I will still race against men in other championships but W Series is the perfect supplement to help me develop and progress further through the junior motorsport ranks. I’m excited about what’s to come!”
W Series is due to get underway in May 2019 with six 30-minute races throughout Europe in the opening season.