W Series: how can a year of phenomenal success in female sports end with season scrapped prematurely?

The W Series (Formula 1’s female programme) has had to end its season abruptly due to a lack of funding. The organisers hope it will return next year

Earlier this week, the chief executive of the W Series, Catherine Bond Muir, was forced to announce that the W Series had ended its season early because of financial difficulties.

Bond Muir said: “It is with both great sadness and frustration that we announce our final races will not go ahead. We remain positive about the future of W series in the long term. It is well documented that women’s sports receive far less funding than its male counterparts, and the W Series is no exception. We are incredibly thankful for the help and support we have received.”

As a result of the premature end, which has meant three cancelled races, Jamie Chadwick has been announced as the winner of the championship, her third win in the three years of the W series.

While the British W Series icon is undoubtedly happy to have secured a third title, she also added when speaking to BBC Radio 4: “I don’t see why W series can’t continue to exist. The business model - everything it stands for - is fantastic. It just needs someone to support it.”

And therein lies the problem - why is there nobody out there willing to back a sport in excessive need of growth and funding?

What’s almost more incredulous is that after such a fantastic year for women’s sport, especially in England, a female sport season (whose male counterpart has arguably too much money as seen by recent breaches in budget caps) has had to be curtailed due to lack of money.

If anything, surely this should be the year of all years to “jump on the bandwagon” and show the world you are investing in the growing phenomenon that is women’s sport, rather than shying away from it.

England Women celebrate winning the Euros in July 2022

To list just some of the accolades of women’s sport from this year: 45% of athletes at the Winter Olympics earlier this year were women; there was an Ashes multi-series between England and Australia’s cricketers; the Women’s Six Nations enjoyed their own sponsorship deal with TikTok and ran as a separate tournament from the men’s; Katie Boulter and Heather Watson lit up the courts at Wimbledon while the championship also had its first ever African-Arab female finalist in Ons Jabeur; and let’s not forget England winning the Euros 2022 football tournament, “bringing it home” for the first time since 1966.

So with all of this to celebrate, admire and learn from, there should be no reason why the W Series is not able to run, and indeed thrive.

Historically, Formula 1 and motorsports have been an exceptionally male-dominated sport (what hasn’t…) but the growth in female support - much of it thanks to the rise of ventures such as Drive to Survive and TikTok stars such as Lissie MacKintosh and Hannah Atkinson - highlights that this is beginning to change, slowly, but surely.

More women are now being seen in the paddocks; W series driver Naomi Schiff has become a regular with Sky Sports F1 on race days; and women following F1 in general has grown exponentially to what it was just a few years ago. Is this not enough to show that investment in W Series is vital if we are to keep expanding that support network?

Even as it stands at the moment, the W Series is well behind where organisers and members of the sport would want it to be. Jamie Chadwick is set to earn $500,000 as a result of her third title, while her male counterpart Max Verstappen is earning the same amount almost every week with his yearly salary of $25 million.

Additionally, there were only ten scheduled W Series events this calendar year, three of which have had to be cancelled, while there have been 22 in F1 and set to be a record-breaking 24 come 2023.

There had been high hopes that the emergence of W Series would lead to a female F1 driver in the next few years, with Jamie Chadwick being the most likely candidate, however we are still clearly some way away from that happening. While F1 fans will be ecstatic to see their drivers in action even more next year, the female side of the sport may have completely collapsed.

The answer for solving the problem is obvious: money. However, the issue comes in its workings. If, after all that has been seen this year, investors are still pulling out of women’s sport, then what on earth can we do to get them back in?

There is a suggestion that Formula 1 could itself bankroll and underwrite the project and while the longevity of this may be inconceivable, given their current motto is “We Race as One” to champion diversity, it looks rather pathetic that they have apparently stood by and watched an example of that diversity crumble before their very eyes when they have ample means to prevent it.

With all the politics involved in F1 and the FIA, it’s hard to know what the answer is. But what is an absolute certainty, is that this cannot be the end of W Series. Motorsport’s Charles Bradley has argued that “the day that W Series should end is when it becomes the norm for female racers to be well represented, because then it will have served its purpose.”

Now while the logistics of having male and female drivers competing against each other may be much harder to work out than we are giving credit for, Bradley’s point still stands - female representation in motorsports must not fade.

While at this juncture it would be lovely to add “female representation should only be growing” (and it should only be growing) we must heartbreakingly admit that at this point we now have to fight to get back to where we thought we were - so that the necessary expansion and advancement can once again continue.