Teenage motor-racing driver Jamie Chadwick agrees with Jenson Button that there is no physical reason why women can’t be part of the Formula One grid. Indeed, she tells Sarah Leach, she wants to be the first female world champion
Jamie Chadwick admits that her long-term goal is to stand at the top of the podium as the world drivers’ champion and the first female to hold the title. “I think any sports woman or man wants to become the best in the world, the best they can possibly be,” she says. “And, for me, that is it. I’m going to keep pushing for as long as I can to make it to the top in Formula One.”
It has been 42 years since a woman has driven in the sport’s top formula and Chadwick’s racing c.v. suggests she is capable of bridging the gap. At the tender age of 15 she became the youngest British GT champion, at the same time as becoming the first female GT champion. By 2017, Chadwick made the switch to single seaters as the youngest woman to race in British Formula Three. And after a ninth-place finish in the drivers’ standings in her debut season, she is looking to improve in her second year. Now aged 19, she says: “I’m really looking at trying to win the championship, and if nothing else then be winning races and at least on the podium.”
The last woman to enter an F1 race was Giovanna Amati, for Brabham in 1992, but she failed to qualify. Before her, Lella Lombardi took to the grid in 17 races between 1974 and 1976 and won half a point for coming sixth at the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix where she held her own against the likes of James Hunt, Jackie Stewart and Emerson Fittipaldi. In turn, Lombardi had become the first woman, since Maria Teresa de Filippis in 1958, to qualify for a Grand Prix race.
More recently, Susie Wolff took to the track in a Williams during practice for the 2014 British GP at Silverstone. And only last week, the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 team announced the promotion of Colombian driver Tatiana Calderon from development driver to test driver ahead of the 2018 season.
“Tatiana has done a really, really phenomenal job and it’s great that Sauber have recognised that,” says Chadwick. “It shows that it is possible that if you do a good job there is progression available.” Indeed, Sauber’s team boss Frederic Vasseur said of Calderson: “She has made good progress as a driver, developing both her mental and physical capacities continuously over the past few years.”
Physical capabilities that Carmen Jorda last week suggested controversially were a barrier for women in the sport. The Spaniard, a former Lotus development driver who was appointed to the FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission last year, said Formula E cars are less challenging and easier for women to drive.
She said: “It’s a less physical car than in Formula One because of the downforce and because of the power steering as well. The challenge that we women have in Formula Two and Formula One is a physical issue, and I think in Formula E we won’t have it.
“It’s not for me to decide what’s good for women or not in the sport. But in my experience I can say Formula One and Formula Two – not all the other championships, karting, Formula Three, GT, I think women are capable of good results in all those series – there is a barrier that is a physical issue. I think there is a big issue for women and that’s why there aren’t any in those championships.”
Jenson Button, the former F1 champion, was swiftly on to social media to respond to Jorda, tweeting: “Oh Carmen, you’re not helping proper female racing drivers with this comment. Ask @DanicaPatrick about being [strong] enough to drive a race car! She’d kick my butt in the gym & she’s probably as strong as any driver on the F1 Grid right now. Physical barrier is not your issue Carmen.”
Chadwick said: “I completely agree [with Jenson], he’s right. The physicality isn’t an issue. There’s another girl, Simona de Silvestro, and she’s raced at all levels of motorsport and driven all types of cars including Formula One, and she says that the physical barrier isn’t the barrier that’s stopping us … and I completely disagree in a sense that Formula One shouldn’t be off limits. But at the same time I think Formula E could potentially be a good option for any driver.
“We [women] still have to work hard in the gym, I still have to work incredibly hard in the gym, to race in Formula Three. I think the steering, the weight of the steering and the G-forces on your neck and whole body is huge. People probably don’t appreciate that side of things. The men have to be really strong, so for a woman it is a little bit harder. We do have to work a bit harder, but it isn’t off limits.
“A lot of women have proved they can work hard enough in the gym to get strong enough and it is possible. What people don’t understand it this it is still a physical sport. You’ve still got to withstand a huge amount of different forces through your whole body throughout a race … and temperatures as well.”
To mark International Women’s Day, the FIA, in association with the European Commission, launched a new programme, Girls on Track – Karting Challenge, to help inspire the next generation of female drivers to reach the senior driving ranks.
Chadwick believes that promoting the sport to girls at grass-roots level is the way forward. “If we can get more and more girls involved in karting and progressing through the junior car ranks then at least it gives more of a talent pool to seep through to the top and potentially make it to Formula One,” she says.
Liberty Media, the new Formula One owners, are on-message. After recently replacing grid-girls with grid-kids, promoting the sport at grass-roots level is expected to help the sport grow in the long-term, breathe new life and bring the sport into the modern era.
Chadwick says: “Liberty’s approach to Formula One is really refreshing. Not just from a female’s point of view but just from a fan’s point of view. I love Formula One and unfortunately it got to the point where sometimes it wasn’t a spectacle and it wasn’t the most interesting sport to watch. I really like the way that Liberty have approached it with a more commercial and refreshing approach. I’m feeling really positive about the next few years, not only as a driver, but as a fan of the sport.
“Bernie Ecclestone had an old-fashioned view of the world. He’s done a lot for the sport we can be grateful for, but I think it’s great that Liberty have stepped in at a perfect time for me.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah Leach. Freelance Sports Broadcast Journalist/Producer based in London, Sarah is former Netball athlete at national level both in Australia and here in the UK (Super League). Lover of all sports and giving high-fives to the ladies dominating on the big stage in sport. Instagram @sarahleach_1 Twitter @sarleach Sarah’s latest articles.