From Promising Start to Bankruptcy: A Closer Look at the Challenges Faced by W Series

W Series, the first international women’s racing series in motorsport history, has gone into administration as all attempts to find new investors have failed and due to financial difficulties in the W Series championship, the 2022 season ended ahead of schedule. The new administration announced that the W Series season would not be launched in 2023 due to liquidity problems. Let’s try to understand what happened to the women’s championship, declared loudly in 2019.

The history of the world’s first racing series exclusively for female drivers has ended. The W Series championship has been declared bankrupt and has gone into administration. Kevin Ley and Henry Shinners of Evelyn Partners LLP have been appointed Joint Administrators of the Series.

Modern motorsport embodies entertainment and commerce, driven by the imperative to generate revenue. The idea that motorsport should focus on the female gender gave rise to the W Series — the female equivalent of Formula 1. However, the problems started in the first season and have reached their apex. With the departure of the sponsor, the 2022 season was abruptly halted, with the final three stages, originally scheduled for October in the United States and Mexico, being cancelled. Despite assurances from organisers to resolve these matters promptly, their promises remained unfulfilled by the current moment of the current year.

Negotiations with potential investors on a possible rescue of W Series continued for eight months, but they were unsuccessful.

Back in the May issue of the «Formula for Success» podcast, David Coulthard, one of the shareholders of W Series, accused potential investors of not fulfilling their promises: “I tried to help the founders of the series, and most of all I was upset that with all the efforts they made and the money they spent, there were many companies that invest in motorsport, but their rants about the need to promote diversity and inclusivity have remained conversations.”

And last year, the Team Principal of Red Bull, Christian Horner, hinted that the $ 7 million that the Austrians would pay for violations of financial regulations could be directed by the FIA to support W Series. He stated:

“Our fine is a significant amount of money, and obviously, the FIA will decide how to allocate these funds. We hope that they will be put to good use. We can see that some championships are currently facing difficulties, and we hope that this support can be beneficial.”

Lewis Hamilton is the 7-time Formula 1 world champion, supported the W Series and even visited the championship paddock. Ted Kravitz, a well-known Formula 1 television columnist, reported that he recently asked Hamilton what he thought should be done to revive the series. The driver replied that he was looking for companies that could become an investor. “I don’t think the financial problems of W Series are so serious that tens of millions of pounds were not enough for them,” Kravitz said.

The idea of the W Series appeared in 2017, as the realisation dawned that gender equality in motorsport could not be achieved without establishing a different championship for female participants. Catherine Bond Muir, the CEO of the tournament, planned to ensure the long-term and successful development of the women’s Formula. The core mission of W Series aimed to spotlight female drivers who had hitherto languished in the shadows of their male counterparts within the realm of sports. Scottish businessman Sean Wadsworth was the first to join the project, and former Formula 1 racer David Coulthard and engineer Adrian Newey were among the shareholders. Former McLaren manager Dave Ryan became the racing director. The series’s main rule was that car seats are not sold for personal and sponsorship money. Before the inaugural championship 2019, several rounds of rigorous selection procedures encompassing tests, simulator work, engineering exams, and on-track assessments were administered to aspiring female racers. As a result, the best racers got into the Top 20, regardless of past achievements.

The first women’s series championship was held in 2019. 2020 the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it returned as a Formula 2 support series in 2021 and then spent an incomplete season in 2022.

The 3-time W Series champion is British racer Jamie Chadwick, who has already successfully continued her career outside the women’s championship. At the end of 2022, she signed a contract with the INDY NXT team «Andretti», thereby becoming the first woman in the 13-year history of the series to compete in the championship permanently!

“I am delighted that next year (2023), I will be able to perform at INDY NXT. This is a great opportunity to spend much time behind the wheel, continuing its development. Playing for Andretti will be an incredible experience, so I look forward to continuing my career in the USA. I want to thank Williams for the support they have given me since I entered their academy in 2019”, Chadwick said in 2022.

“Thanks for everything, W Series! Thanks to it, my life has changed, and new career opportunities have opened up, for which I will be eternally grateful!”

Following W Series, the FIA program «Girls on Track – Rising Stars» will collapse. The upcoming issue will be the last in the history of the program. After processing all applications, the program manager will select 16 drivers – eight each in the 12-14 years category and 14-16 years category – who will attend the Franciacorta training camp from September 4 to 7. Then the four best drivers from the senior class will take part in the final selection in Fiorano and Maranello, and the best, according to the Ferrari scouts, will get a chance to compete in Formula 4 in the 2024 season for Iron Dames. In the junior category, the brightest prospect will be rewarded with the invaluable support of the Ferrari Academy for the karting season-2024.

The analogue of the closed W Series championship should be the F1 Academy, created in 2023 with the support of the World Championship. Moreover, the organisers of the F1 Academy separately emphasise that their project does not aim to replace the existing FIA races from 2019. Only girls participate in the new racing championship, as well as in the W Series. Five teams created by the current Formula 2 and Formula 3 teams each exhibited three Tatuus T421 cars with an Autotecnica turbo engine with a capacity of 172 hp and Pirelli tires. In the debut season, there will be seven stages of three races outside the Formula 1 Grand Prix (except for one stage in Austin).

“We are committed to maximising the opportunities in our sport for anyone to reach their true potential and achieve their dreams. We believe F1 Academy is a significant part of our plans to be a more diverse and inclusive sport,” commented Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali.

In a statement, F1 said: “It is a shame that this has happened to W Series, and they should be applauded for their efforts to raise awareness and opportunity for female drivers. We will remain focused on the F1 Academy designed to be a genuine pipeline for female talent to get into higher formulas with the right support, training, and investment.”

But what are the chances that F1 Academy will not repeat the fate of the W Series?

The idea of the project certainly looks interesting and not bad. Due to the ongoing financial cost problem, the need for live broadcasts for the series races is a significant disadvantage. According to the publication The Race, the organisers of the F1 Academy, having assessed the financial costs and technical requirements, decided to refrain from investing in the organisation of live broadcasts of the first six stages of the season. Instead, fans are invited to follow the events on the track according to the official timing. The final stage of the F1 Academy season in Austin, which will be held as part of the Formula 1 race weekend, is expected to be shown live.

Despite the challenges, one can only hope that this project will eventually prove its mettle and yield fruitful results in the long run.

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