To many onlookers, motorsport represents thrill-seeking, adrenaline rushes and pushing to the limit. The thoughts of the glitz and glamour of Monaco, opulence of Abu Dhabi and the rubbing shoulders of wealthy statesmen across the globe are also prominent. Through all of this, one of the most noticeable constants is the lack of women within motorsport. Whether that’s in driver’s seats or working behind the scenes, the feeling of this space being an old boys’ club has been one that’s stood for a long time. However, the emergence of the W Series is something that could change motorsport for generations to come.
The fairly new series has proved successful and entertaining so far, and is now being backed by the premium beer company Heineken to continue pushing its coverage. Founded in October 2018, the free-to-enter championship provides equal opportunities for women, and helps to eliminate the financial barriers that have previously prevented women from progressing to the top of motorsport.
In its second season, the W Series grid consists of 18 drivers from 11 different countries. This season, eight of the races will be alongside Formula 1 Grand Prix weekends. It’s been 45 years since a woman driver started a Championship Formula 1 Grand Prix, and the aim here is simple: the more high-profile women role models created, the more W Series can inspire young girls to go karting and bring more women into the grassroots of motorsport. This is summed up perfectly by the mission of W Series: ‘If you can see it, you can be it!’
The spirit of their mission is personified by the CEO, Catherine Bond Muir. Speaking ahead of the British Grand Prix – where Complex UK was hosted by Heineken to experience the action first hand – Catherine said: “I founded W Series many years ago and it was just an idea; it took me three and a half years from idea to grid. I have done every single job in the business [and] it’s gone from [just] me, to [now having] 166 people in our offices. Being CEO is a privilege, but I’m just another member of the team.”
Muir added that the best part of her job is “going into schools,” adding that she loves “speaking about W Series to young girls. There are so many different jobs in motorsport, from engineers to mechanics, and two thirds of the people working in our office are female. The lasting message is to give true inspiration that those young girls can do whatever they want to do. W Series actively puts STEM subjects into context that are understandable, which is amazing. This series can inspire young girls that this is a career path.”
Despite there being a real purpose behind W Series, the entertainment factor alone is a massive draw. Heineken have real heritage in backing sports and their increased motorsport offering by backing W Series showcases how highly thought-after the series is.
Sponsorship Manager Julia George explained the reality behind the brands decision and why they keep on expanding. “We go into these sports for the fans,” she says. “There is a passion there. We have been in football for 25 years, motosport since 2016. We go in for the fans’ enjoyment and engagement. As a sponsor and partner of these events, we look at ways we can amplify them; how can we engage fans more? How can we have more social experiences? The engagement of fans and how we bring the experiences are so important.
George added that “Heineken exists in sports to expand them. Within football, we have done that and it’s time to do that within motorsport with a new generation of drivers and a very different racing format. The opportunity to bring a new generation to the sport is something we are proud of and look forward to.”
Whilst there is so much focus on what this necessary series is doing for future generations of fans and participants—be it drivers or careers around supporting the series—it’s impossible to not recognise what it’s doing for the current crop of drivers. Off the grid, reserve driver Naomi Schiff has excelled as a presenter and featured on Channel 4’s TV coverage of the British Grand Prix alongside David Couthard. On the grid, drivers Alice Powell and Fabienne Wohlwend both realise how much they’re benefiting in this present moment.
Alice, who won the British Grand Prix, said: “It’s really important to have diversity within motorsport. We don’t have to stay in W Series, but it gives an opportunity to show what we are capable of. Having a championship like this raises the profile for many people and not just the drivers.”
Fabienne, who is Liechtenstein’s most successful racing driver in history, is still pursuing her first W Series win but is loving every moment of the experience so far. “When I’m in the car with my visor down, I am a driver,” she says. “Not male or female—just a driver. But this series is so empowering. I still actually race against men in different series, but the exposure here is different.”
Heineken’s global exposure will be key for W Series, which is still growing. But with so many drivers from different countries racing across the world with an exciting format, there is no doubt that this current crop of drivers—with the brand’s global reach—will become global superstars in the near future. Motorsport is changing in a big way and the influence from this series, this partnership and this new beginning will be felt for generations to come.