A year or so ago, Carmen Jorda took serious incoming over a comment she made in which she said the thought of an all-women’s racing series might be a good idea. Leena Gade and more overtly, Pippa Mann, were very strong with their criticism of Carmen’s seeming insouciance about women in motorsport.
The outrage really ramped up as other female racers chimed in and precious few in support of Jorda. Then plenty of males got into the fray and waxed poetic about the debasing of women and futility of an all-women series and what an awful concept it was. It got worse as many more (mostly males from what I could tell) chimed in personally attacking Carmen and denigrating her character, driving ability, beauty as a prop and worse.
Back then, same as I did for the grid girls who spoke out on the ban, I defended Carmen for what amounted, simply, to her opinion. There was no reason for the berating, harsh words to her. I found it odd for these guys to be championing women in one tweet only to denigrate a women in the next tweet.
Yesterday it was announced that a new series has been created called the “W Series”. The goal of it is to be an all-female open-wheel racing series to bring the world’s best female drivers together in Formula 3-spec cars to race.
We believe any woman with talent, passion and commitment should have a chance in motorsport. We’re here to create those chances and increase participation in a sport we love. #RethinkRacing pic.twitter.com/Ilhq0ZhfLL
— W Series (@WSeriesRacing) October 10, 2018
The intent is to offer a $1.5 million prize fund with $500k going to the winner to fund their next step in the ladder toward a racing career. It is a fully funded series in which the drivers will not have to bring funding with them for the privilege of getting a seat which is what happens in most, if not all, of the junior racing series for Formula 1.
The announcement was met with very strong opinions from Pippa Mann and others. The narrative has quickly cemented in social media circles and much to Pippa’s credit, she set the tone of the debate around not building a new series but getting these investors to invest in female drivers for existing series. All noble endeavors to be sure.
What a sad day for motorsport. 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 life time. https://t.co/8ZrKqaADwx
— Pippa Mann (@PippaMann) October 10, 2018
I try to see all sides of an issue and leave the politics, #Rhetoric and #Actually commentary to those who thrive on them. Is there not a reason and positive result for the W Series? I do not have all the answers but I’ll share these thoughts with you and would be keen to read yours.
For me, it is important to consider the topics through the lens of more opportunities. No one can guarantee outcomes for any driver, male or female, that begins karting but it is the opportunity that is critical for anyone aspiring to become a champion in F1 like Lewis Hamilton. Lewis came from a humble background and through sheer talent and incredibly hard work from his father, he managed to secure the support he needed to succeed but that’s few and far between. Lewis’s story is not unique.
Jolyon Palmer, Sebastien Buemi, Pastor Maldonaldo, Paul di Resta, Anthony Davidson, (soone to be) Stoffel Vandoorne and Marcus Ericsson, Jerome D’Ambrosio, Jaime Alguersuari, Heikki Kovalainen, Adrian Sutil, Esteban Gutierrez, Will Stevens, Max Chilton, Jean-Eric Vergne, Alexander Rossi, Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde are all drivers who didn’t last in F1. They all raised serious support and backing from investors but couldn’t survive the series for a host of reasons and lack of pace was one of them.
Supporting female drivers and not building a new pigeon-hole series segregating women:
I understand the desire to race with the best and not be segregated as an inferior driver due to gender. What I know of Matt Bishop, head of comms for the new series, I don’t think this isn’t something that he would sign up for if he thought it was marginalizing women or designed to send a message that women are inferior. He’s been a long-time advocate for social issues to be sure.
Numbers: Out of the entire world of aspiring drivers, are there more males or females lining up to start karting and advance through the ladders to become racing drivers? The answer is males. If the numbers are weighted towards males due to interest levels but we still would like to see female participation then having more opportunities for females to drive increases the chance of exposure for those women who are incredibly quick.
In Pippa’s equation, I am slightly confused about the math versus the opportunity. If they took the entire $1.5m of prize money for the W Series and put that behind Pippa Mann to drive in GP2, how long would that last? Would that buy her a competitive seat? Would that ensure her a drive in F1? What if she wasn’t as fast as the other drivers in GP2? Would she still find a home in F1? It is estimated to cost €8 million to get a driver from karting to a position to be considered for F1.
A fully-funded series where 20 women can drive, hone their skills and get visibility toward the higher ladders in the system seems like we are not taking the resources to invest behind 5 women but increasing the opportunities for more women to gain the attention of sponsors and other teams in higher ladders.
Even if you took the total investment in the series, how many Pippa’s would that support in GP2? Now, if the series has 20 cars, that’s 20 women driving, developing and possibly becoming an interesting prospect for GP2 or other series each season.
As I said, I am trying to find the upside in the equation beyond the immediate reaction of gender segregation. To be fair to Pippa, if the total investment in this series is $50-80 million, then that would support several female drivers in GP2 for a while but my hunch is that this is also a series investment for profit by the investors. Let’s think about that for a minute.
With so many young boys interested, there are precious few spots for young girls and perhaps this is a way of giving them a platform for developing race craft without needing the massive financial backing it normally takes the boys in Karting, Formula Renault, F4, F2 and so on.
The opposite argument of Pippa’s coin seems to be not limiting opportunity to only a few Pippa’s out there but getting as many females into racing, developing skills and providing all of this without having to burden future Pippa’s with raising thousands for a seat in a junior series. I’m not singling Pippa out, she has just been a very vocal critic of the series and I am trying to consider all sides.
What traction, exposure and ROI does an individual investor get from putting €8 million behind Pippa’s career versus being an investor in a series with cars, advertising, possible (maybe not) TV rights and sponsors of the brand? Has the concept of backing an individual driver changed? I think it most definitely has and the lengths that young drivers are going to in order to secure and guarantee an ROI for their backers is big. I’m not suggesting that model is dead, but it is changing as F1 teams rely more and more on paying drivers. Again, this impacts the number of opportunities across the board and with fewer females interested in racing than males, that makes it even more difficult.
The end game
Look, I am not trying to marginalize Pippa’s opinion in the least. I’ve heard her opinion as well as those of Leena Gade or other female drivers in the sport. I found the attacks on Carmen very terse last year just as I found the scathing comments about grid girls who spoke out about losing their jobs.
I understand that Pippa feels it would be better to invest in her and other drivers like her and let them compete against the best. Completely get that point. I saw her tweet about an organization that is trying to enable that effort called Shift Up. It looks like a terrific organization but they immediately jumped into the W Series conversation asking for sponsors to call them. That’s the issue. The W Series presumably has the investors/sponsors and are trying to help increase the opportunities for more female drivers.
Since so many people today are advocating for sponsoring women in non-segregated racing series, we’re still looking for additional sponsors to join our all-female entry in 25 Hours of @ThunderhillPark with @AshleyFreiberg @SheaRacing and @PippaMann! https://t.co/fwHK7JhOwa
— Shift Up Now (@ShiftUpNow) October 10, 2018
I do not believe that the W Series is trying to send a message to all women that they are inferior, rather that they’ve increased the access to opportunity without the yoke of massive backing that most young drivers have to raise. In short, they are trying to remove road blocks for aspiring female drivers. My biggest concern is the TV audience. With all racing, and even F1 struggling for eyeballs, how will W Series draw an audience?