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Opinion: Why W Series' future should concern all in motorsport

News of W Series' decision to curtail its 2022 season in order to focus on securing investment for 2023 sparked much sadness from those involved with the category. Some spoke on social media of a continued fight for women in motorsport – but should this really still be a battle fought solely by women?

It was confirmed on 10 October that W Series would curtail its current season in order to focus on securing investment for the 2023 campaign. The news was of course not entirely unexpected, given that CEO Catherine Bond Muir spoke of the possibility ahead of the most recent – and what turned out to be final – race of 2022. But the announcement is no less disappointing and saddening for everyone involved in the category, along with its growing fanbase. With the statement coming after the Singapore race, there was no chance for any sort of official goodbye, which probably makes this even more upsetting. A quiet send-off, with Jamie Chadwick’s third title currently only able to be celebrated via social media. Social media has also provided a platform for reaction to the news. Reading posts from the drivers and teams has highlighted just how much of a loss this is to them. There is not just sadness but, from some, a sense of anger and defiance. There have been suggestions of this signifying a continued fight for women in motorsport, and how that will continue on, regardless of the uncertainty over W Series' future. Jessica Hawkins' words were particularly poignant, with the Aston Martin ambassador writing on Instagram: "I'm heartbroken that we will not finish our season. But, this is bigger than anyone one of us individuals on the grid. "This is all of us, and those working tirelessly behind closed doors, fighting for women in motorsport. This season may be over, but the fight isn't. We are all in this together." And this is what makes this so frustrating and exhausting for many women involved in motorsport; that still this is going on, that still the backing for such a much-needed venture is not there when there is seemingly a huge wealth of money in the male side of this field.

W Series' impact on visibility for women in motorsport

This is of course not solely an issue in motorsport – men's sport has long received more funding, research and backing than women's sport – but, while it feels like other disciplines are making great strides, the news about W Series has a sense of one step forward, two steps back. Needless to say, this does not take away from the immense impact that W Series has had. When I was first introduced to motorsport as a young girl, it did not occur to me that it was a world I could be a part of career-wise, the reason being that the only women I tended to see working at F1 races on television were press officers, grid girls or occasional TV presenters, while my habit of searching the credits of Formula 1 magazines for any sign of a female writer usually failed to yield results. There were, obviously, plenty of women working in roles beyond those that I saw, but visibility is the key here; perhaps it's a cliche, but the phrase 'see it and you can be it' is important in showcasing the range of opportunities available. Fortunately, diversity and opportunities in Formula 1 have improved since then. But W Series provided an additional level of visibility and inclusion, and the especially crucial aspect of that was not just in putting a spotlight on the talents of female drivers, but in highlighting various job roles within motorsport, from engineers to commentators and everything in-between. I credit W Series with influencing my own career path. Having previously worked as a journalist in non-sports related areas, I had struggled to see a way of breaking into motorsport, and felt it was highly unlikely that I would be given a chance to cover the likes of Formula 1 straight off the bat. But then came W Series, and suddenly it felt like a door had opened. I seized an opportunity via a fantastic women's sport platform to write about the debut season of the category. It was hugely exciting to be offered this chance, 20 years on from the first time I watched an F1 race, and it led me to be given the opportunity to cover Formula 1 as well as continuing my work in W Series. It was a pleasure, for example, to speak to Hawkins earlier this year about her hopes for the season ahead .

Expanding the fanbase

As such, I know firsthand the importance of W Series in proving to women and girls that breaking into motorsport – in a wide range of roles – is possible. The category has prided itself on providing this crucial platform for female racers. Alongside this, though, Bond Muir has previously spoken of her hope that – like any other racing series – W Series can provide entertainment too, and this would suggest going beyond appealing simply to a female fanbase. Arguably, the aim of any sport is to attract fans from all backgrounds, which only helps further in boosting popularity and therefore income; look at F1, where much credit for an increasingly diverse fanbase has gone to Netflix's Drive to Survive series. The impact of that has been felt greatly, as the attendance levels of races in the United States have shown in particular. In October 2021, a report released by Sky Sports revealed that public interest in women's sport had risen during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly in terms of the number of men now watching. According to the findings, nearly a quarter of men said they followed women's sport more than they had done 18 months previously. This is encouraging, perhaps especially for those who argued that W Series heightened gender segregation in motorsport. As much as it is brilliant to see the influence that the category has had on female fans, it is nice to think that it can succeed in attracting all, because surely that is how ultimate parity is achieved. F1 is watched by men and women alike, so the goal for W Series should be the same. In turn, it could be argued that men in motorsport can similarly play a key role in not just supporting W Series but in increasing its spotlight. Lewis Hamilton has been a well-known supporter, having posted on social media about his visit to the paddock earlier in the year. The importance of such a move cannot be underestimated; Hamilton is perhaps the best-known figure in Formula 1 and, with some 30.1 million Instagram followers, his backing of the sport could have a huge impact on helping to boost its appeal to others.

Why W Series' future goes beyond a battle for women

Ultimately, then, surely the series' future should not just be the battle for women that the likes of Hawkins have alluded to on social media. This is a concern for all, including the male figures in motorsport who realistically have the most power in the current state of play. Yes things are changing, but the problems that W Series have faced sadly show that that change is not happening fast enough. Should the category return in 2023 – and I deeply hope that it does, not just for myself and fellow fans but for the younger generation looking for that all-important visibility I was searching for all those years ago – it would be great to see influential figures following Hamilton’s lead and showing their support more. Not just through words, either; action is clearly needed here, and perhaps some could put their money where their mouth is. Further attention arguably increases the likelihood of continued investment, which hopefully can ensure that W Series is no longer fighting for survival and instead continues its great work in providing opportunities, inspiration and entertainment. As Hawkins suggested, many women in this field are used to battling for opportunities and visibility, and it is something that they are more than capable of continuing to do. But the idea that this new fight for W Series' future should fall solely to women is unfair. It's time for all in motorsport to step up.

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