You had your first career as a business lawyer. How did you become a patron of an automobile competition?
I had my first and only son at 45. When you have a child at this age, there is nothing more important to you, so I stopped working. For two years, I thought about what I wanted to do. I wanted to go beyond my advisory role and try an entrepreneurial adventure. One day, by chance, while chatting with some friends, they asked me why there was no single-seater competition just for women. I thought it was a fantastic idea. Then I thought it was a bad thing, women and men being able to run together already. I did more research and found that the number of women entering major motorsport championships was down over eight years, even as interest in women’s football or rugby grew. This simple statistic therefore justified the existence of this competition.
To launch this project, we had to find the money and the right people …
The finance people quickly understood what I intended to do, because they knew my past. But it’s very difficult to raise funds with a single idea and I needed £ 20million (around € 23million) to get started. It took me two years to find these funds. Moreover, I quickly understood that the world of motorsport was very closed. I happened to have known David Coulthard when we were younger and he was won over by the idea. He also introduced me to Sean Wadsworth (boss of a recruiting firm and major championship support, editor’s note). We work together and he is still executive chairman and major shareholder. David also introduced me to Dave Ryan, our competition director, or Matt Bishop who later became our communications director.
The first season of the W Series took place in 2019. What was the highlight?
Obviously, when I saw the cars arrive on the starting grid, for the first race, in Hockenheim (Germany). At that moment, I thought to myself: “It took me three and a half years of very hard work, but I did it!” But the one I’m most proud of is the last round at Brands Hatch (UK). Thousands of spectators specially came to see our competition, to visit our paddock. I saw little girls wearing the championship colors and people spontaneously came to thank me.
In the spring of 2020, you decided to postpone season 2 of the W Series by one year due to the health context. Was this the right decision?
Yes, for two main reasons. Firstly, we are a very young league. Limiting ourselves to behind closed doors races in one or two countries – UK and Germany, for example – would not have helped our image or created the party atmosphere we wanted. Second, we are a very small team, working 100,000 an hour. As a boss, you quickly lose sight of the major strategic issues to manage the operational. During this period of decline, we notably succeeded in signing the agreement with Formula 1.
The eight rounds of the 2021 season will be played as a curtain-raiser in Formula 1. How did you get this deal?
I wrote this in my business plan, but I never thought it would happen in our second season! This underlines the professionalism of the team, demonstrated by Season 1. We had already agreed, with Liberty Media, to do two races as part of the Grand Prix in 2020. This conversation developed from there. Formula 1 now races under the banner “We race as one”. This includes diversity in all its forms, including accessibility to women. In recent years the stables have done a fantastic job hiring more women as mechanics and engineers. But there are still very few behind the wheel in F2 or F3 …
Unlike other disciplines, the drivers entered in the W Series do not bring a budget. Is this model viable?
In my eyes, this competition has two pillars. First, all cars are the same. Then, this is a championship where entry is free (the pilots are the subject of a selection, editor’s note). I intend to protect these two pillars as long as possible. Our goal to date is really to promote the best drivers.
Will this agreement with F1 make your job easier?
Sponsors join the W Series because of their mission. But of course, F1 gives us a much bigger platform amplifies our message.
Are you going to change the format of the races?
No, we will stay on the 30 minutes + 1 lap format. When we defined the fundamentals of this championship, our studies proved that a short format was to be favored to reach the younger generations.
When will you have the feeling that the W Series will have fulfilled their mission?
My husband will tell you that I am never satisfied with what I do. But if we talk about motorsport, and the impact of the W Series, I will be a very happy person if I see a real increase in the number of women in all disciplines of motorsport. And also when a significant proportion of women occupy the tubs in F1, F2, F3 after having made a passage in W Series.
What is it lacking in motorsports today to achieve greater parity?
I think we need to see more female pilots in local and national competitions. Of course, the fact that women have not been successful in motorsport is not just a matter of numbers. But it is certain that we will not succeed if we do not see more women starting at a younger age in these disciplines.
Interview by Andy David
The W Series at a glance
The championship was launched in 2019 with 6 rounds of around 30 minutes, in tandem with the German Touring Car Championship (DTM). All single-seaters are identical (Taatus chassis to F3 standards, 1.8-liter Alfa Romeo 270 hp engine) and operated by the Hitech Grand Prix team. 18 drivers are selected after a series of tests at the start of the season. They do not provide a budget. The launch of the championship claimed around 25 million euros. Champion in 2019, Briton Jamie Chadwick (22) is now Williams’ F1 development driver. She will participate in the 2021 season of the W Series.
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