I Just Want to Race

Tommy Milanese/The Players’ Tribune

For a long time, I didn’t really think too much about what it means to be a woman in motorsport. I guess I thought it wasn’t important. 

I’m a driver, first and foremost. 

It’s like the cliché, “Once the helmet's on, it doesn't make a difference who you're racing against.”

But, we all know that the reality is that’s not quite how it works.

Some things are different for men and women in this sport. But I don’t think any of those differences mean women can’t be successful drivers at the elite level.

I am a woman in motorsport and proud of it. And I think identifying as a female driver is important. I don’t want to blur into being one of the boys. Let me explain why.

Growing up, I was used to being in male-dominated environments. At school, I was one of only about four girls in the entire year — so, naturally, we used to just do whatever the boys were doing.

At the time, I wasn’t particularly aware of it, but looking back it’s kinda strange to think that I was basically a lone girl playing football in a field with 100 boys. 

I was the classic tomboy. I used to just copy my older brother, Ollie. If he was kicking a football in the garden, I was kicking a football in the garden. If he wanted to play with cars, then I wanted to play with cars. So, of course, when Ollie started doing a karting championship at our local race track in Castle Combe on Sundays, I was going to do it too.

I remember getting so nervous that I couldn’t eat anything the morning before my first race. If you can imagine, I was like 11 or 12 and kitted out in all Ollie’s old hand-me-downs. I looked completely ridiculous!

Jamie Chadwick | I Just Want to Race | The Players' Tribune
Courtesy Jamie Chadwick

The only times I’d driven before that was in my dad’s old-school Peugeot 107 ’round the paddock outside our house, back when we lived on the Isle of Man. I was really little, like five years old, and I would sit on his lap and do the steering — basically just trying not to hit anything!

A few years later, when I was tall enough to reach the pedals, I would do the brake and throttle while my dad did the clutch with a walking stick from the passenger seat!

I would go really slow … like first gear, second gear, get into third and then straight back down into second. 

But once I got out there on that track at Castle Combe, racing just felt … natural

I got the bug.

I’d think to myself like, If that was my brother who’d just won, would you be making this fuss?

Jamie Chadwick

These were like 30–40 mph karts, nothing super high-end, but enough to get that rush as I pushed it faster and faster. And I remember thinking, Wow, I wanna keep doing this.

That feeling of adrenaline really does become like an addiction. 

Back when I was racing at junior level, I didn’t really feel that different from anyone else. As I said, I’ve been used to male-dominated spaces my whole life. It didn’t matter that I almost never saw another girl on the grid.

I loved the sport and found the majority of people incredibly open and welcoming. Of course, when I won races, I’d sometimes overhear negative comments, and other times I’d see the surprise on people’s faces when my helmet came off and they saw who I was.

It’s still so unusual to see girls in racing that I think some people just didn’t know how to process it. They could be well-meaning, but very surprised … and kind of patronizing.

I’d think to myself like, If that was my brother who’d just won, would you be making this fuss?

Once I got to senior level, though, I became more aware of how things can be different for female drivers.

Men and women are different. That’s just a fact. I don’t think the differences really affect the end result when it comes to racing. I mean, there’s no reason why a woman can’t be as successful as a man in motorsport. But those differences do exist, and I’m not sure there is full respect for them just yet.

Motorsport is incredibly physical, more than most people realise, and preparing properly for that physicality as a woman without the right support and infrastructure around you is very tough.

As an example, if you take a look at any racing car from Formula One on down, they’re all designed for the average male — from the dimensions of the cockpit, to the seat, right down to the size of the brake pedals.

I’m five foot three and I’ve got small feet, so from the off I’m already trying to adapt and compensate.

As a woman, a lot of the time, you end up just learning to deal with it rather than speaking up.

Jamie Chadwick | I Just Want to Race | The Players' Tribune
Joan Valls/Urbanandsport via AP

I mean, I get why it is the way it is. If you’re a manufacturer who makes cars or kit and you’re selling your products to a market that is 99% male, you're naturally not going to focus on designing things for women. 

But it’s hard to be inspired as a woman when you don’t see yourself represented or catered to.

Some things are changing in that respect.

I remember in the first year of the W Series, in 2019 — the first all-female, single-seater championship — we got our race suits from Puma, and we all had the same problem.

The arms were baggy and then the hips were super tight. And then the legs went really baggy again!

All 20 of us sent our suits back to get them changed. And, from that, Puma became the first manufacturer to create female-tailored suits. 

These little things add up and make a difference as to how comfortable and welcome we feel in this sport. 

I’d won races in F3 and other races against men, why should I be separated now??

Jamie Chadwick

For that, the W Series was so important.

I know it’s a controversial topic for some people.

I’ll be honest, when I first heard about the idea for a women’s championship on the support bill for F1 … I didn’t like it at all. 

I’d had success in mixed competition up until then. I’d won races in F3 and other races against men, why should I be separated now??

The term segregation even got thrown around by some people.

But I was convinced by a few people that it would be the right move. And, once I spoke to those involved, it was clear that the opportunity was actually pretty phenomenal. 

This was a fully funded competition. 

If you don’t already know, let me tell you, it costs a lot to fund a career in motorsport. It’s insanely expensive. You need someone to back you … really back you.

When I was starting out, I was very lucky in that my parents supported me and my brother until we were about 16, but then they said, “O.K., you’re on your own now!”

After that, racing becomes a business, and the money is mind-blowing. There have been plenty of times when I’ve been fighting to find sponsors at the 11th hour just to be able to compete for the next year.

It sounds crude, but it’s the way it is for every driver. If you’ve not got the financial support all the way through at every level, you’re never going to make it. It doesn’t matter who you are.

That’s such a barrier to, well, everyone in the sport, but especially to women. Because when there aren’t examples at the top end of the sport to look to, then parents, sponsors and backers might feel more cautious about funding a career that just seems so unlikely.

Jamie Chadwick | I Just Want to Race | The Players' Tribune
Darron Cummings/AP

The W Series professionalised women’s single-seater racing. It provided opportunity, exposure and a look that was designed for us. And that’s really cool.

Winning the W Series in 2019 and 2021 has absolutely transformed my career. Without it, I probably wouldn’t be racing today. It’s as simple as that.

Back when I first started to do well in karting, I got asked a lot what my goal was and I’d always say: “Formula One.”

I’d say it, because it was the pinnacle, but I didn’t really ever believe it.

For a long time, I just didn’t see a pathway. 

But now, after the opportunities I’ve had in F3, the W Series and from being a development driver at Williams it seems … achievable

To be clear, I’m under no illusions as to how hard it is, but I believe in myself.

For the sport, I think it's important that we see a female driver break through now.

In my opinion — and I don’t think it’s a controversial one — motorsport shouldn’t be this kind of funnel where only rich men can make it. There are outliers of course, but we need more diversity.

There have been a lot of women who have been very close in the past to establishing themselves in F1, but it has still been 46 years since the last woman, Lella Lombardi, was on the grid for a Grand Prix.

People like Susie Wolff and Claire Williams are inspirational figures, but there is a need for more female role models from the top down.

Jamie Chadwick | I Just Want to Race | The Players' Tribune
Hasan Bratic/dpa via AP

The further I progress and the closer I get to F1, the more it adds a certain degree of pressure and scrutiny.

But when I drive, my main motivation is that of a competitor who wants success. I do it for myself more than anything else. And if I win or lose, I don’t want it to reflect on an entire gender. Because me not doing well says nothing about other female racing drivers.

I know if I’m not on pole because I've braked too early, it’s not because I’m a girl — it’s because it’s me

I’m confident that sooner rather than later there’ll be some young female driver who's gonna come through and establish herself at the highest level. I have absolutely no doubt about that.

I remember when I first entered the W Series, I kept thinking, I don’t have a clue who they’re gonna find for this.… Female drivers were that rare! But when I turned up to the first selection process, there were nearly 100 women from all over the world. I was amazed. And the standard is improving with each generation. They just need to be given the right support.

Can you imagine the commercial gain to be had from whoever the first superstar female driver is, by the way??

I want to be that next female driver in Formula One. I want the next time I write here to be about my first championship in F1.

But if it’s not me, then I hope I can leave things better than I found them for the next generation of female drivers. I want to help change perceptions and biases that women can’t do this job as well as men. So that when that next young karter is ready to break through, she can find the right pathway and support to make it to the top.

My advice to her is don’t let the statistics scare you off. 

Trust your gut.

Women are definitely capable. 

You are capable.