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F1 for women: W Series to be launched with £1MILLION prize fund on offer as sport seek first female world champion

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 10/10/2018 Jonathan McEvoy for the Daily Mail

The Formula One style championship, exclusively for women, is to be launched on Wednesday © daily mail The Formula One style championship, exclusively for women, is to be launched on Wednesday

A Formula One-style championship exclusively for women will be launched on Wednesday.

Sportsmail understands that the ground-breaking single-seater championship, called W Series, will stage its first race next spring. 

Carrying a prize fund of £1.15million, it is intended to shake up motor racing's boys' club and ultimately produce a first female world champion.

Highly-rated Dutch driver Stephane Kox is set to participate in the new W Series © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Highly-rated Dutch driver Stephane Kox is set to participate in the new W Series

Such is the historic gender imbalance in Formula One that of the 900-plus drivers who have raced in the world championship since its creation in 1950, only two have been women, the last being Italian Lella Lombardi more than 40 years ago. 

The new series, comprising 18 to 20 cars, will not charge drivers to enter. Its organisers will instead select their line-up on merit.

This means women who might otherwise have run out of money on their journey through the ranks can demonstrate their talent and be fast-tracked to Formula One — a leg-up in a sport that has always been a male bastion.

David Coulthard et al. posing for the camera: Former F1 driver David Coulthard will be part of the selection team to establish the grid © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Former F1 driver David Coulthard will be part of the selection team to establish the grid Among the likely participants is 20-year-old Briton Jamie Chadwick — the first woman to win a Formula Three race. 

Highly-rated Dutch driver Stephane Kox and Italian Vicky Piria are also leading contenders. 

The grid will be selected in part by David Coulthard, winner of 13 grands prix, and Adrian Newey, F1's most successful designer, both of whom are W Series shareholders.

Coulthard told Sportsmail: 'In order to be a successful racing driver, you have to be skilled, determined and physically fit, but you don't have to be a man.

'We believe that female and male racing drivers can and should compete on equal terms if they have the same opportunity and training — and we're going to try to make that happen. There's no reason the next Lewis Hamilton should not be a woman.' 

a close up of a newspaper © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited

W Series races will be staged on European circuits, starting in May, probably in Germany, before moving across the globe in subsequent seasons. 

Britain will stage a race next year. Organisers say the cars will be cutting-edge, identical and powered by 1.8-litre turbo-charged engines.

The series is being bankrolled by Scottish businessman Sean Wadsworth, a schoolmate of Coulthard from Kirkcudbright Academy, who sold his recruitment business in 2016 for £200m.

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It will be overseen by chief executive Catherine Bond Muir, a lawyer and corporate finance banker, who dreamt up the idea while on maternity leave, having had her first baby aged 45.

Bond Muir said: 'We aim to show the world what women are capable of. Many sports in which women and men compete equally also run segregated events to increase the numbers of women who participate. Motor racing has been the only sport in which there were no separate series.'

Hamilton's former team manager at McLaren, Dave Ryan, will be racing director.

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE W SERIES

Who will be racing?

The top 18 to 20 women drivers drawn from across the world. The drivers will enter free of charge and be selected on merit after testing in the car, on simulators and through physical trials.

The assessment will be led by multiple F1 race winner David Coulthard and Red Bull's legendary designer Adrian Newey.

How will it work?

Starting in May, the series will feature six 30-minute races at European circuits, including in Britain, and expand to America, Asia and Australia in coming seasons.

The champion will receive £380,000 in the first year, with increased prize money as more sponsors hopefully come on board.

What cars will they drive?

Single-seaters provided by W Series and all mechanically identical. They will be powered by 1.8-litre, turbo-charged engines. As with other top formulas, the cars will have adjustable aerodynamics and slick tyres. They will also be fitted with F1-style halo safety devices.

Will we be able to watch on TV?

Almost certainly. Organisers are finalising TV deals, having attracted broadcast interest from around the world. Sky have expressed an interest in the UK, but no contract has been agreed yet.

Will the races be held during F1 weekends?

They will be staged on F1 circuits mostly, but not during grand prix weekends, at least not in 2019. Liberty Media, F1's owners, will monitor the series before considering whether to add it to their roster.

Are women not allowed in F1 now?

Yes, they are. It's just that only two women have raced in 68 years of the world championship. And it may be getting harder for them to break in.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has estimated that it costs £8million to get from karting to F1 — a lot of money for anyone, but perhaps harder to raise for women given the lack of visible female talent in Formula One.

How can the W Series change that?

Being free to enter, the W Series grid will be filled on merit rather than according to the level of an individual's backing.

And, with women's sports now attracting unprecedented coverage, sponsors would potentially be attracted to the new platform, easing the financial burden.

Given they will be driving identical cars, it will also be easy to see who deserves to graduate up the existing motor-racing pyramid, which has F1 at the top.

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