Women in Pole Position
With ambitions to make 2022 the biggest W Series season to date, Catherine Bond Muir, CEO, reflects on the journey so far and the latest milestones achieved at this year’s Silverstone event
Writer: Jack Salter
It has been over 45 years since a female driver raced in a Formula 1 Grand Prix.
To rethink racing and fast-track change, W Series was launched in October 2018 to provide equal opportunities for women and eliminate the financial barriers that have historically prevented them from progressing to the upper echelons of motorsport.
W Series drivers are selected purely on their ability and the cars are mechanically identical, which means that races and championships are won by the most talented drivers, rather than those with the wealthiest backers.
The more high-profile, successful female role models that W Series can create, the more it will inspire young girls to get into the sport. A prime example is Jamie Chadwick, who won the inaugural season in 2019 and retained her title in 2021.
As such, W Series can be an important cultural catalyst for female empowerment. It wants to build the world’s most popular and inclusive female sporting series, and in the process create a platform to accelerate gender equality across the world.
W Series is racing alongside Formula 1 at eight Grand Prix weekends in 2022, with the fourth race of the season at Silverstone in July viewed by record-breaking audiences.
We speak to the CEO of W Series, Catherine Bond Muir, who charts the rapid rise of the championship and reacts to the recent Silverstone success.
EME Outlook (EO): How successful has W Series been since it launched in 2018? What have been some of the key achievements to date?
Catherine Bond Muir, CEO (CBM): It has exceeded all expectations. I think getting the whole series broadcast live on Channel 4 in 2019 was a real coup, and certainly in the UK it put a marker down as to what was possible for W Series.
As for the following year, I think the main achievement was surviving the COVID-19 pandemic and doing an e-sports series.
It showed what a fantastic team there is at W Series as they pivoted to do things that no one had ever done before.
The great thing we did in 2020 was to partner with Formula 1, and coming into 2022, getting a million viewers in the UK over the Silverstone weekend was an extraordinary feat for us.
Every year we seem to be breaking records, but from my point of view, we’ve always got to remain humble and there’s always more to do.
EO: In what ways has W Series managed to capture the imagination of the media and fans, particularly women and girls?
CBM: The structure of W Series is unique. We own all of the cars, and they are identical in performance to ensure that we find the fastest drivers.
Of equal, if not more importance, is that we are a free-to-enter championship. It’s not about finding who the richest drivers are or who the drivers with the wealthiest parents are.
I think people have enjoyed and warmed to W Series so much because it gives equal opportunities to all women.
EO: With big ambitions to make 2022 the biggest W Series season so far, has interest continued to increase in the sport this year?
CBM: I think if you know about motorsport, especially in Europe, you know about W Series. I don’t think that’s the case in the US yet, but lots of people haven’t even heard of Formula 1 there, so that’s going to take a longer period of time.
But of course, we want it to be about sports fans and then just the general public, once we have a profile where people are reading about us and there are stories about us in a variety of different media across the world.
We’ve just got to build an audience, it’s a commercial imperative that we do that and keep growing.
EO: As a British-based business with larger audiences in the UK than any other country, how important is W Series’ home race at Silverstone?
CBM: It feels like a celebration of what we are. W Series is British-based, most of the Formula 1 teams are British-based, and they love it because it doesn’t involve a huge amount of travelling.
We had six British drivers at Silverstone this year and two British drivers on the podium, so it’s just wonderful to hear the cheers and the roars of the crowd at Silverstone.
But not only that, it is still extraordinary for me, given how far we’ve come, that there were full stands for the W Series race. It’s very easy when Formula 1 isn’t on track for all the fans to go off and look at all the amusements, fan zones and to do other things, but they came and they filled the stands when we were racing, so it was a joy to see.
People generally are incredibly supportive of women, they understand what we’re trying to achieve which is to redress the gender imbalance in motorsport, and we have fantastically exciting racing, but it still takes my breath away when we do have packed stands watching us.
“Getting a million viewers in the UK over the Silverstone weekend was an extraordinary feat for us”
EO: This year’s race at Silverstone attracted a peak UK TV audience of more than one million viewers, and the highest-ever race audience in W Series history. What is the significance of this milestone?
CBM: The significance of the Silverstone milestone is that if we can do it in one territory, there is no reason why we can’t replicate that in many other major commercial territories around the world, the US being one of the most obvious.
Formula 1 has used the Drive To Survive series on Netflix very effectively to build audiences in the US and further increase its TV exposure, so I think it would be great at some point in the future if W Series can have its own equivalent documentary series. That is what I hope we will be able to do in the next couple of years.
EO: In collaboration with Silverstone and Motorsport UK, how did W Series also recognise and showcase the success of women in all areas of motorsport as part of Women in Motorsport Day?
CBM: I wear two hats, as I’m CEO of W Series, but I’m also a board director at Motorsport UK. I chair the Equality, Diversion and Inclusion (EDI) Committee at Motorsport UK and one of my subcommittees is Women in Motorsport, so Motorsport UK worked together with us to celebrate women in motorsport.
Most importantly, the focus wasn’t on the famous people, i.e., the drivers. The focus was on the ecosystem of women who work in motorsport, especially stewards and marshals. We had an event specifically to celebrate female stewards and marshals.
They do the most incredible job. They are an army of volunteers and what is really fantastic is the number of women involved. I think it’s really important to spotlight the number of women involved in motorsport, but for me and with my Motorsport UK hat on, what we are all about is the future health of motorsport.
Therefore, we have to demonstrate to all young girls that motorsport is open and welcome to them. Motorsport is unique to the extent that it encompasses all the STEM subjects, you can be mechanic, you can be an engineer, you can be a data analyst, and so on.
90 percent of the people in our London office are women, and they are either in management positions, accountants, lawyers, marketers, etc. What I would like to be able to do is continue to tell all schoolgirls to do what they love and what they’re very good at in life, be the best that they can be, and I’m sure motorsport would welcome them with open arms.
EO: How do you see the future of W Series developing in the coming years? What are some of your key priorities, goals and targets?
CBM: To grow our fan base, especially internationally. If we do that, W Series will become increasingly attractive property for sponsors and partners to get involved with.
Even though we’re really successful in the UK now, we really want to build our US audience and presence. We’ve got three races there this year, we’ve got an American driver, and I think we really need to start marketing ourselves to become a more well-known brand in the US.
With more money, we can keep building all aspects of W Series. We can afford to support younger girls who are in series below W Series, we could potentially do scholarships, we could be encouraging more girls to get into motorsport because it’s not just about the pinnacle of W Series.
We will be supporting young girls all the way through in their progress to get into W Series.