Jamie Chadwick has never shied away from bold moves on track and is showing similar nerve as she steps up to a new challenge in the new world. In pursuing her ambition of making it to Formula One, the British driver will race for the Andretti team in the US Indy NXT championship in 2023, a vital return to racing against men and a chance to prove her abilities on a hugely competitive stage.
The 24-year-old, who has won all three of the all-female W Series championships, will test herself next year in the IndyCar feeder series formerly known as Indy Lights, once more against a mixed field. She acknowledges how beneficial the women-only series has been for her career but going up against the men again is a task she cannot wait to embrace as the first woman in Indy NXT for 13 years.
“Going back into mixed competition the talent pool is much greater so the level will naturally be higher,” she says. “Putting myself up against some of the best drivers in the world is what I want to be doing, that’s where I want to see how I fare. Before the W Series that’s what I was doing, everything I was competing in was mixed, it’s what I grew up doing and to be back in that environment is something I am looking forward to.”
The drive with Andretti, confirmed on Thursday, is a major achievement for Chadwick, doubly so in that it has been financially backed by DHL, a major step in furthering her career. She had hoped to move into the F1 feeder series F3 but only wanted to do so with a competitive team — in Indy with Andretti she has exactly that platform. The outfit, run by Michael Andretti, the son of former F1 world champion, Mario, has superb pedigree, with five Indy 500 victories, four IndyCar championships and five Indy Lights titles.
The winner of the Indy NXT title is guaranteed a drive in three IndyCar races including the Indy 500 but doing so will be hard earned. Chadwick will be driving a heavier, more powerful and more physical car for longer races than those in which she has previously competed. She must learn new tracks and come to terms with the unique challenge of racing on ovals.
Yet she is confident she can step up physically, a crucial factor in potentially returning to the F1 feeder series F3 and F2, and is targeting top five finishes next season. “Whatever the route ends up being, the ultimate goal is F1, however that route is taken,” she says. “If I am having success that route can still be taken. The key thing now is development, getting as much seat time and preparation so whatever comes the year after, Europe or the States, I am in a much better position for.”
While F1 has not had a female driver compete in a grand prix since Lella Lombardi raced in Austria in 1976, IndyCar has had eight women drive in the championship since 2000. Chadwick has recognised that the best opportunity for her was in the US rather than pursuing an uncompetitive drive in F3 which is also prohibitively expensive.
“I have followed the racing in the US a lot over the last few years,” she says. “I went to the 500 in 2019 and I had a new-found respect and interest in IndyCar especially. There are a lot of opportunities in the States for a lot of drivers and for female drivers it seems to be a proven pathway, a lot of female drivers have had success over there.”
She happily concedes she has been a beneficiary of the W Series, a championship she has dominated since its first season in 2019, and that it was crucial in helping her secure the drive with Andretti. However, this year the series was forced to cancel its final three races because of financial problems. It also faces an uncertain future with F1 having announced its own all-female feeder series — the F1 Academy — for 2023.
Chadwick may be leaving the W Series behind but firmly defended its unique financial model which pays for all of the competitors’ costs.
“The series exists because they are fully funding all the drivers, there is no other motor sport championship that does anything like that,” she says. “In that sense the business model is different and hasn’t necessarily worked in this instance but I don’t think it should change. They just need more support to continue with that philosophy because it is changing careers. It has inspired a whole new generation of drivers, also female mechanics and engineers whom I have seen progress into F1 off the back of the W Series, so it has been a success.”