W Series has been grabbing headlines in recent weeks for all the wrong reasons as the female-only open-wheel series clings on for dear life amid funding problems.
Extreme E has also been championing female involvement in motorsport, but through equality, rather than the long-debated segregation approach taken by W Series.
Since day one, Extreme E has mandated that each team runs one male and one female driver. That gives women the opportunity to compete on an equal footing to their male counterparts, something that W Series is often criticized for getting in the way of.
What’s more, almost every single female driver in Extreme E has since been presented with opportunities elsewhere. We’ve since seen them in rallycross, rallying, Side-by-Side racing, and the Dakar rally, as well as enjoying increased exposure off-track too.
But in W Series, its now-three-time champion Jamie Chadwick – herself a former Extreme E driver – has languished in the category for the entirety of its existence, struggling to advance up the open-wheel ladder due to lack of backing, which goes against the entire ethos of the series itself.
One system has worked. The other appears to have not. And while Extreme E continues to grow and go from strength to strength, W Series has just curtailed its third season. Despite designs on an American expansion and an ongoing future on the Formula 1 bill, its life beyond 2022 looks bleak at best.
But while mandating female involvement in Extreme E has been a resounding success, it’s not something that could easily work in the wider motorsport sphere, according to Rosberg X Racing boss Nico Rosberg.
“It’s difficult to generalize,” Rosberg told DirtFish. “I think for us in Extreme E, it’s just been a super-smart approach that works beautifully.
“It’s a great concept, but for other championships… If you now talk about F1, on the F1 side, it wouldn’t make sense to kind of regulate a certain amount of female drivers that have to drive or be given opportunities.
“I think there, probably, it just has to go much more via the support – teams have to fund female programs – and more inspirational, more needs to be done to inspire more young girls to take part. I think for F1, much more would need to be done in that direction rather than in a regulated form.”
Along with the series, Rosberg and his team have been at the forefront of the equality push and recently announced a program where it would offer three young female karters the chance to be mentored by Rosberg and the team’s female driver Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky.
Åhlin-Kottulinsky joined RXR at the start of the season, replacing Molly Taylor who helped the team to the 2021 title and was widely regarded as the best female driver in the series last year.
But over this season, we’ve seen Åhlin-Kottulinsky – whose background is in touring car racing – continue to grow and improve, to the point where Rosberg calls her “the fastest female driver in the world”. Given not only her pace, but her versatility, it’s hard to disagree.
“We made a full page in the Sunday Times in the UK on the topic of equality because we have the fastest female driver in the world, Mikaela, driving for our team,” Rosberg pointed out. “She’s also won races in the US (in Nitro Rallycross) recently and she’s amazing.
“That inspiration that she provides to women around the world and trailblazing, how we’re putting women at the pinnacle of our motorsport, they’re becoming just as much the rockstars as the male drivers and that’s so cool to watch. I’m loving that side.
“I’m a girl dad as well, I have two daughters, so that really is something that’s dear to me.”
Extreme E continues to lead the way when it comes to gender equality in motorsport – both on track and off, with it also welcoming a number of local school girls to each race in a bid to inspire the next generation of not just drivers, but engineers, mechanics, and those who want to work in other facets of motorsport.
What it’s achieved in its short life so far is both game-changing and market-leading, and will surely be the blueprint for the rest of motorsport to follow for years to come.
The work to improve female participation in motorsport will not be completed overnight. It’s going to take years, if not decades, to balance the books ensuring everyone gets an equal chance at racing successfully, regardless of their gender.
But what Extreme E has shown is that women can be just as fast as men. They just need the chance to prove it.
And at a time where off-road championships can often be criticized for being behind the times, on this occasion, it’s the world of circuit racing that should look up and take note.