Why an aspiring F1 driver is heading to Extreme E

In a field full of off-road stars, Williams F1 development driver Jamie Chadwick is going off the beaten track

Extreme E Preseason Testing

Extreme E may still be in its infancy, but it already boasts one of the most diverse driver lineups in all of motorsport.

Among the competitors set for the first season of the all-electric SUV series are World Rally champions, World Rallycross champions, Dakar winners, off-road truck racing champions, and more. It is a veritable who’s who of off-road racing talent.

There’s one driver who stands apart among the all-star roster. That driver is Jamie Chadwick.

The inaugural W Series winner and Williams Formula 1 development driver has been a mainstay on the circuit racing ladder, so Chadwick’s participation in Extreme E comes as something of a surprise – not just to us, but her too.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - British Grand Prix - Race Day - Silverstone, England

Photo: Williams F1

“[It] definitely has caught me by surprise as well,” Chadwick told DirtFish of her upcoming Extreme E foray. ”I’ve had my ear to the ground quite a lot with Extreme E over the past few months, but wasn’t sure if it was going to be something quite on my career trajectory.

“I drove the car, and honestly I had so much fun. I enjoyed it so much, I’ve always based my career on trying to be as versatile as possible. This is just another one to add to that, honestly, [I’m] really excited to be a part of it.”

It’s that sort of versatility that’s already defined Chadwick’s career. She might only be 22, but she was already a sportscar ace before she started climbing the open-wheel ladder, winning the British GT4 title in 2015. She’s had to learn how to jump between varied machines and be right on the pace, something which may stand her in good stead for Extreme E.

Jamie Chadwick / Ross Gunn Beechdean GT4 Aston Martin GT4 Challenge

Photo: SRO Motorsports

“I think the ability to be able to jump in different stuff and switch your brain into, I guess, slightly different modes has helped,” Chadwick said. “Because I can jump into the Odyssey, for example, and I don’t try to drive it like a single-seater. I know to switch my brain into a different mode. And having done quite a lot of different stuff over the past few years, that’s definitely helped.

“Going off-road is definitely the big thing for me. I think the way that the racing I do; we have a lap, we know that lap like the back of our hand, you know roughly you have to brake at the 100-meter board for example, and dependant on conditions that might vary by 10 meters either side and that probably makes a tenth or two difference and it’s such fine margins.

“Whereas this, it’s all much more instinctive. It’s adapting to the conditions there and then, they’re changing constantly. We probably won’t get much time to learn the circuit before, the circuit won’t be one that we can dial 100% into and do loads of laps of. Just the instinctive nature of being able to just jump in and be straight on the pace, whatever you’ve got, is probably going to be the biggest thing.”

Early testing gave her a taste of what adaptations would be needed for loose surface racing. Admitting that she went into her early runs feeling like she would “have to fully adapt myself to suit maybe more of a rally kind of style and an off-road style”, the Extreme E Odyssey 21 actually lent itself much more to what Chadwick describes as a “halfway house” driving style.

“There was a lot that I could work on and improve by driving a bit more like a rally driver, but there’s also stuff from the circuit that seemed to suit the car really well,” she explained. “That was exciting in itself, and it was cool to be able to make such big progress over the couple of days we did.”

Taking to the dirt is clearly something Chadwick feels can have wider benefits to her career by helping her become a more complete driver overall. But despite there being countless other off-road series that could bring her the same sort of benefits behind the wheel, it was Extreme E’s fun factor – describing the series’ Odyssey 21 spec machine as “so epic to drive” and “a huge amount of fun” – and its far-reaching, wider aims off-track that attracted her too.

Extreme E Preseason Testing

Chadwick's rookie challenge

Mattias Ekström, the 2016 World Rallycross champion, highlights the areas circuit racers will find toughest in their Extreme E transition

Extreme E’s idea of racing to benefit social and environmental issues could also lead to it being a proper trendsetter across all motorsport in the coming years, Chadwick believes.

“Everything Extreme E stands for, from a climate change point of view, and also gender equality, I think it ticks all the boxes of a championship that I want to be a part of,” she said.

“From an environmental point of view, to be able to use our sport – which obviously doesn’t have the best reputation – as a platform to raise climate awareness, is an amazing thing and something that I’m really proud to be a part of.

“Also, the gender equality thing, having one male and one female driver is as fair as it really gets, in terms of promoting gender equality. It’s definitely something that I hope is followed [and] other championships start following suit with because I think it’s definitely paving the way in the right direction.”

Extreme E Preseason Testing

Photo: Jordi Rierola / Extreme E

As a development driver for the Williams Formula 1 team, the end goal for Chadwick – presently at least – remains clear, but that doesn’t mean she’s closing the door on a potential full-time career in off-road racing should Extreme E prove to be a fruitful endeavor for her

“At the moment, [it is] another string to my bow but ultimately if it’s something I really take to, then there’s no reason why I wouldn’t feel like it’s something that I want to pursue more because it’s definitely a very different discipline,” she said. “But there’s so much that I feel like I can learn, and can actually bring from the circuit world.

“It’s exciting and it’s going to be very, very different. I’m really looking forward to the challenge.”

Words:Dominik Wilde

Photography:Extreme E, Williams F1, SRO Motorsports