W Series: New women's-only series offers 'next step' in racing

W Series
The W Series begins on 4 May, at Germany's Hockenheim racetrack

The W Series offers women the chance to take the next step in motorsport, says British driver Jamie Chadwick in the lead-up to Saturday's first race.

Eighteen female drivers will line up on the grid at Hockenheim for the opening race in the competition's first season.

"If we have more role models feeding into it, then I see it as the W Series offering that step," said Chadwick.

The W Series is the first women-only racing series, and was set up to raise the profile of women in motorsport.

"The reason why it exists is because we feel something has to change in motorsport to allow more women to race," series CEO Catherine Bond Muir said.

Racers include British Formula 3 driver Chadwick, former Formula Renault driver Alice Powell and 2018 BritCar Endurance champion Sarah Moore.

Chadwick told BBC Radio 5 live's W Series podcast: "They've found girls who wouldn't have had the opportunity otherwise who have raw talent and the ability to develop by the final race. You need the pressure, the performance and results-based incentive because that's the way the sport is."

Italian driver Vicky Piria agrees, telling BBC World Service Sport: "It gives the example that we can do it. I wouldn't be racing if it wasn't for the W Series.

"When I started karting, there wasn't an opportunity to race cars, as that just wasn't around. If I was eight years old now, I would look up to the W Series and see a path to get where I wanted to be."

The last woman to race in a Formula 1 grand prix was over 40 years ago, and the series has caused controversy with some drivers accusing it of segregating racing by gender, while others have applauded its arrival in a male-dominated sport.

The race lasts for 30 minutes plus one lap, and the W Series foots the cost for the drivers, while the overall winner will receive $500,000 (£380,000).

A separate $1.5m prize pot will be divided among the racers with the aim of investing in young talent.

Practice takes place on Friday, 3 May, with qualifying on Saturday from 10:55 BST, and the race from 14:45 BST.

Round 1 - Germany

Hockenheim, 3-4 May

Round 2 - Belgium

Zolder, 17-19 May

Round 3 - Italy

Misano 7-9 June

Round 4 - Germany

Norisring, 5-7 July

Round 5 - Netherlands

Assen, 19-21 July

Round 6 - UK

Brands Hatch, 10-11 August.

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