The Formula One world championship will not be decided at the US Grand Prix this weekend but another tightly-fought battle for a title will. The Circuit of the Americas will play host to the climactic finale to the W Series season with Britain’s Jamie Chadwick and Alice Powell going head to head in Texas across two races with nothing to choose between them as they take to the grid.
Chadwick, the all-female W Series’ reigning champion and Powell are tied on 109 points. The season has ebbed and flowed between the two – with the championship lead changing hands four times – and both are revelling in a fierce competition.
“I’ve known Jamie for a long time,” Powell says. “I knew her when she was in Ginetta Juniors [a series for drivers aged 14-17], and we played hockey together when we were younger because her family home is not far from mine. We get on well and have respect for each other. I know how talented and fast Jamie is and I’m looking forward to a good fight at COTA.”
The 23-year-old Chadwick won the inaugural W Series title in 2019 but this is the first time she has had to defend it, with the pandemic causing last year’s competition to be cancelled. For Powell, this weekend represents a chance to crown an extraordinary comeback after the 28-year-old was forced to stop racing for four years because of a lack of funding. Before the W Series offered her a second chance in 2019 she had not raced a full season since 2014 and was working with her father in building renovations.
The W Series was founded to promote women in motorsport and with the intent of helping put a female driver into F1 – Lella Lombardi was the last to race in a grand prix, in Austria in 1976.
All the drivers’ costs are met by the championship and they race in identical F3 cars, so the emphasis is on skill rather than a technological battle. Both drivers badly want to win and there is more than pride at stake. The victor will receive $500,000 (£362,000) in prize money, hugely beneficial for backing their future racing. They will also be awarded 15 FIA super licence points, a crucial factor in going further in the sport. Forty super licence points are required to race in F1, with 25 needed to take part in a free practice session.
“It would mean everything to defend my W Series title,” Chadwick says. “You can’t underestimate the opportunity we have with W Series, particularly this year being on the F1 support bill and the super licence points on offer. So the stakes are much higher but that’s a nice pressure to thrive on and a massive incentive for me to go out there and try to win.”
The W Series first season was considered a success but Chadwick and Powell have made this year a riveting affair, very much in a field of their own at the front of the 18-driver grid. In 2019 Chadwick opened with a win and led the championship from start to finish, while Powell was third, taking one win in the season finale at Brands Hatch. This year Powell opened with victory in Austria, from which Chadwick immediately struck back winning the second race; a to and fro that has continued all season.
A win at the last round in Zandvoort brought Powell level with Chadwick on points and crucially she has three wins to her rival’s two. The first race of the double-header this weekend will take place on Saturday at 11.25pm BST and there is a chance Powell can secure the title there. If she wins and Chadwick fails to score, Powell will claim the title regardless of the results of the final race with a 25-point lead and more wins on countback.
It is a highly unlikely scenario, however, especially given how well both drivers have returned consistent points finishes this season and in all likelihood race two at 5.05pm BST on Sunday will be the decisive showdown.